Hut Trips, the non-industrial mountain experience
The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association has 29 huts throughout Summit and Eagle counties, and every one brings potential for life-changing adventures and new bonding experiences.
“Hut tourists and shopping bag tourists are different,” said Mike Zobbe, director of the Summit Huts Association, which operates the Section House, Janet’s and Francie’s cabins, all of which are part of the 10th Mountain Division Hut system.
“The hut experience emphasizes self-sufficiency and something that’s truly more adventurous and different than what people get at ski areas. It’s not just the physical effort of transporting yourself in. You’re taking care of you’re own dinner, you’re own cooking and cleaning up. At ski areas, there are signs telling you where to go. When you’re on a hut trip, you have to get yourself there.”
A morning of harvesting snow to boil for water to cook breakfast can lead into a day of backcountry skiing or snowshoeing and a night of unwinding in front of the fire with a game of cards. Although hut trippers have to fend for themselves, most outdoor enthusiasts on their first hut trip in the Rocky Mountains are taken aback by the amenities provided at some of the cabins and by the overall comfortable ambience.
“There’s a nice assortment of amenities at each of the huts,” said Ben Dodge, executive director of the 10th Mountain Division Hut System. “They’re pretty comfortable, but primitive. If you work hard enough to get to a hut, they’re going to seem pretty luxurious when you get there.”
Snowshoeing or skiing to a hut can take anywhere between one and seven hours, Dodge said, and hut trippers should select a hut accordingly to suit their fitness level. Dishes, stoves and cookware are provided at all of the huts, as is firewood and toilet paper. Some of the huts have indoor toilets, and Francie’s and Janet’s cabins even have a sauna.
The hut experience in Colorado is different than that of a European hut trip because there are no innkeepers at the 10th Mountain Division Huts, and visitors are in charge of their own environment.
“It’s a genuine experience,” Zobbe said. “Fending for ourselves is less and less encouraged by our culture. You’re encouraged to have everything taken care of for you. Who wouldn’t want to go on a hut trip? Doing stuff like this can really change people’s lives.”
Hut representatives say the hut trip trend is on the upswing. They attribute a big part of the hut system’s growing popularity to the evolution of equipment that makes the trek to the hut, as well as any backcountry skiing surrounding it, much easier and more enjoyable.
“Cross country skiing has been around for a long time, but until people started telemarking, they didn’t really think about skiing in the backcountry,” Zobbe said. “Then, snowboarding came along, and there is still a small number of snowboarders doing hut trips, but split boards are trying to overcome the difficulties of snowboarding in the backcountry. Randonee skis have been around for a while, but plastic boots and fatter skis have just made everything easier.”
Hut novices need not be orienteers to reach the huts, but basic navigation and map reading skills are necessary to find the huts safely. While most routes leading to 10th Mountain Division Huts are not prone to avalanche danger, anyone planning on backcountry skiing on the slopes surrounding the huts should have some basic knowledge of snow safety.
“People need to be informed,” Dodge said. “It’s not easy going on a hut trip, and people can get in over their heads if they lack skill or awareness.” Several avalanche education courses are offered through the 10th Mountain Division Hut System as well as from specialists at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) throughout the winter. Basic safety gear for backcountry skiing or snowboarding includes a shovel, a probe and a beacon.
“Safety should be first and foremost,” said Zobbe, who also works for the CAIC. “You don’t need to be a snow geek, but you need to have a basic awareness of the routes in and out of the huts. Now, once you start exploring the area around the huts, there’s potential to get yourself into trouble. If you don’t carry the basic gear and you’re not knowledgeable in rescue and safety, you start shooting the dice.”
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