Summit Huts Association cabins offer ski experiences in Summit County’s backcountry |

Summit Huts Association cabins offer ski experiences in Summit County’s backcountry

Summit Huts Association hutmaster Scott Toepfer fixes a post at Francie's Cabin on Tuesday, Feb. 5, near Blue River.
Hugh Carey /

Ready to ditch the ski resorts for a true Rocky Mountain backcountry ski experience? A trip to one of the Summit Huts Association’s backcountry huts may just be what your ski or snowboard skills need.

Founded in 1987, the Summit Huts Association nonprofit has developed and maintained a system of backcountry cabins accessed by nonmotorized trails here in Summit County. From first-time winter backcountry recreators to lifelong backcountry and Nordic skiers, the association’s five huts offer myriad experiences in the Breckenridge and Copper Mountain areas. Here’s a breakdown of each thanks to Summit Huts Executive Director Chris Tennal and Managing Director Karen McDonough-Yule. 

Francie’s Cabin

11,360 feet • 20 people

Located up Spruce Creek four miles south of Breckenridge, Francie’s Cabin, built in 1994, is the most popular hut in Colorado. 

Accessed via the moderate Spruce Creek Road, Francie’s Cabin is many recreators first hut experience. With 20 beds, Francie’s can accommodate one huge party, though, more often than not, several parties stay together.

Skiers and other recreators can find low-angle backcountry terrain ideal for more novice backcountry skiers up above the hut in the Crystal Lakes basin.

The hut, which can also be accessed from town via the 4.7-mile Burro Trail, features a guitar, a fireplace, indoor composting toilets solar-powered lights and a wood-burning sauna. Like the rest of the Summit Huts, without running water, recreators use the cabin’s stovetop to heat up their snowmelt for water.

For more

This story previously published in the winter 2020 edition of Explore Summit magazine.

Janet’s Cabin 

11,610 feet • 20 people

Situated southwest of Copper Mountain, Janet’s Cabin, the association’s first hut, presents recreators with a step up from Francie’s.

“It’s a great second trip to a hut once you learn the basics of hut etiquette,” Tennal said.

To access Janet’s, recreators must first park in the North Alpine Lot at Copper Mountain Resort. After taking the resort bus over to Copper’s West Village, skiers and snowboarders can ride the Kokomo Express to the Lumberjack lift. Skiers then take the West Ten Mile green run, the most westward run on Copper’s front side, to the national forest access gate leading up to Janet’s.

“That’s a fun experience in itself,” Tennal said, “because you’re riding the lift with a loaded backpack.”

From the access gate, recreators ascend the Union Creek drainage for 5.5 miles, including a pretty steep ascent toward the end. It’s all worth it, though, as the skiing above Janet’s is a step above Francie’s. Located in the Vail Pass Recreation District, those staying at Janet’s have the ability to ski tour to nearby 10th Mountain Division Huts, such as the Fowler Hilliard Hut and the Jackal Hut.

With the same footprint as Francie’s, Janet’s features most of the same amenities.

Section House 

11,480 feet • 12 people

Located on the Continental Divide at Boreas Pass, Section House is a dream for Nordic skiers. Accessed via the 6.5-mile Boreas Pass Road, which is nonmotorized in the winter, the 3% old railroad grade of Boreas Pass Road is ideal for Nordic skiers.

Once you’ve ascended Boreas Pass Road though, as Section House is above tree line, staying up there is for those ready for inclement winter weather, namely gusting winds and blowing snow.

Tennal said most of the skiing around Section House is Nordic rather than backcountry downhill. 

“It’s a wonderful hut for a full moon,” Tennal said. “You can kind of tour around, tour down the backside of Boreas Pass Road toward Como. There’s miles and miles of Nordic trails.”

Section House also boasts history, as the U.S. Forest Service structure was originally built in 1882. With its historic designation, the Section House’s exterior must remain in tact, though upgrades have been made to the interior. Like the rest of the Summit Huts, that means new Tempur-Pedic mattresses this year.

The difference between Section House and Janet’s and Francie’s is that visitors must use John’s John, a more rustic pit toilet restroom experience.

Ken’s Cabin

11,480 feet • 3 people

Located just a couple hundred feet from Section House, Ken’s Cabin is an even more rustic stay at Boreas Pass.

“People that really want that authentic log cabin, pioneer-like experience love Ken’s Cabin,” Tennal said. “Because it’s just that: a pioneer railroad cabin.”

Considering Boreas was the Greek god of the north wind, be ready for above-timberline conditions at Ken’s Cabin. 

Just like Section House, most recreating at Ken’s Cabin is Nordic skiing, though some people skin up and ski backcountry runs off nearby 13,684-foot Bald Mountain. At $80 a night, Ken’s Cabin provides value at that price for parties between one and three people. If those staying at Ken’s Cabin are part of a party at Section House, they can also utilize the facilities at the neighboring hut. John’s John is also the pit toilet for Ken’s Cabin.

Though it was restored at the same time as Section House, Ken’s Cabin is older. Built in the 1860s, it’s one of the oldest buildings in the Breckenridge area. Inside, it’s simple amenities: sleeping quarters, cooking appliances and a wood-burning stove to warm you up. Both Section House and Ken’s Cabin feature solar-powered lights. 

Sister’s Cabin

11,445 feet • 14 people

Located on a hidden knoll on a north slope of Bald Mountain, the new Sisters Cabin, opened in winter 2018-19, is within touring distance of the more intimate Section House and Ken’s Cabin. Tennal said this much more modern cabin in Weber Gulch includes many of the improvements Summit Huts learned from the other huts. That includes a propane water-heating system just inside the front door that allows for guests to utilize the cabin’s central stove for other uses. It’s as easy as turning on a propane grill.

Tennal said Summit Huts would like to decrease its firewood use for snowmelt to be more environmentally friendly and to save costs, as transporting in firewood before the winter is Summit Huts largest annual expense. Tennal said Summit Huts is also building a cistern at Sisters, so guests have a better source for nonpotable water.

Sisters also differentiates itself from the other huts with its large central living and cooking area, big enough to accommodate multiple parties at once.

Accessing the cabin, McDonough-Yule said, is a new experience, as skiers access Sisters via 3.7 miles of singletrack in French Gulch, including “Hannah’s Way,” named for the late Hannah Taylor, a member of the Summit Huts family.

Once up there, the sun bathes Sisters’ large windows. Outside, recreators can ski Bald Mountain’s slopes while taking in stunning views of nearby Mount Guyot to the twin 14er peaks of Grays and Torreys farther to the east and Tenmile Range to the west. h

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