Lift-serve is great, but for true powder-hounds and those seeking a more wilderness experience, head to one of Colorado’s ski huts. Colorado has one of the most extensive and best-operated ski hut programs in the country, with 22 huts in the 10th Mountain Division, six in the Braun and Friends system, and countless others, from the San Juan Hut System (sanjuanhuts.com) near Telluride to the Never Summer Nordic huts (neversummernordic.com) on Cameron Pass. Though you have to get to them under your own power, you’re rewarded with the slopes to yourself and a cozy place to celebrate the day afterwards. Following are five to put on your list.
Located at 11,610 feet near Copper Mountain, 3,000-square-foot Janet's Cabin boasts terrain perfect for novice and expert skiers. Four bedrooms sleep 20 guests, a large front deck lets you bake in the sun while watching skiers descend from the high bowls, and wood-fired sauna soothes aching bones from the five-mile ski in. Info: www.huts.com
With six bedrooms, Francie’s Cabin, located four miles south of Breckenridge in the Crystal Creek drainage off Peak 10 in Colorado's Tenmile Range, sleeps 20, making it perfect for large groups of family and friends. Requiring just a 4.75-mile ski in from the Burro Trailhead in the town of Breckenridge, it’s also the perfect place to give kids their first hut trip experience. Info: www.hutski.com
The Eiseman Hut, nestled in Colorado’s rugged Gore Range, is the 10th Mountain's most alpine hostel, offering perhaps the best skiing out the front door of any hut in the state. You have to work to get there, gaining 2,560 vertical feet on the 6.8-mile ski in from Spraddle Creek, but it’s all worth it for the terrain and views of Vail across the valley. The hut sleeps 16, including two private bedrooms and a 12-person communal sleeping area. Info: www.huts.com
Kid-friendly Vance's Cabin, located near Tennessee Pass, is one of the easier huts to access, requiring just a 3.1-mile, 550-vertical-foot ski in from the Ski Copper parking lot. The three-story hut is privately owned and sleeps 16, with six beds upstairs in a loft and 10 bunk beds downstairs in a communal sleeping area. Plus, there’s a great sledding hill right outside. Info: www.huts.coml
Shrine Mountain Inn
For the most posh accommodations of the lot, try the privately owned enclave of Shrine Mountain Inn, a cluster of three separate cabins (Jay's, Chuck's and Walter's) off Vail Pass that sleep a total of 36. A shared sauna is located between Chuck's and Jay's, with propane grills provided at each cabin. The minimal ski in (just 2.7 miles) and deluxe layout make them a family favorite. Info: www.huts.org/hut_details/shrine_hut_details.html
What to Bring
Most huts come with beds and full kitchens with stoves. Bring appropriate backcountry apparel and gear (including skins, avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe maps and compass/GPS), sleeping bag, food and plenty of water to get you there. Hint: pack along a pair of slippers for inside. Info: www.huts.org
Two Other States with Huts
Colorado isn’t the only state cashing in on the hut craze. The La Sal Hut System (www.tagalong.com; (800) 453-3292) operates six huts near Moab, Utah; and Idaho’s Sun Valley Trekking (www.svtrek.com; (208) 788-1966) runs five yurts near Sun Valley in the Smoky and Sawtooth Mountains. Guides and custom tours are available at both. .
Buy this Book: Colorado Hut to Hut By Brian Litz
Backcountry magazine founder Brian Litz has explored Colorado's ski huts for more than 20 years, and has written the definitive guidebook to them in Colorado Hut to Hut. The book details the most extensive hut system in North America, including the 10th Mountain Division Trail, with trail information, equipment considerations and safety tips for hut-to-hut travel. The new twovolume edition includes 20 new huts and more extensive information to aid cross-country skiers, snowshoers, hikers and mountain bikers.