Hut-to-hut skiing offers a good workout and a comfortable wood-stove heated shelter to look forward to at the end of each day.
But as with any backcountry pursuits, you need to educate yourself before setting out.
To save you some time, I contacted the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association—a 501©3 not-for-profit that manages a system of 34 back country huts in Colorado—and spoke to Ben Dodge, Executive Director there about the steps you should take to plan a safe and unforgettable hut-to-hut ski trip:
This information varies from where you’re going in the U.S. (check out the resources below), to finding weather forecasts and available route beta. Put everything out on the table; your gear, your skill levels, what you want to accomplish—your balance between comfort level and physical demand. Reference the guidebooks as you would for a backpacking trip. Then start asking the logistical questions like, “where am I going to stay every night?” and “how far do I have to go to get there?” But remember, unlike backpacking, you’re going to be traveling in freezing temperatures, so be specific and know your capabilities while planning your trip.
The 10th Mountain Division is a well-functioning example of the many hut systems around the country. They operate and rent out 34 huts in the Colorado Rockies, with each hut holding anywhere between 8–16 people, and experience a total of 55,000 nights of rentals a year. A lottery system is in place for (year-in-advance) reservations for some of the more popular 10th Mountain Huts, but there is more availability for huts that are more difficult to access. Regardless what hut system you’re traversing, be sure that you check ahead of time to make sure there’s room at the Inn before setting out.
Designate a Group Planner
Your group planner should not only be vocal, but experienced in backcountry travel. Dodge of the 10th says, “some safety considerations a leader should have include a solid set of backcountry skills, the knowledge to organize an overnight trip, the ability to navigate winter conditions including route selection, the understanding of snow-pack stability, and the capabilities of handling an emergency situation.” If that doesn’t sound like someone in your group, consider contacting a professional guiding service who would be happy to take you out and show you the ropes for your first time.
Reserve Your Trip
As mentioned before, no matter where you go, check the huts availability and reserve your trip. It’s a finicky situation when you show up to a full hut with no reservation. When you reserve the hut, check the amenities. Most huts in the 10th Mountain Division, and most huts designated for winter use, come with a wood-burning stove, plenty of room for sleeping pads, and possibly a propane stove for cooking. With your amenities in mind, know what you need to bring. You’ll want to pack all your winter camping gear and skis. For a complete winter gear list, check out the 10th Mountain’s gear list in the resources below.
Purchase Topographic Maps
Dodge spoke about how advances in GPS, smartphone, and ski technology are changing world of hut-to-hut skiing. He strongly encourages people to also bring a map and compass, and just as importantly, know how to use them since relying solely on battery-operated navigation can get you killed in the backcountry.
Be Prepared, No Matter Who You Are
Even if you’re experienced, you need to do a little preparation. Planning car shuttles, going over emergency protocols, and double-checking maps; these are all things everyone should be doing for every trip. If you’re new to the sport, check your equipment, make sure you can ski (it’s easy with a little practice), and understand the concept of carrying everything on your back and traveling by muscle power alone. If it is truly your first time with a backpack or skis on, be sure you’re accompanied by someone who’s more skilled. Plan a short few days to get into the swing of things. Follow your guides and relay to them information considering your skill levels and experience, and either way, be prepared to have a great time.
Now you know how to plan your hut to hut ski trip. The easy part is reading about it, but the best part is getting out there and doing it; getting out and finding great company in the wilderness, forgoing cell-service for actual conversations, and being part of a hut history older than most of their inhabitants, who, according to Dodge, build community around the experience.
“It’s simple and warm, people take care of the huts, which is remarkable, it shows you the kind of environment that it is.”
- 10th Mountain Division Winter Gear List
- 10th Mountain Division Hut Association Website
- Cross Country Ski Areas Association Website
- Colorado Avalanche Information Center
Sampling of Locations
This list is not complete by any means, but hits some of the major area systems: