Tips for Planning Your First Hut-to-Hut Skiing Trip

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:

Gath­er Information
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.

Check Avail­abil­i­ty
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.”


Resources

Sam­pling of Locations
This list is not com­plete by any means, but hits some of the major area systems: