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Winter backpacking revolution: the 10th Mountain Division Huts

No shortage of snow (or soft morning light) at Skinner Hut

No shortage of snow (or soft morning light) at Skinner Hut

Within minutes of entering Skinner Hut, I knew that the 10th Mountain Division Huts would revolutionize my winter recreation. Outside, it was nearly dark (at 4:30 pm!) and lightly snowing; temperatures were in the teens.

But inside, my friend Dave and I had all the amenities of a home: solar-powered lights, gas-burning ranges, two wood-burning stoves, mattresses and pillows, and an extensive collection of books and board games. The hut seemed especially dreamy since we were both wiped after skiing 11 miles and climbing 2,500 vertical feet to the hut’s ridgetop perch at 11,700 feet in Colorado’s Sawatch Range.

The common area, dining tables, and kitchen at Uncle Buds's Hut

The common area, dining tables, and kitchen at Uncle Buds’s Hut

The kitchen at Skinner Hut. It's completely stocked -- you only need to bring food and booze.

The kitchen at Skinner Hut. It’s completely stocked — you only need to bring food and booze.

Typical bunk room. Most huts have capacity for 16, divided among several rooms. Bring your ear plugs!

Typical bunk room. Most huts have capacity for 16, divided among several rooms. Bring your ear plugs!

I’ve done a lot of winter backpacking — hundreds of nights and thousands of miles — and there are many aspects about it that I love. If you have not already, you too should discover the joys of sliding effortlessly on snow, sharing your favorite backcountry areas with no one, and learning know-how unique to winter conditions.

But the bulk of my winter experience has been unavoidable, like during the Sea-to-Sea Route and the Alaska-Yukon Expedition, when I was motivated by a laudable goal to endure winter’s hardships. In comparison, I’ve done few winter trips that were purely casual and “discretionary,” and I’ve never allowed Amanda to sleep on snow.

Why? Quite simply, because winter backpacking trips are really challenging, and done-in-a-day outings are far easier and more pleasant. More gear and skills are required. Not even a simple task (e.g. tying your shoelaces) is a gimme. And, finally, the nights are really f’ing long, which has always been my biggest peeve.

The 10th Mountain Division Huts neutralize these challenges. Leave your shelter, snow-melting stove, and winter sleep system at home. During the day, play hard and exhaust your margin of error (i.e. become dehydrated and hungry, damp with perspiration, and cold), because you can recover fully overnight in the hut’s comforts. And extend the nights with a good book, fun company, and/or a stiff drink while wearing just down booties and long johns.

It’s “Winter Backpacking — Light Edition.” I’ve already made reservations for Amanda and me for early next year.

Adjusting gear at 12,000 feet while overlooking the Mosquito Range before a fun descent on Mount Galena's untracked south face.

Adjusting gear at 12,000 feet while overlooking the Mosquito Range before a fun descent on Mount Galena’s untracked south face.

About the huts

The thirty-four 10th Mountain Division Huts are located throughout the Colorado Rockies, centered around the mountain towns of Aspen, Breckenridge, Leadville, and Vail. Most huts are accessible only by skis (alpine touring, telemark, or backcountry Nordic) or slowshoes. Rates are $30-$40 per person per night. You can find more information and make reservations at www.huts.org.

A few more photos

The view north from Skinner Hut, down Glacier Creek

The view north from Skinner Hut, down Glacier Creek

The outside morning temperature was 5 degrees, but it was 50 inside. When there are more people at the hut, I'm sure it's even warmer. BTW, yes, that is a flask of Makers Mark.

The outside morning temperature was 5 degrees, but it was 50 inside. When there are more people at the hut, I’m sure it’s even warmer. BTW, yes, that is a flask of Maker’s Mark.

Dave skins up Galena Mountain with Mt. Massive, Colorado's highest peak, just behind him.

Dave skins up Galena Mountain with Mt. Massive, Colorado’s second highest peak, just behind him.

A bunk room with a view: Mt. Elbert (left) and Mt. Massive (right), Colorado’s two highest peaks

17 Responses to Winter backpacking revolution: the 10th Mountain Division Huts

  1. Alex Gash December 23, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    The 10th Mt. Hut System IS great! I always wanted to string a few together to make a multi-day trip out of them. Even staying the weekend and doing day trips (or just playing around in the snow) using one as a base camp is fun. Spaces do fill up quickly, however, epically over popular weekends; it’s wise to book them months before hand. (BTW, Mt. Elbert is CO’s highest peak, not Mt. Massive; only by 12′ or so)

    • Andrew Skurka December 23, 2014 at 10:25 am #

      Ha, thanks for the correction. It’s indicative of my interest in Colorado’s 14’ers — about zero. Too many too many people on most of them.

  2. Katherine December 23, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    Looks delightful.

    Anyone have suggestions on the Pacific Northwest equivalent?

  3. Paul Mags December 23, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    Glad you discovered the delight that are hut trips. As a friend of mine said “The outdoors person in you love the skiing..the Italian in you loves the cooking you can do!”.

    Hope you don’t mind the shameless plug, but I wrote this ~2 yrs ago and updated the links today. May answer some questions people have http://www.pmags.com/rustic-luxury-how-to-pack-for-10th-mountain-hut-trip

  4. Mark Leonardi December 24, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    Nice job Mags. Another great article. In California we have the Sierra clubs huts. Not exactly the same but works. http://vault.sierraclub.org/outings/lodges/huts/

  5. marne December 26, 2014 at 11:32 am #

    Glad to hear from someone who has used the huts! I learned about them last January while in Denver and had a snowshoeing trip planned for this week that went out the door when I hurt my back rock climbing. Your review will solidify reserving huts for next December, thanks!

  6. Randy December 27, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    I have to say that is not what comes to mind when I think of a hut.

    Your blog and book have been helpful planning the next two hiking vacations that I am using to test my fitness level before doing a rim2rim2rim of the Grand Canyon in around 2 years. I really missed having a reason to train. Hopefully ones I accomplish goal of crossing the Grand Canyon twice in one day I can take one of your guided trips.

    One quick question I raising cattle on the edge of the Driftless Region along the Mississippi river. So I am lucky enough for someone in the Midwest to have a hill behind my house that gains 305 feet in 1220 feet. Everyone seems to talk vertical feet per mile or total vertical feet of trails The best I can do for lack on a mountain is string series of up and down together. Other than the lack of altitude change, how much easier are short hills vs longer western trails.

    • Andrew Skurka December 27, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

      There are a few differences between a single long climb and multiple short climbs, but the overall amount of work will be the same, i.e. it will tax your body very similarly. The differences will mostly be in the experience: you’ll get bored doing the same climb numerous times, and you’ll struggle to really get into a rhythm before it’s time to descend again. In general though, don’t over think it: it’s what you have, so make use of it.

      • Randy December 30, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

        Thanks for the advice,

        I should be able to change things up enough not to make it too boring. Back when I was still a competitive fencer I viewed drills and training as being much like eating your vegetables they are good for you and you need to do them but they don’t have be fun. The fun is accomplishing my goal.

        Have fun on your next adventure.

  7. VADIM FEDOROVSKY December 29, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    Andrew could you please post a gear list for this trip? I am extremely interested in you winter trip set up. If not, could you please share with us what kind of skis, boots, skins, and poles you used?

    Thank you!

    • Andrew Skurka December 30, 2014 at 9:43 am #

      I’ll try to put something together. In general, I’d like to assemble more of such lists — I think a lot of readers find them to be very helpful because of they show a system, not just isolated pieces of equipment.

      • Vadim Fedorovsky December 30, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

        Thank you, Andrew. You are absolutely right. Your lists have revolutionized my backpacking experience.

    • Andrew Skurka January 17, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

      Vadim –

      You asked, and I was motivated to do it, so here you go: http://andrewskurka.com/2015/gear-list-backcountry-nordic-ski-touring/

      Andrew

      • Vadim Fedorovsky January 20, 2015 at 1:55 pm #

        Thank you!!!

  8. Rick St.Hilaire January 6, 2015 at 5:49 pm #

    I agree that there is nothing like care free hiking in the winter months. Looks like the AMC could learn a lesson from 10th Mountain in keeping more huts open in winter out here in the East.

  9. mike wehrman February 5, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    I recently joined the Norwegian Trekking Association. They have a national system with both manned and unmanned huts. Many have WiFi, beer, wine, beds, etc. They’re usually only 8 miles apart. 90% of Norwegians speak English. I’ve been there but not backpacked. Hope to take a guided hike next summer. Check it out at:

    English.turistforeningen.no
    Or just google “Norwegian Trekking Association.”

  10. Anne Pennington April 1, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

    I wanted to add a few great links for other hut systems around the country I thought you or your readers might like:

    Maine: mainehuts.org;
    Minnesota: boundary country.com;
    Colorado: huts.org;
    Washington: rendezvoushuts.com;
    Appalachian Mountain Club: outdoors.org/mainelodges

    Thanks for all the details including the pics in your posts!

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