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.
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.
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.