How to Plan a Backcountry Hut TripPublished on 07/14/2022 · 7 min readSki Expert Kylie D. shares eight steps for planning the perfect backcountry hut trip. Here’s what you need to do to make your dream adventure go off without a hitch
Photo by Simon
Although day trips into the backcountry can be a ton of fun, backcountry huts give you the ability to get a little further into the mountains, as well as giving you an experience that you and your friends can really bond over. That said, planning a backcountry hut trip can be a daunting task for the beginner who has never done it before. Here’s a breakdown of exactly what you need to do to make your dream adventure go off without a hitch!
1. Figure out where you want to go
Be realistic about where you’re going. If this is your first ski hut trip, keep it short—from the distance from the trailhead to the number of nights. Even if you’re no stranger to summer backpacking trips, a winter hut trip can be a very different experience with its own set of challenges. A good rule of thumb is to allow about an hour per mile of travel from the trailhead, so three hours to go three miles, for example.
There are a number of different networks of huts to explore. The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association of Colorado is one well-known option, but there are a ton of other backcountry ski huts, yurts, lodges, and cabins out there, from Vermont to Oregon and everywhere between! Make sure you have a good map detailing the trails that you’ll use. It’s always good to have a hard copy as a backup, but there are also great apps that will help you navigate the terrain!
2. Decide when to go
Planning a hut trip is not a last-minute affair. Huts are usually booked up far in advance, with most reservations opening up six months to a year before the date of stay. Winter weekends are frequently reserved quickly, with only midweek and shoulder season availability remaining as the season gets closer.
Huts also will usually require a deposit (or even payment in full), and since COVID, many huts require you to book the entire place rather than just singular bunks. It can be difficult to figure out dates that will work for a whole group six months in advance, but it may not be feasible to do a trip on your own without a crew.
In all cases, you’ll want to make sure that you and/or your group have some important skill sets: first aid, route-finding (even in the snow), and avalanche safety are all critical knowledge to make sure your foray into the backcountry is successful and safe!
3. Collect your gear
Although the word ‘hut’ is something of a misnomer these days (this isn’t going to be a barren structure with nothing but four walls and a roof), you’ll need to bring most of the things that you plan to use on your trip. This goes beyond simple ski and avy gear—you’ll also need sleeping bags and overnight things.
Check with the place you’re staying to see what is available onsite and what isn't. Does the place have mattresses or do you need sleeping pads? Some huts even have amenities like a sauna or wi-fi, so you never know what you’re going to get! If all else fails, a deck of cards or an easy-to-pack dice game like Yahtzee or Qwixx is a great way to pass time.
You’ll also want to make sure that you can make basic repairs to your gear during the trip. Don’t let a busted zipper or a broken pole be the thing that sends you back to the car before the adventure has begun! Check out this guide for useful repair items to purchase and carry.
4. Bring something comfy to change into
Although you may cringe at the extra weight that comes with bringing sweatpants or a hoodie on the trip with you, you’ll want to have something warm and dry (not to mention less smelly!) to put on when you get to the hut for the night. Everyone has their personal preferences on this front, but there’s nothing better than slipping into something comfortable after a day of touring!
You’ll also need some footwear to change into when you’re not in your ski boots—both for comfort’s sake as well as to give your boots a chance to dry out overnight. The best footwear options are waterproof and able to be worn outside to grab firewood for the woodstove or to use a latrine (only some places have indoor toilets and showers).
5. Don’t forget about food
Most huts come equipped with some kind of stove (propane, wood-burning, or electric), as well as cookware (pots, pans, and utensils). But you’ll need to supply your own food. Make it a communal affair with your group so that you can divvy up the weight for the hike in and the garbage schlep on the way out.
As for what to bring, you’re going to want plenty of easy snacks for during the day, like granola bars, some good ol’ PB&Js, or maybe a quick charcuterie board for once you arrive at the hut. Your food options can be more extravagant the closer you are to the trailhead, but no one’s ever gone wrong with a good bowl of pasta. And don’t forget the ice cream—condensed milk mixed with snow makes a great base for vanilla, berries, or other flavors!
Pro-tip: throw away excess packaging, pre-chop veggies at home, marinate meats in Ziplock bags, and overall do whatever is in your power to speed up the cooking process at the hut!
6. Prepare to hydrate
Depending on where you go, you may need to be prepared to purify your water. Although some places have access to running water, it’s more likely that water might come from snowmelt or a cistern. Check with the hut that you’ll be staying at to see what the amenities are, but when in doubt, it’s better to be over-prepared. There are plenty of lightweight options out there!
Because you’ll be at high elevation and doing a workout, you may also want to pack hydration/electrolyte tablets to give you a little extra boost on the hydration front.
And then, of course, there’s that other kind of hydration…if you choose to imbibe during your trip, you’ll need to factor in the weight of beer, liquor, or wine. One way to cut down on weight is by repackaging drinks into flatpack bottles or lightweight flasks instead of cans or bottles—and it cuts down on trash as well!
7. Check the forecast
As you get closer to your trip, you’ll want to make sure you’re checking the forecast regularly and preparing for the possibility that your trip may not go off as planned. Although it can be disappointing to have to cancel a backcountry hut trip planned so far in advance, you’ll need to make sure that you and the rest of your crew are safe.
A basic weather app can be helpful, but you’ll really want to consult a forecast geared towards skiers such as OpenSnow, as well as the avalanche forecast for the area that you’ll be going.
8. Put it in someone else’s hands
If all of this sounds too stressful to consider, think of leaving the logistics to someone else!
There’s no denying that backcountry hut trips can be a tricky affair to plan by yourself. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, not able to put together a large enough crew, or if you’d just prefer to leave the planning to someone else, look into a guided trip.
For example, the Million Dollar Traverse links the towns of Silverton and Ouray, CO using some of the San Juan Hut System. They’ll arrange your stays at the Ophir Pass Ultimate Ski Hut (OPUS), the Red Mountain Alpine Lodge (RMAL), and the Mt. Hayden Backcountry Lodge (MHBL), plus arrange all your meals for you so that you can travel light.
Wherever you choose to adventure, you’re in for memories to last a lifetime! For gear advice and recommendations, reach out to a Ski Expert here on Curated—we'd be happy to get you prepared!