FREESKIER’s list of the 10 best backcountry huts to visit this year

FREESKIER’s list of the 10 best backcountry huts to visit this year

Tired legs, a fire, warm sleeping bags, fresh powder… backcountry hut trips are a world apart; here’s a list of the best backcountry huts to visit this year, from the East to West and everywhere in between

I spent my honeymoon in a backcountry hut. To get there, we carried 50-pound packs 4,500 feet up and over Goat Mountain, above Girdwood, Alaska, then traversed five miles along the Eagle Glacier. We saw wolverine tracks and more terrain than we could dream of skiing in our five days there. At sunset, we’d drag sleeping bags outside to cook on the rocks around the little A-frame, sipping whisky tea as alpenglow played on the surrounding peaks. It was unquestionably one of the best backcountry huts I’ve visited and the experience continues to inspire dreams of hut trips the nation over.

There are hundreds of public backcountry ski huts in the U.S., ranging from small homemade shelters to luxurious stone buildings perched on high elevation mountainsides. Some are set a day’s walk apart and can be linked like those in the Alps. Others stand alone as a basecamp or a destination unto themselves. Their numbers are expanding alongside winter backcountry recreation, which is the fastest growing sector in the ski industry. Occupancy rates increased by 9 percent for the last two years running in Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Huts, according to 10th Mountain Executive Director Ben Dodge. That’s compared to 2 percent or less in years past. Nationwide, popular huts are frequently booked six months to a year in advance.

Included here are a handful of the country’s best backcountry huts, and others further off the beaten track. They’re remote places, often guarded by avalanche terrain. If you go, be prepared with the proper rescue gear and know your stuff—or hire a guide to show you the goods.

Featured image: Rosie’s Roost, Alaska, is a honeymooner’s paradise. Photo: Emily Stifler Wolfe.

If you like perfect alpine bowls and couloirs cutting between stone pinnacles and towers, the Sawtooths are your jam. Set at 7,400 feet on the side of Mount Heyburn, the Bench Hut was the first backcountry hut in the range and alongside the Williams Peak Yurt is one of the most popular. Ski the mellow glades around the hut on day one, then head up to the Bench Lakes to explore the alpine wonderland. Built from lodgepole pine milled onsite, Bench has a 40-foot-long west-facing window and a wood fired sauna. Alternative: Coyote Yurt in the Smoky Mountains.

Access: Gain 1,200 vert over 5 miles from Redfish Lake Trailhead.

Capacity: 20

Cost: $45/person/night, plus 6% lodging sales tax, 3% U.S.F.S fee, and approach guide for first-time users ($250)

Reservations/Guiding: svtrek.com

Avalanche Info: sawtoothavalanche.com

Photos by Joe St. Onge / svtreks.com

The west side of the Tetons averages 500-plus inches of snow a year, and the yurts there are deservingly popular. Located at 8,000 feet, the Commissary Ridge Yurt has nearby powder skiing, as well as access into the northern Jedediah Smith Wilderness. If it’s stable, head for the 2,000-foot west face of Beard’s Mountain, or up and over Green Mountain to Little’s Peak for a remote, stunning wilderness summit. Commissary is snowmobile-accessible (yurt groups are limited to two sleds per party), so bring the big block of cheese and a case of beer. And order a clear day from the weatherman: The views of the Grand, Middle and South Tetons are outrageous.

Access: Snowmobile or skin an unplowed F.S. road 3 miles up South Leigh Canyon, then climb 1,000 feet in a mile to gain the ridge.

Capacity: 8

Cost: $410/night (weekends), $375/night (weekdays), plus 3% U.S.F.S fee, and approach guide for first-time users ($250)

Reservations/Guiding: tetonbackcountryguides.com

Avalanche Info: jhavalanche.org

Photos by Diane Verna / Teton Backcountry Guides

The Snowbird Hut, operated by the American Alpine Club, is an alpine paradise complete with picture-perfect windows facing the Snowbird Glacier and the rocky crags above. “Skiing in the mountains above the Snowbird Hut, the views stretch across the Talkeetna Mountains all the way out to Denali, Sultana, and Begguya,” says mountain guide Elliot Gaddy, referring to the high peaks of Denali National Park. Glacier travel skills and avalanche savvy are key for a trip to Snowbird, where you could spend several days skiing rolling moraines and techy couloirs, or continue to the Bomber and Mint huts for the 20-mile Bomber Traverse, a locals’ favorite.

Access: Ski up Archangel Road, turn onto the Reed Lakes Trail for 1.25 miles, then go north up Glacier Creek Valley, crossing the pass at its head; follow Snowbird Glacier’s northern edge to the hut, which can be difficult to find. The hike takes 5-8 hours. You can also charter a helicopter drop at Snowbird (polluxaviation.net).

Capacity: 6-12

Cost: Free

Reservations: First-come, first-served; cannot be reserved in advance.

Guiding: Guided parties cannot use the hut, but may ski into the area or traverse/camp along the Bomber; check out alaskaguidecollective.com.

Avalanche Info: alaskasnow.org

Photos and illustration by Emma Longcope

The 10th Mountain Division Association huts are named to honor the elite WWII mountain troops that fought in the Italian Alps. Today, the 14 well-appointed backcountry shelters between Vail and Aspen are perhaps the most famous in the U.S. and the Fowler-Hilliard hut is one of the most sought-after among them. Beside an evergreen grove at 11,500 feet on the shoulder of Resolution Mountain, this hut has views of several 14ers and skiing right out the door, from low angle trees to the avalanche prone Resolution Bowl. It’s without a doubt one of the best backcountry huts we’ve been to. Alternative: Margie’s near Aspen is an intimate hut with beautiful views and excellent skiing.

Access: Start at Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division troops trained before fighting in Italy. Skin up McAllister Gulch, gaining 2,300 feet in 5 miles.

Capacity: 16

Cost: $33/person/night, plus $6 Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area Fee

Reservations: huts.org

Guiding: paragonguides.com

Photo courtesy of the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association; photo below by FREESKIER’s own Henrik Lampert

A launch point into the heart of the White Mountains and the Pemigewasset Wilderness, the Zealand Falls Hut has something for everyone, says New England-based ski photographer Brian Mohr. “Especially if there’s a good snowpack and you are willing to do some exploring or put in a big day of touring,” Mohr adds, recommending February and March. There’s tree skiing near the hut, but this being New England, it’s tight, technical and demanding. If the alpine is in, head past the dramatic frozen waterfalls in Zealand Notch to ski off Whitewall or the Bonds. Alternative: Carter Notch Hut on Wildcat Mountain.

First photo by Mike Kautz; second photo by Ryan Smith

Access: Gain 1,100 vert over 6.6 miles from the parking area on US-302.

Capacity: 36

Cost: $28/night for Appalachian Mountain Club members, $34 for non-members

Reservations: outdoors.org/lodging-camping/huts/zealand

Guiding: newhampshireclimbing.com

Avalanche Info: mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org

Huts 6-10 on the next page… plus, the essential gear for your next hut trip

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