In partnership with The Elevated Alpine whose missions is to elevate women in mountain sports.
So it’s time for your first hut trip, the quintessential Colorado backcountry adventure. Between the wood burning stove and the composting toilets - it's backpacking meets luxury. The cabins are often stocked with cooking gear, propane stoves, and fresh-cut firewood. However, the amenities vary hut to hut so it can be hard to figure out what you need to bring. The logistics of traveling in the snow complicate your packing list even further. So Bentgate Mountaineering and The Elevated Alpine have teamed up on this guide to keep you warm, comfortable and safe in the Backcountry.
Step 1: Plan, Plan, Plan!
It starts with one of the main Leave No Trace principles: Know Before you Go. The best way to set yourself up for success is to be prepared, if not over-prepared. Backcountry travel to a warm and cozy destination such as a hut can give you a false sense of security. You still face the same risks and hazards that you do in everyday backcountry skiing, and are often further from support or emergency services than you might be on a normal tour. Start off by researching your approach route and the skiing around the hut. Often the organization you booked the hut through will have the information to get you started. Another great place to find extra beta on Tenth Mountain, Summit and Braun & Friends Huts is on this online guidebook: hutski.com. You can then use free online tools such as Caltopo or Gaia GPS to map your route and potential tours. Avenza is a great (and free!) app to download to help keep track of where you are on your route in real time. You can also keep track of your mileage and elevation on Strava, without having to worry about getting King or Queen of the hill.
One of the most important steps in the planning process is to check the avalanche forecast through the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC). This year, unfortunately, has been setting records for avalanches occurrences and fatalities. We recommend keeping a few key things in mind:
- Be aware of the snowpack. In the months leading up, make a habit of checking the report for the zone of the hut you’ll be visiting. This will help put the current conditions in context, and give you a more comprehensive picture of the snowpack. Check the forecast at night, in the morning, on the toilet, on a first date as a conversation starter, you get the picture. But most importantly make sure you read it thoroughly the days leading up to your trip as well as the morning of while you still have service to get a good idea of the snowpack and current avalanche forecast.
Have all the proper gear (beacon, shovel, probe, emergency GPS/satellite phone) and make sure your group has the proper training. Hut trips are also a great time to practice your rescue skills! Hanging out after skiing? Use this time to do group rescue practice.
When planning routes or deciding where to ski for the day, a good rule of thumb is to default to the most cautious person - everyone in your group should have a voice and feel comfortable with your terrain choices. That way you stick together and keep yourself out of harm's way.
Stay conscious of group size when you’re out touring. It can be easy to end up with everyone out there together. Consider breaking into groups in the morning, and sharing beta between groups over lunch.
Step 2: Food
Beyond safety and route-planning, this is arguably the most important step. The great thing about hut trips is that you often have access to a full kitchen and a lot of human-power to carry up your ingredients. This is where the backpacking style thinking and Gordon Ramsay style recipes merge. You want to prioritize weight, just like with backpacking, since you still have to carry your feast on your backs (or a sled if you have access to one). But you can’t sacrifice delicious flavor! Who knows, they could be filming the next Iron Chef up there. Group meals are a great way to get creative, save pack weight and be efficient with time. A good rule of thumb is to make breakfast and dinner group meals. That way you have delicious provisions to fuel you for a long day touring and replenish nutrients lost after all that hard work. Lunch is usually easiest as an individual responsibility, some people are all-day snackers and others are two ham sandwiches in a row type-folks. It’s always great to have some Apres goodies that are quick and easy to prepare for when you get back to the hut after a long day. A great way to keep it classy and delicious is to have everyone bring up a fancy meat (or fruit), cheese and crackers. Throw it all together on a cutting board and you’ve got yourself a Michelin rated happy hour 11,000 feet up.
Another great Apres item to make is hot drinks. It’s a great way to warm up from the inside out after a long day of touring. Some of our personal go-to’s are Hot Apple Cider or Horchata using Skratch Labs mixed with hot water. They help rehydrate and replenish electrolytes and nutrients and also happen to pair excellently with a little Bourbon, but remain delicious on their own!
Here are some of our favorite group meal ideas:
Breakfast burritos - great for minimizing clean-up! Pro tip: crack your eggs ahead of time and store them in a nalgene, they scramble on the way up!
Fajitas - a great way to double down on your breakfast burrito ingredients, and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
Snow Ice Cream - a delicious way to end a long day. Recipe Here.
Protein pancakes - easy, lightweight, and great fuel for the day
Step 3: Gear
When it comes down to it, having the right gear on any expedition is essential. At the risk of sounding less than optimistic, I always imagine the worst case scenario when deciding on gear. That mean’s extra layers, repair kits and emergency supplies. That way if anything does go wrong, you’re better prepared. A good example where I can apply this thinking to is base layers. Base layers often come in synthetic blends, but for a long expedition like this you may want to consider investing in merino wool base layers - such as these ones from Ortovox. Unlike synthetic fabrics, wool continues to insulate if you are wet. When packing clothes to lounge in, keep in mind that wood- or pellet-fired huts can get HOT, especially when filled with sweaty bodies. We recommend packing both warm and cold-temp lounge clothes.
Here’s our recommended packing list:
The basics - everything you would bring on a normal tour:
Skis, boots, skins, poles
Safety gear - beacon, shovel, probe
1-2 Satellite Phones/SPOT Emergency Communicators per group
2 pairs of gloves - 1 warm, 1 lightweight
2 puffy jackets or 1 puffy / 1 vestHard- or soft-shell jacket, depending on the season
Ski pants or bibs
2 pairs of ski socks
We recommend getting one with UV protection built in. Like these ones from Buff.
Sunscreen, lip balm
One of our personal favorites is Ski Balm, it protects you from all the elements: sun, wind, etc
First aid kit
If you have radios these are great to communicate beta and keep your group safe. These ones from BCA have stood the test of time, and are designed to minimize interference with beacons.
- Another great option are these ones from Rocky Talkies. They are a company based out of Denver who create durable, high-quality and affordable radios designed for communication in the wild.
Soft Flasks are great for long tours and hut trips. They pack down easily when empty and are more flexible to fit in your pack when full. Just make sure you keep them warm in a pack or on your body so your water doesn’t freeze!
2 sets of of base layers for skiing
- These ones from Ortovox are made of 100% merino wool, a material that will continue to insulate even when wet, which is great for those sweaty ascents
1 set of warm clothes for lounging (eg. spandex, a flannel, and a fresh, comfortable sports bra)
1 set of light clothes for lounging (eg. shorts and a t-shirt)
1 pair of underwear per day you’ll be at the hut
Sandals to wear into the outhouse
At most huts, the outhouse is a short walk outside from the hut
Headlamp and extra batteries
Most huts have sheets and pillows on the beds, but you’ll need your own sleeping bag. NOTE: This year due to COVID-19 the huts are not providing sheets or pillows
Inflatable pillows can be a good option since pillows typically aren’t changed between every group
Battery bank and phone charger cord, especially if you’re using your phone for maps
Printed maps of the area and your potential routes - even if you plan on using your phone, have these as a back-up!
Step 4: Fun
Games like cards and Bananagrams can make for great hut activities. Some huts are stocked with these, but we also recommend bringing your own just in case! Some of our other hut favorites are thumper (as long as everyone in the hut is on board, the great thing about huts is you can get as noisy as you want since you probably don’t have neighbors for miles!) and costume contests.
Extra Tips & Tricks
Get a hut trip buddy! If you are in a large group use the buddy system to keep track of your partner and hold each other accountable.
If your route allows it (i.e. fire road or easily navigable path) bring a sled for food, gear and so on. Pro tip: Attach old skins or scraps from cut skins to the bottom of the sled to help get the sled uphill.
Make sure you leave the hut better than you found it, there are no housekeepers and each group deserves a great experience!