North America Gets Its Own Slice of Hut-to-Hut Skiing

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A new backcountry hut in Colorado, opening this year, aims to bring European-style hut-to-hut ski touring right here to America.

Every savvy backcountry skier or snowboarder knows the world’s best hut-to-hut tours are in Europe. There, you can start in one country and finish in another, like the famous Haute Route, which traverses from France to Switzerland, or ply the bounty of places like Switzerland, which boasts more than 200 huts.

In recent years, however, a handful of organizations in North America have been chipping away to create their own multiday meccas—routes where you can ski from hut to hut and enjoy world-class day-trip terrain along the way.

The newest option on the North American menu is set to open next fall in northern Colorado. The Sisters Cabin will be the fifth hut in the Summit Huts system, which is anchored around Breckenridge and Copper Mountain, and is the first new hut to be approved on public land in Colorado’s Summit County in 22 years.

The site of Colorado's future Sisters Cabin. Photo Credit: Summit Huts Association

Perched on the northern flank of Bald Mountain—also known as Baldy, a 13,684-foot peak with stellar day-touring options on all aspects—the 14-person Sisters Cabin will be a winter-only hut within touring distance of two other intimate huts in the system, Section House and Ken’s Cabin on the Continental Divide. “The skiing will be some of the best hut-based skiing in Colorado,” said Rich Rowley, president of the Summit Huts Association (SHA).

To build the hut, SHA (for which, in the name of full disclosure, this writer serves on the advisory board) spent a decade wading through the U.S. Forest Service’s and other land managers’ permitting channels, then another two years fundraising. The 2,090-square-foot cabin is funded by the Sturm Family Foundation and named in honor of a longtime group of hut-tripping women.

It will be built using state-of-the-art techniques aimed at reducing its carbon footprint and environmental impact. A combination of structurally insulated panels (SIPs) and prefabricated timber frame materials will be helicoptered to the site at 11,445 feet. Heat will come from a wood stove and large south- and west-facing windows, with electricity drawn from a solar array and human waste processed in a composting toilet. In addition, guests can access a wood-fired sauna via a covered walkway.

Although Rowley said final pricing hasn’t been determined, guests can expect to pay around $43 per night. Reservations will commence this fall once an opening date is finalized.

The new Louise and Richard Guy Hut in Canada. Photo Credit: Leigh McClurg/Pebbleshoo.com

Among the recently introduced huts preceding the Sisters Cabin, the Alpine Club of Canada’s Louise and Richard Guy Hut, which is celebrating its second full season of occupancy this winter, stands alone as a key link in a broader tour. Before the Guy Hut debuted in March 2016 as one of two winter-only cabins in the ACC system—which includes 32 huts and is the largest network on the continent—travelers attempting the iconic Bow-Yoho Traverse from Alberta to British Columbia had to complete a lengthy 12-mile crossing between the Bow and Stanley Mitchell huts.

Now, the Guy Hut stands as not only a cozy shelter halfway through that crossing, but an extraordinary destination of its own, with abundant powder-skiing options from the hut.

According to ACC marketing manager Keith Haberl, the Guy Hut, named for the avid mountaineering couple and dedicated ACC volunteers Louise and Richard Guy, is also the first ACC hut to be constructed using SIPs and to be powered from the outset by wind and solar energy. ACC staff can monitor the systems from their Canmore, Alberta, office, which is also a first. Reservations for the 18-person Guy Hut cost $30 for ACC members and $40 for non-members.

Meanwhile, some 475 miles west, near Whistler, British Columbia, skiers and snowboarders will soon be able to tour between huts in one of the continent’s most impressive landscapes. The renowned Spearhead Traverse has long been an adventure unto itself, but 10 years after a movement to install huts along the route began, the first of three cabins is finally underway.

Last summer, the Whistler Section of the ACC and the Spearhead Huts Society broke ground on the Kees and Claire Hut at Russet Lake, named after a young couple who lost their lives in 2007 while on the Wapta Traverse.

The hut is projected to open in January 2019 and, if all goes as planned, will mark a milestone in a 50-year effort to more comfortably link the Spearhead and Fitzsimmons ranges (which, in turn, connect Whistler and Blackcomb mountains) in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Local organizers tout the coming 24-mile circuit as “one of the great alpine hut tours in the world.”

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