A winter ski tour in Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division huts system is the stuff adventures are made of: cold weather, iced-up skis, heavy packs laden with survival gear (plus a wee pint of brandy to keep you warm at night), snowshoe hares, wide-open wilderness without a soul in sight, and open skies with a million more stars than you ever thought possible.
backcountry hut system is linked by 350 miles of trails and ski tracks,
allowing serious modern-day explorers the unique opportunity of a having truly
epic winter ski adventure far from the chairlifts and creature comforts of
Colorado's big downhill resorts. It is the kind of adventure your grandfather
may have taken on – in fact the system was used to train soldiers in mountain
travel during World War II.
a bit of experience in wilderness and winter backcountry travel is required, a
trip within the 10th Mountain Division is an adventure that anyone in
decent physical condition, combined with a spirit of adventure and a cautious
respect for the power of nature, can take on.
you strap on skis, the first step in your winter hut expedition is the planning
phase. You need to work out what are you looking for, who is coming, whether you
need a guide and how you get there without getting lost or stuck in an
avalanche. The planning should start anywhere from six months to a year in
advance, as the 29 huts fill up quickly, and you should also take into account
the physical fitness of your group and your overall backcountry skills.
huts and backcountry trails are open in the summer, there is something about
the cold, wind and snow that make winter a special time to test yourself in the
Rocky Mountains’ bold and beautiful wilderness.
Tailoring your trip
With hundreds of miles of trails, you have a million and one choices in the
Colorado hut system. Do you want to stay in one hut and hang out for a few
days, taking the occasional day ski? Do you want to hit up good spots for
steep-and-deep backcountry skiing? Do you want to test your endurance with a
five-day, hut-to-hut ski? All these questions will determine where you end up
going. The hut system website is an
excellent resource to help you custom-tailor your trip.
to Ron Rash, the head guide and owner of Aspen
Alpine Guides, many people do not realise how hard hut-to-hut skiing can
be. Most huts are six or seven miles apart, with elevation gains of anywhere
from 1,500 to 2,500ft. Add a 40-pound pack, a blizzard and two feet of fresh
snow, and you can be looking at a more than 10-hour ordeal to make it to the
hut. Think about just how much energy you are capable of exerting as you make
your plans. Biting off more than you can chew in the wilderness can be a wildly
Choosing your team
Rash recommends having one person trained in avalanche awareness and
backcountry winter travel, another with some medical training, and someone else
who is good at using a map and compass to find his or her way through the
wilderness. A solid trip leader with all these skills will work, but, unless
you have a high skill level across the board, you will want to lessen the
distances and altitude gains you plan for each day. If you do not have any of
these skills in your skiing party, you should definitely look to hiring a guide
for the trip. Guides can cost upwards of $500 a day.
take is a balancing act. In the wilderness, less is definitely more, and a
pound less weight is definitely worth a ton more fun. But you will need the
following survival essentials.
- Avalanche beacon, probe and
shovel (And you must know how to use them!)
- First aid kit, including a lighter
- Compass, map and somebody that knows how to use them. You can bring a GPS,
but remember batteries freeze and satellite-signals can fail
- Quick-dry clothes (polypropylene on the bottom, then a fleece and your
- Mittens and gloves
- Thermos with warm water or
- Two litres of water (camelbacks freeze up in the winter, so go with an
insulated container and keep one in your jacket)
- Repair kit for skis, bindings or snowshoes
- Goggles (for heavy blizzards)
- Slippers and dry clothes for the hut
- Sleeping bag (bring something warm enough to use outdoors if necessary)
- Pot, stove and something to make an impromptu shelter (for multi-day
- Carefully planned meals, high in carbohydrates
- A Colorado Outdoor
Recreation Search and Rescue (COSAR) card. It costs just $12 for five
years and offsets the cost of search and rescue.
Backcountry skiing resources
The article 'Skiing Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.