Hut trips are special—a wonderful mix of freedom and nature. You find a middle ground between adventure and socializing with friends or random hut goers and enjoy being in the middle of nowhere with beautiful skiable terrain and a blazing fire at night. To me, it’s the same kind of joy I felt building blanket forts and tree houses as a kid.
Somewhere in between the luxury of a hotel and the struggle of camping in the snow, a hut trip isn’t a walk in the park. It takes planning, and probably carrying a heavy pack, maybe a long trek in, variable conditions and weather. But don’t get stressed about planning—if it’s your first time on a hut trip, simply decide your ambitions and goals before you take off and make fun happen. Here are some tips.
Be choosey about your crew
The people you choose for a hut trip are crucial. Go too docile and you’ll be doing minimal tours, and passing on any nightly festivities. You might even be in bed by sun drop. Go too big and you might be dropping some over-the-top extreme terrain, getting maxed out on daily vertical intake, and throwing back grandpa’s old cough medicine until the sun comes up—only to do it again the next day. If burning the candle at both ends is your MO, I tip my cap to you. But finding middle ground will help you make the most of the snow and nature around you.
Hone in your location
The hut system in the States isn’t as developed as it is in places like Europe, so this can mean high demand, especially on weekends. Mid-week is the time to go, if you can swing it. Most huts require reservations and it’s often necessary to book a place months in advance. Some operate on a lottery system. Be sharp, have dates picked out well in advance and know the actual process of what needs to be done to get the spot you want. It can feel a little bit like a draft—so you can imagine the excitement when your name gets called.
Dial in your gear
Whether you’re splitboarding, ski touring, or snowshoeing to your destination, make sure to bring a good amount of duct tape, ski straps, and maybe a couple extra screws. Because when you’re deep and vulnerable, you’ll be hurting if your gear decides to fail you. Keep those skins and boot liners as dry as you can and bring some glob stopper for warm spring days when that snow decides to stick to the bottom of the skins. And before you head out, make sure you let somebody responsible know where and when you’re getting back, and be sure to check in with any rangers or wardens to see if you need permits or any other sort of special authorization.
Go gourmet, if you want
This is an aspect of a hut trip that definitely can get overlooked. The lightweight option is to bring freeze dried foods, but depending on how long you’re going out for, this can get boring really quickly. You’re burning so many calories skiing, it’s your ticket to really town. You just have to plan ahead a little.
Simple meals with fresh ingredients can go far—like stir-fry, burritos, spaghetti, pre-made chili and soups. You’ll have a natural refrigerator to keep meats and other perishable items cold. You can minimize weight by moving packaged and canned items into Ziploc bags. And you can expedite the cooking process by cutting up everything ahead of time.
Make sure to have plenty of butter or olive oil to the non-sticking cooking process. Another helpful hint: You can pre-crack eggs into Ziploc bags or Nalgene bottles, and if kept in the cold, they should keep for a couple of days.
Snacks are also pivotal. Lightweight dehydrated fruits or jerky are great options, or you could go the route of energy and granola bars, which are nice fillers when out touring or when that stomach is getting a little grumbly. Candies are another great way to boost sugar levels—gummy bears anyone? Adding electrolytes to your water bottle will help increase energy levels before or after a tour to help keep you sharp, too.
And last, but not least: Don’t forget the booze. A nice cold beer is great at the end of the day—if you’re willing to carry it in, more power to you.
Looking at the weather forecast ahead of time will help you pack— but always remember that conditions can change. Remember, most of these items are going in the pack—that you’re carrying—but at the end of the day, clean, dry socks/slippers/shirt/pants are cozy to slip into. Usually the one-of-everything on the outside layer is a good bet: hard shell, down jacket, ski pants. As far as inside layers, a reasonable rule is try to make sure that you have enough clothes to start off somewhat dry and warm each day. This is certainly a preference, and one must go into a hut trip knowing that staying completely fresh and clean is likely not an attainable goal. More likely, you’ll come out smelling somewhat pungent either way, so don’t take it personally if others shy away from your company. And remember that wet wipes can do wonders.
Aside from all the basic backcountry gear (i.e. gloves, goggles, shovel, beacon, probe, poles, skis/splitboard, skins, etc.), sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses and a buff are indispensible for sun and snow exposure. A well-equipped first aid kit is a must, and a water filter may come in handy. You’ll want a headlamp and probably a multi-tool on your person.
Optional items—besides the aforementioned booze—can elevate the fun when you’re hunkering down at night or throughout the day. Think dice, a deck of cards, a book or journal. Also keep in mind that people go into the backcountry typically to get away from technology and other connectors to the outside word—so for the most part, all those downloaded TV shows and movies can be put on hold for the triumphant return home. For a moment, take the chance to revel in the natural world around you.
Brush up on your backcountry know-how
Any time you head into the backcountry in winter, avalanche knowledge is essential. Take a course, watch a few videos, and freshen up before you go. It’s important to get outside and put this knowledge to work. Learn from the conditions around you as well as avalanche reports. Familiarize yourself with the area you’re going to be in. Practice with your shovel, probe and beacon. If somebody in the group is well versed in avalanche knowledge, pick their brain and get the group together before the trip or on the first day to practice recovering beacons and digging.
Now, it’s time to go. Tighten up your boots, ditch a layer right before you start walking and throw that heavy backpack on because hut living is just around the bend … or, maybe a bit further. Wherever it may be, congrats on your trip—enjoy your adventure.