Photo by Matt Swartz: A ski tour to Sister’s hut (in the background).
The 10th Mountain Division hut system is the largest network of mountain cabins in the state of Colorado, and it is managed by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, a non-profit formed in the early ’80s. The founding members were Aspen locals and included 10th Mountain Division veteran Fritz Benedict. These skiing fanatics had a grand vision to build a collection of mountain cabins in the Colorado high country that could be reached via moderate ski touring routes.
Courtesy Photo from Paragon Guides: Fritz Benedict posing with skis.
Because winter camping is much more gear-intensive than the rest of the year, this new hut system would enable multi-day trips that required less equipment, like heavy mountaineering tents. A hut system would also allow skiers to wait out bad weather in the safety of a solid structure. And while ski huts weren’t a new concept at the time (European huts had existed for hundreds of years), a network of accessible ski huts in the Colorado backcountry was a new concept.
Photo courtesy of 10th Mountain Division Hut Association
The first huts, McNamara and Margy’s, were constructed in the summer of 1982, and within the following decade, an additional 8 huts were added to the network. In total, there are 12 huts owned and operated by the 10th Mountain Division Association, and collectively, the non-profit manages the booking of more than 30 mountain huts across Colorado.
The hut system is named for the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, an experimental group of WWII troops trained in Colorado’s demanding mountain terrain before deploying to Italy where they played a crucial role in the war. Upon returning to Colorado, many of these ski troopers were instrumental in the development of Colorado’s ski industry. Five of the 12 huts in the system were built with donations from the soldiers’ friends and families to honor the members killed in action. For a more detailed account of their involvement in WWII, read more here.
Photos courtesy of Snowbrains.com – 10th Mountain Division troops training in Colorado.
Utilizing the System
Staying in one of the 10th Mountain Division Huts is a wonderful and wild experience that will immerse you in a beautiful mountain landscape and create lasting memories. But traveling through the backcountry on skis in winter requires a special skill set and the ability to assess snow stability as well as weather conditions. In addition to the prerequisite skills, you’ll need to plan your trip well in advance because the huts often book up as early as summer. Here’s the booking portal.
Getting to any of the huts will require backcountry skiing and route-finding skills, and it’s important to understand that some huts are more difficult to get to than others. The 10th Mountain Division Association website has great resources, including route descriptions and maps to help you better understand the difficulty of reaching each hut in the system. If you are reading this and feeling like you don’t have the skills required to take a hut trip on your own, you can hire an AMGA-certified ski guide to make sure that your hut trip is safe. This list of authorized guiding services is a great place to start.
Photo courtesy Summit Huts: Sisters Cabin (rental managed by 10th Mountain Division Association)
As far as amenities are concerned, every hut is unique. Some are more rustic than others, with separate outhouses and simple bunk beds. Others feel more like luxury cabins, complete with water filtration systems, indoor composting toilets, large kitchens, multiple bedrooms, and wood-burning saunas. Any of the huts provided offer a welcome retreat from the cold and snowy backcountry, but perhaps the best amenity of all, regardless of which hut you stay at, is the world-class Colorado skiing that is accessible right outside the front door.
For more information regarding winter and summer use of the hut system, visit the 10th Mountain Division Association website here.
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