Yearning for Yurts & Longing for Lodges: Andrew McLean’s Favorite Hut Trips
This list of huts and lodges has no real geographical rhyme or reason; the huts are assembled together here mainly as I can vouch for their high quality. I’m a hut-ophile, though I’ve only been to about 10 official ones (I don’t count extended stays in abandoned houses, camping in storage units, or holing up in a fuel-storage locker as a legit hut experience, although that might be an interesting article in itself).
My first hut trip had some rocky moments. We triggered avalanches, accidently insulted the helicopter pilot to the point that he threatened to make us walk back out, listened to more Grateful Dead than Jerry himself, convinced the 19-year-old female hut keeper that nudity was mandatory in the sauna, ran around in the snow naked, and then capped it off by missing our return flight home due to some potential federal criminal charges. And that’s just the part I can write about. As you can imagine, this was a bonding experience. One of the great things about huts is that they tend to bring likeminded people together. Of the hundred or so people I’ve been on hut trips with, I’m still friends with all of them, even to the point of marrying one. Needless to say, I love backcountry huts, yurts, cabins, and lodges, as well as the people they attract.
Here are some of my favorites.
Commissary Ridge Hut – Tetons, Wyoming
The Commissary Hut is part of a four-hut system run by Teton Backcountry Guides, and while all of them are good, the Commissary’s front-porch views of the Grand, Middle, and South Tetons make it exceptional. The approach is fairly mild (four miles and 1200 vertical feet), which means you can still get in some good skiing on the days you head in and out. Commissary is located at 8000ft, and although it has plenty of skiing options for all abilities, the steep trees, peaks, and possibilities for long tours are exceptional.
Although they call it a hut, this structure is actually a circular yurt with room for 6–8 people, and it comes equipped with a full kitchen, propane, and a wood stove. Like most huts, all you really need is some food, your touring gear, and a sleeping bag.
The Teton Backcountry Guides yurts are still quite affordable, especially midweek when the prices drop down to $44 per person, per night with a full group of friends. Even during the weekends (Friday night and Saturday), the price only jumps up to $50 per person, per night, which is cheap considering the location and view.
For more information, or to rent the hut, check out tetonbackcountryguides.com/commissary-ridge
Hellroaring Hut – Centennial Mountains, Montana
The Hellroaring Hut is very cool in many ways. First off, it’s located in the Centennial Mountains of southwestern Montana, which is one of the few mountain ranges in the Continental U.S. which run east-west (the Uintas in Utah is another). This means a predominance of north- and south-facing slopes, which in turn means corn snow and/or powder. Second of all, the terrain in this area is legitimately steep and complicated, but if that’s not what you are looking for, there are plenty of other fun options as well.
The Centennials get a lot of snow.
The hut itself is two long outfitters tents which have been joined together to form a communal cooking/eating area and then a separate sleeping area. It comes complete with all of the cooking gear you’ll need, plus propane for the stoves and lighting. The tents can accommodate about 6–8 people. If nobody in your group has ever been there, a guide is required for the trip in, which is a good idea as the terrain around the hut can be confusing at first.
The powder and terrain to look forward to in the Centennials.
Prices for the entire hut start at $250 per night for “low-season” dates and go up to $300 for high-season weekend and holiday outings.
For more info, or to book a guide and rent the hut, check out www.skihellroaring.com.
Bench Hut – Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho
The approach to Bench Hut begins with a drive through Sun Valley, Idaho, which is reason enough to go. Located on the flanks of Mt. Heyburn, the hut has all sorts of great skiing opportunities, including sheltered trees for storm days, steep couloirs when conditions permit, and excellent hut-to-hut touring with the Fish Hook Yurt and/or Williams Peak Yurt.
Heather Paul-Featherman and Lisa Watson at the Bench Hut.
The approach is a mellow six miles and 1200 feet, which is easy but doesn’t lend itself to sled hauling, due to the contoured and sometimes narrow trail. But since the hut is so well stocked with cooking and sleeping supplies, you don’t really have to bring much.
The Sawtooths live up to their name.
The hut is a deluxe wall tent with room for 20 people, and it now has a wood-fired sauna. Bench is one of six or so huts/yurts which are part of the Sun Valley Trekking Company, which makes logistics very easy, as they have a very nice website and office with real people who not only actually answer the phone, but answer questions as well. The prices vary according to the number of people and the time of year, but they range from about $175 per night for a group of five to $350 per night for the entire hut during high season.
Danny Walton and Mike Hattrup in the Sawtooths.
Sol Mountain Lodge – Monashee Mountains, British Columbia
Sometime around the late 1990s, the Queen decided that backcountry lodges were a good use of Crown land, and a whole new crop of well-appointed structures began popping up in gorgeous locations, with the Sol Mountain Lodge being one of the best. Not only is the skiing and touring fantastic, but being in the Monashees, they get a buttload of snow (like a 12ft base), much of which is light, dry powder.
Lindsay Yaw in Sol Mountain terrain
The lodge itself is the perfect embodiment of what a backcountry lodge should be—it’s simple yet spacious, with very well-thought-out communal areas and everything you’d need for comfortably hanging out in the chilly mountains, including 10 separate bedrooms. The skiing terrain does not easily give up its secrets, and it was only after we’d spent a week there that I started to realize where some of the best places were. Because of this, hiring a guide, especially one like Aaron Cooperman who started the lodge in 2004, is a good idea. Sol Mountain offers a variety of guided and/or catered options, including doing it all on your own.
Sol Mountain soul train.
The lodge requires a helicopter flight to get to, which leaves from the Revelstoke area to the north, or Vernon and the Kelowna International Airport to the west. Prices range from $710 per person for a self-guided/self-catered four-day trip in the low season to $2250 per person for a seven-day, fully guided, fully catered trip during the high season.
For more information or to book a trip, check out www.solmountain.com
Powder Creek – Purcell Mountains, British Columbia
Powder Creek Lodge was the first place I truly understood the importance of a lodge location that allows you to both ski down into treed terrain or go up into the higher alpine. This strategic location means you’ll never be shut down, which is an important factor in an area like the Purcells, which gets legendary amounts of snow.
Powder Creek living up to its name.
The lodge is also very unique, as it was built by skiers and craftsman who had previously built a similar structure, where they learned lots of great little tricks and designs which make the lodge very well suited for backcountry skiing usage. It has a spacious kitchen, a nice walk-in food pantry, and a great central fireplace that vents warm air all the way up through the top floors so you can easily dry all your gear.
JADAPC – Just Another Day At Powder Creek.
And then there’s the skiing. It’s huge, fat with pow, has a ton of variety, and would take a lifetime to explore. While the easiest terrain is closest to the lodge (a nice feature for beginning tourers), if you’re willing to go out for longer days, there’s no shortage of rowdy peaks, chutes, faces, and bowls to be had. Hiring a guide (and having it catered, for that matter) is recommended, but the lodge also offers self-guided and self-catered trips for the dirtbags among us.
The Powder Creek Lodge.
For more info or to book a trip, check out: www.powdercreeklodge.com
Ultima Thule Lodge – Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska
If you’ve ever wondered what the ultimate backcountry skiing lodge is, The Ultima Thule Lodge in southeast Alaska clinches it. It’s one of those places you can read about beforehand, but once you get there, you can’t help asking “Now, how exactly did this little slice of nirvana come into being again?” The basic idea is that a family of climbers, skiers, and aviators had a hunting lodge which was grandfathered into 13.2 MILLION ACRES of what eventually became the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Getting there involves a six-hour drive from Anchorage, which places you at a dirt landing strip at the end of the road. From here, a plane picks you up and flies you another 40 or so miles deeper into the mountains, where a first-class lodge awaits.
A tiny, tiny slice of the Wrangells pie.
The skiing right around the lodge is limited (okay, nonexistent…), but with a quick plane flight, you’re able to do day tours in some of the wildest mountains in North America, if not the world. Imagine waking up in the morning and deciding whether you’re going to ski the Tetons, the Wasatch, the Sawtooths, or the Sierra. Hmmm. Choices, choices. The mobility that comes with the plane means you have a wide variety of aspects, elevations, and mountain ranges to choose from, so unless the weather shuts you down, you’re likely going to have a fantastic day.
A day trip from the Ultima Thule Lodge.
There’s something for everyone up there, but advanced skiers will definitely get the most out of it, as it’s truly wild, remote, off-piste skiing at its best. There are a few organized weeks of skiing, but for the most part it’s served a la carte, and you have to create your own program with the lodge.
Topping out on Solidarity Peak in the Wrangells.
Due to the remoteness of the terrain, the quality of the lodge, and the need for good planes and pilots, prices start at expensive and go up from there. Still, if you’re looking for the ultimate backcountry skiing lodge, this is it.
For more information, check out: www.ultimathulelodge.com
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For more information about ski huts, see our intro to yurts and huts.
Check out Drew Tabke’s “Wilderness Skiing in Washington” and our guide to five epic day tours in the Wasatch for more ski touring suggestions. And for kit recommendations, find out what Backcountry’s Gearheads take on their backcountry missions.