Yurt Trip Tips
How to Plan, Prep, and Enjoy Your First Backcountry Yurt Experience
Untouched snow outside the door, a hot wood stove, and a cozy vibe—the appeal of spending time at a backcountry yurt is unmistakable. Whether your idea of a perfect yurt trip is crazy steep terrain deep in the backcountry or a family glamping experience with some snowshoeing possibilities and a short hike to your vehicle, there’s a yurt out there to suit your needs. While these tips will focus on the backcountry ski type of trip, most of the advice will cross over to any type of yurt trip, no matter how mellow.
How to Find a Yurt and Book a Trip
There are thousands of yurts in mountain ranges and forests throughout the United States. Many are operated by the U.S. Forest Service or by individual state parks and can be found online. Many of the best ski touring yurts are privately owned, often by guide services, operating on National Forest land through permits granted by the Forest Service. Many of these privately owned yurts have websites and Instagram accounts and can be found through a little online research.
If you don’t have a specific yurt in mind, start with a Google search of yurts in your state or region. Consider your group and your objective. There are options out there to accommodate all kinds of experience and fitness levels, but it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you book to avoid getting in over your head.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the owner or operator of the yurt. Read reviews. Study maps. For your first yurt experience, it is recommended that you book a guided trip or go with experienced yurt connoisseurs.
Many yurts will not even let you book a self-guided trip unless you have been to the yurt before and have avalanche safety certifications. Some yurts, such as Montana’s Bell Lake Yurt operated by Big Sky Backcountry Guides, offer programs like ski mountaineering camps and avalanche safety courses. They also have specific trips that combine individuals and couples into larger groups.
Some of the more popular yurts out there fill up fast, so try to book early. The off season is often the best time to book, because many of the people running yurt operations double as the guides and are very busy and often off-grid during the winter. Booking shoulder season trips can save you some money, but you run more of a risk of poor snow conditions. Though, as with any ski trip, poor snow is always a possibility no matter the time of year.
Yurt Ski Trip Gear
It goes without saying that you need avalanche rescue gear, including a beacon, shovel, probe, and the knowledge to use this equipment whenever you go into the backcountry. Make sure you are familiar with the best practices of avalanche safety before you head out to the yurt, whether that means enrolling in a course or spending ample time touring and learning with experienced partners. If you and your group are not trained in avalanche safety, you should plan on only booking a yurt trip with a professional guide included.
You’ll also need your alpine touring kit: splitboard or touring skis, skins, poles, and a helmet, as well as a sleeping bag since you won’t find fresh linens at backcountry yurts. When it comes to clothing, there is a fine line between being prepared and over-packing. One key to a successful yurt trip is to carry a lightweight pack. You don’t need a changes of clothes for every day because the yurt allows you to warm up and dry off.
What you do need is a lightweight baselayer, an insulated midlayer, and either a hard shell or softshell depending on the expected weather conditions. You also need a hat, goggles, and sunscreen. Two pairs of gloves and two pairs of socks are always a good idea in case one gets wet.
An extra shirt to wear inside the yurt is a good luxury item to bring along, as is a cozy sweater or down vest since yurts may be colder than your heated house. And besides your ski boots, you’ll need a good pair of lightweight yurt shoes. Yurt shoes such as moccasins, down booties, or very lightweight sneakers are great slide into after you take your ski boots off at the end of the day.
Before your trip, you’ll want to use your gear at least a few times so you don’t end up dealing with equipment issues, like a boot liner that gives you blisters or a ski binding you don’t know how to use. Once you’re at the yurt, there isn’t much you can do to solve a problem you’re not prepared for.
Planning Yurt Meals & Beverages
The biggest tip for eating on a yurt trip is to plan ahead. Find out what cooking gear the yurt has and doesn’t have available. Many yurts out there have kitchens fully stocked with pots, pans, and other cooking and eating supplies, eliminating your need to haul this stuff in. But you’ll need to know if items such as propane need to be packed in. Drinking water typically comes from melting snow in a pot atop the woodstove, but you’ll want to start out with full bottles at the trailhead.
Just as you would on a backpacking trip, plan out every meal ahead of time (or divide meals among your group). You could keep it simple with backpacking food, or choose recipes that don’t require heavy ingredients (like potatoes, for example) and are relatively quick and easy to prepare. Do as much prepwork beforehand (i.e., prepping sauces, dicing veggies) so that dishes come together quickly at the yurt. The one benefit you have of cooking on a yurt trip vs. a warm-weather backpacking trip is you can keep your ingredients cold indefinitely outside in the snow without worrying about bears!
It’s also a good idea to bring snacks in addition to meals. Pockets full of things like hard candies, gel packets, and granola bars can help you stay energized while touring. Single-serving Gatorade pouches are great for mixing into your water bottle.
Many professionally guided trips come with meals included and prepared. This greatly reduces your time and effort spent planning.
For drinkers, deciding what alcohol to pack into the yurt is also a consideration. Beer is quite heavy, so a lot of people go with liquor in plastic bottles.
Other Considerations for Yurt Skiing
There are yurt experiences that cater to people of all abilities, from people who have never been in the backcountry and want to see what it’s all about to those who want to bust out 7,000-feet days on intense terrain. It’s important to know what you’re getting into and to understand the ability levels and expectations of everyone in your group.
And as you might expect, the better physical shape you’re in, the more you’ll enjoy your trip. Trekking through heavy snow to a yurt and skiing powder will be easier if you’re prepared physically. Increasing your fitness can also be combined with learning, breaking in, and practicing with your gear. However fit you are, taking your yurt trip with a group of similar ability and fitness levels and similar expectations will also mean a better experience for all.
Indeed, the most important part of any yurt skiing experience is the group you’re with. The right people can make a good yurt trip into a great one, so invite your friends, get out there, and have fun.
A native Michigander, Colin Clancy now lives in the mountains of Utah with his wife and their two dogs. His work has appeared in The Ski Journal, Powder, Strung, The Flyfish Journal, and elsewhere.