It started as a winter idea, something to do when the snow flew.
The first Appalachian Mountain Club ski hut was built in New Hampshire back in 1888. Construction hasn’t slowed a bit since then.
The American tradition of hut-based backcountry skiing, where skiers set up their bases in mountain refuges with ski access, warm meals, and soft beds, has exploded.
Okay — we all know that Europe originated the concept of hut-based backcountry skiing and has most of the world’s alpine shelters. But in the Alps the huts, in many cases, fill with hundreds of people. Not so in the U.S., especially in one of the premier hut systems, the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, in Colorado.The 10th Mountain Division is the largest winter-use connected hut system in the U.S and the nation’s ultimate ski hut network. It was founded in 1980 to develop a system of connecting huts to provide shelter to backcountry skiers, and currently has 34 huts connected by over 300 miles of Forest Service trails.
The huts were designed for winter use, and were opened for summer use in 1993. On average, huts are about 6-8 miles apart. Fourteen of these huts are owned and operated by 10th Mountain. The other 20 huts in the system are in the same region, but separately owned and operated by partner organizations. 10th Mountain and its partners share a common marketing and reservations system.
The name “10th Mountain” honors the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. Five of the 10th Mountain Division Huts were built with donations from family and friends to honor soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division who died in World War II
It started just before World War II, when the U.S. War Department began training mountain troops for combat. Camp Hale, located near Colorado’s Eagle River Valley, was selected as the army training grounds for over 11,000 men, in December, 1942.In January, 1945, the 10th Mountain Division found themselves in Italy, where, according to their website, “they played a crucial role in several battles.” During this time, many of the Division had developed a shared love of the mountains and Colorado. Post-war, a number of 10th Mountain vets settled here; some were instrumental in the founding of ski towns such as Vail and Aspen.
Today 10th Mountain Division Hut Association is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization that manages the hut system here.
The hut system is built roughly in a circle around the Mountain of the Holy Cross and operates both a summer and a winter season. Twenty-one huts are available in summer season (July 1 – September 30) and all are available in winter season (Thanksgiving – April 30). The trails roughly connect the ski communities of Aspen, Leadville and Vail.
While the system was designed for backcountry Nordic skiing, it is open to other non-motorized uses, including snowshoeing, hiking, biking, llama trekking, and horseback riding.
The huts are not staffed and those who use them are responsible for maintaining order and a clean, safe environment. The policy of 10th Mountain is that upon leaving, cabins are to be as clean or cleaner than they were found for the next group.
10th Mountain strongly discourages the use of motorized vehicles for access to the huts, except as group support vehicles for hikers or bikers.
Within the 10th Mountain Division Huts, the Eiseman Hut north of Vail is the highest at 11,180 feet, and closest to the best skiing. It also boasts the system’s largest sun deck—nearly as important as the ski access—from which you can view multiple ranges and a memorable view of Vail Mountain Resort.
The Eiseman is set up for a party. It sleeps 16. The huge kitchen with multiple wood burning stoves inspires alpine feasts.
Most huts are located 6 to 9 miles from the trailhead and have between 1500’ and 2500’ of elevation gain. You should plan on touring in with your food, sleeping bag, clothing, and safety gear.
And remember the name honors the men of 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, who trained during World War II at Camp Hale in central Colorado.
Are you ready to grab your Red Fox gear, and hit the huts? You’ll need to reserve it. It’s worth it.