When I first got to Colorado over 18 years ago (fresh off the racing circuit) I heard about this winter cross-country skiing thing where skiers could ski a short distance from a hut to another hut - and make a sweet weekend or vacation adventure out of it.
However, not being a "winter" outdoorsman, I didn't give it much thought... Well until the following springs. I was thinking; if they could ski it, why couldn't I bike it?
18 years ago came with a brand new baby boy, a new job, new life... and well life, as with most, consumed all and mountain biking was mostly put on the shelf - as well as any ideas of leaving society quietly faded away.
Fast forward 18 years - I'm now 51, kids are gone, work is solid, my love and I now find ourselves planning bike trips to the beaches and mountains resorts all over place; life is good!
This got me to thinking about these hut systems again, and with the advances in bikepacking, it's much more of a realistically achievable adventure, than ever before.
I am not totally unfamiliar with the idea of spending days or weeks in the mountains. Hunting and packing with horses in Colorado is something is spent a great many years doing (see photo) and I think knowing how fricken cool it is to be in the mountains 100% self sufficient is part of the itch that I may be feeling now!
How can anyone with an ounce of adventure in them, not think this is an awesome idea?
Greg Benchwick wrote: Colorado offers some of the best skiing, snowshoeing and hiking opportunities in America. And out in the wilds under the big Rocky Mountain sky, you’ll find a remarkable system of remote huts that provide the opportunity to go further into the backcountry than you ever imagined.
Colorado’s hut systems make the wilderness accessible – and sometimes downright comfortable. These backcountry cabins have kitchens, beds and wood-burning stoves, and a few provide food so you can leave the hundred-pound backpack at home. A few are even complete with rustic, wood-burning saunas. But the systems’ complexity and the rugged nature of the hikes [bikes] and ski routes between them can seem daunting for first-timers. Here’s our guide to the Colorado hut system.
Colorado Huts Overview
There are over 160 huts and yurts (permanent circular tents reminiscent of what you’d find on the Mongolian Steppe) throughout Colorado. The vast majority of Colorado's huts are found in national forests and designated wildernesses in the mountainous central and southwestern portions of the state. It’s arguably the largest collection of backcountry huts in the United States.
A few major systems govern the majority of the huts and yurts in Colorado. The top systems include the 10th Mountain Division, Never Summer Nordic, Braun and Friends Huts, and the San Juan Huts. Every year, new huts are being added to the system, and a few luxury yurts – like the Opus Hut – serve up catered meals and hot showers.
Getting Started: A trip to a hut is a true adventure. While the trails are generally marked, you should have a compass and map (and know how to use them).
Booking: Winter stays at the 10th Mountain Division Huts, Grand Huts and Summit Huts are booked using a lottery system. You’ll need to enter the system in early spring for winter trips in the following year. Summer trips are less competitive. Consider midweek trips to up your chance. Looking for last-minute cancellations is another good bet. Most huts can be booked individually (you’ll share the experience with other groups). If you have a large group, booking an entire hut is a great way to ensure privacy. No dogs are allowed.
Getting In: Many huts are 6 to 9 miles from the trailhead – though there are a few standouts with short rides of less than a mile, which are great options for families. You’ll likely be carrying food for the trip, a sleeping bag, safety gear and clothes. The bike-ins average between 1500 and 2500 feet in elevation gain, starting at around 8000 feet and taking you above the treeline line near 11,000 feet. In the winter, you can cross-country ski, snowshoe or ski tour in. Some huts are accessible by mountain bike or four-wheeler road in the summer.
Staying Safe: Protect yourself from the sun and stay hydrated. In summer bugs can be a nuisance (and you’ll want to be bear and wildlife savvy on the trails). During winter, you will be traveling into avalanche country. Not every ski-in takes you across avalanche paths – the Braun system takes you through the most – but it’s definitely worthwhile going with a guide or highly experienced friend if you are a backcountry novice.
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