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Wednesday, November 14, 2012
10 top backcountry huts

Trust us, it's worth it to make the slog to a backcountry hut.

[Whether you go on an annual backcountry hut trip or you're considering your first trip to ski to a cabin in the woods, we've compiled 10 great backcountry huts in the U.S. and Canada that make the trek worth it. Before you go, though, check out our series on backcountry safety, called The Avalanche Problem.]

Spending a night outside in the mountains mid-winter can be brutal. Sub-zero temperatures, blowing snow, frozen toes. I mean, winter camping has its own sadistic appeal, but let's face it: You're surviving, not relaxing.

After shivering through a few long nights myself, I learned of another way. I heard talk of enclosed structures in the high country, "huts," stocked with wood and beds (and occasionally food and cooks!) that I could take refuge in after a day in the elements. Many beds would fit many friends, with whom I could share my turns and grub and stoke ... I had to experience this.

So I gathered a party and we journeyed to Arestua, a little-known cabin off the Continental Divide in Colorado's Front Range. We spent our days shredding east-facing steeps and touring up high to find fluffy-light pow stashes, our nights sipping hot cocoa and schnapps. We even had the luxury of taking a day off mid-trip, when the wind got fierce and we lounged and read instead.

Here's how you dry out your gear in a yurt.

The simplicity of life in a hut is enchanting. Eat, ski, drink, eat, laugh, chat, sleep, repeat. No roads, no motors. Just you and your crew and the snow-covered mountains. After the chuckling and chatter end for the evening, all that's left is the crackling fire, howling wind, falling snow and silence.

There's an intuition that grows as you spend day after day on the snow. You start to develop a deeper understanding of the conditions, of stability and hazard. You watch the change in real-time, see one aspect slide while another settles. Feel the tenderness on loaded slopes after you listened to the wind whip through the night. You begin to learn the mountain's language.

Some huts are like old friends with their tweaky idiosyncrasies that become more endearing with each passing year. Maybe they're a little leaky, or require involved shaking and shimmying to enter. Maybe their stove doors need to be handled just right so the searing hot metal doesn't sail off its hinges and into your lap.

And there are others, newly constructed and streamlined, that make winter living so effortless it becomes hard to say you're roughing it at all.

So let's gather a squad and burn our quads in waist-deep pow, pile into a toasty abode and share a meal, a drink and a story. Here are 10 great huts worth visiting. Launch Gallery »