So you and your crew have reserved a hut, made time for an adventure, and you’re ready to get going—lucky you! Pulling off a fun, lower-risk hut trip requires some planning, though, so let’s dive in and think ahead to your ideal trip.
A beautiful hut, plenty of food, and epic snow should all mean a wonderful journey ahead, but don’t discount how important the chemistry of your crew can be. If three chargers want to go huge, build kickers, and ski their legs off while you and your best bud from college just want to catch up, lounge by the fire, and read Danielle Steel novels (hey, don’t knock it), your group may end up with different ideas about “the ideal” hut trip.
Discuss your goals, fitness levels, and abilities before you head into the field. Including new or unfamiliar people to your group isn’t necessarily a deal-killer, but it does introduce some uncertainty into your plans. Account for that by leaving additional time in your days for travel and logistics, and choose simpler, lower-angle terrain for your first couple tours. Make sure everybody’s on the same page and then tackle more interesting itineraries.
Generate a gear list a couple weeks before your trip. This allows everybody time to assemble any hard-to-find items like ski crampons or replacement parts. Especially with first timers and less experienced folks, enjoying a multi-day trip requires equipment not usually in our packs for day tours.
Like what? Ear plugs. The snow gods have listened to many a prayer and expletive from sleepless victims of snoring, loud Euros, creaky stairs—you name it. Ear plugs (in bigger huts with lots of bodies or tiny huts with everybody packed in side-by-side bunks) can mean the difference between recovery and disaster. Bring two sets!
Hut slippers. I splurged a few years back and bought some Feathered Friends down booties—warm, comfortable, awesome. You definitely don’t want to survive in wool socks on a cold floor. Some huts might have Crocs or wool slippers stashed there, so do your homework (online and in guidebooks) and see if you need to bring your own.
Hand sani and wet wipes. Use ‘em and wash your hands frequently—this will protect you and your hut mates from “hut gut” or a cold. As long as we’re on the topic, most people who get sick on hut trips fall prey to their own uncleanliness. Wash your hands and use hand sani after you poop.
Repair kits, med kits, and sleeping systems all demand a little homework on the front end. Repair kits should have brand-specific hardware like boot buckles and binding screws based upon your posse’s gear, as well as general items like a multi-tool, firestarter, hardware for skins, epoxy or super glue, bailing wire, ski straps, etc. Med kits, too, should be tailored to your crew’s needs.
Once you’ve agreed on food and gear, you’ll face the big decision: bring the monster pack for the ski in or wear your day-touring pack and strap items to the outside. I often opt for the gong-show look of strapping gear to the outside of my pack for the approach if it’s relatively mellow. While I might look like a train wreck for the few hours skiing in, I prefer touring with a lighter, smaller pack—especially my balloon pack, the Mammut Light 30L RAS. It’s 4.5 pounds and I like having the airbag along, just in case my crew and I make a mistake. Avoidance is key, sure, but we can all make the wrong call.
If you do opt for the giant pack, then make sure you can cinch it down, remove the lid, change out the waistbelt. Features like these make skiing more comfortable with a larger pack.
Remove as much food packaging as possible while packing, which saves space and eliminates garbage at the hut. Do not plan on chucking garbage in the wood-fired stove at the hut! Some paper is fine, but plastic, foil, and food scraps make the stoves manky and it’s inconsiderate to others.
Guidebooks and websites offer starting points for planning, but don’t take their word as gospel. You’ll need printed maps of your area (preferably waterproof), .gpx routes installed in your handheld unit or smartphone, and a quality mirror compass. Don’t know how to use this stuff? Get a book, do an online tutorial (rei.com or learn-orienteering.org will get you started), or hire a mountain guide to help you figure it out. Don’t simply rely on a downloaded .gpx file to get you there. Batteries run out and people sometimes post inaccurate info online. Heads up!
Many a hut trip has ended in an epic without proper planning. Do your best to avoid a night out, but you should have a strategy for surviving in the open should all else fail. Can you dig a snowpit? Do you have a bivy tarp? A down jacket worthy of a night out, like the Brooks-Range Alpini Mountain Anorak Hoody? They’re warm and they might save your bacon!
Strongly consider doing a Level 1 avalanche course from a reputable provider. Avalanche avoidance is the only reasonable strategy in mitigating avy risk. That said, you’ll also bring a beacon, shovel, probe, and possibly an Avalung and balloon pack, too. Our safety equipment is simply a hedge on our bet. If we blow it, we need to know how to effect a fast companion rescue. But again—avoidance is key!
Most avalanche centers archive their forecasts, so go back through the relevant zone and look at the trend for avalanche danger. Have things been getting more or less dangerous? If you’re serious about it, go back to the beginning of the year and build a “seasonal history,” an intimate look at how the snowpack in a particular zone has developed, what the avalanche problems have been, and what problems you face at the moment.
None of this making sense? You need some avalanche education—sign up for a course!
Along the way, you’ll need to monitor conditions. Snow and wind? Avy danger’s probably going up. Rain or a big warm up? Same! Mild days and nights, but still below freezing? Maybe the danger’s trending down. An avy course will help you learn these tools and strategies, but you need to remember to employ them. Discuss your tours with your friends and make good decisions. Debrief your tours at the end of each day and be honest with yourselves—where could you improve?
Fun (and a Guide?)
Put all this together and have a blast. Hut trips offer solitude, peace, and the opportunity to tour and relax. Bring a good book for the evenings, play board games at the hut, and generally enjoy the peace of being disconnected for a few days. Make good, smart decisions based on the avalanche conditions and let a good hut trip bring you and your team together. By the end of your trip, you’ll be planning another.
And if all this sounds daunting, consider hiring a guide for a couple hut trips. She or he can show you bunches of tricks to make planning, traveling, and relaxing that much more fun. Have at it!
Words by Rob Coppolillo. Rob co-owns Vetta Mountain Guides, based in Boulder, Colorado. He’s an internationally licensed mountain guide, father to twin boys, and has an unbelievably understanding wife.