The Colorado Rockies are home to a variety of backcountry huts that access some of the state’s most pristine terrain. The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association is a non-profit organization that maintains and operates a system of 34 backcountry huts connected by 350 miles of trails and suggested routes and runs between Aspen, Vail, and Leadville. The system consists of the 10th Mountain Division Huts, the Summit Huts, the Grand Huts, the Braun and Friends Huts, and a handful of privately owned huts.
The idea for the expansive system was sparked by a group of Aspen locals and a man named Fritz Benedict, an architect and World War II 10th Mountain Division Veteran. Benedict had the vision to build a system of huts to rival the Haute Route in the Alps, and with the help of former U.S. Secretary of State Robert McNamara, the 10th Mountain Division Huts were brought to life.
Named to remember the men of the 10th Mountain Division of the US Army who trained in the high mountainous region of Camp Hale during World War II, these huts are not typical of what many picture a “hut” to be. Many of the structures are complete with running water, heat, comfortable beds, working kitchens and bathrooms, and other amenities.
There are literally 100s of things to do in Colorado year round and these huts provide access to a wide variety of both winter and summer activities. While some are fairly easy to get to and are great for families in the summer or beginning backcountry skiers in the winter, many are known for their more challenging aspects such as the journey in, the remoteness, the altitude, or the level of skiing ability required. A handful of these huts are listed below, along with elevations, capacities, and locations (visit hutski.com for route recommendations).
The 10th Mountain Division Hut
Nearest town: Leadville
While the skiing around this hut ranges from intermediate to advanced, it can be confusing to get to. Located a few miles east of the Continental Divide, the trails leading the way change names and markers and can cross paths. The Main Range Trail and Colorado Trail are sometimes synonymous and marked with the same trail markers, and are sometimes not. There are also Forest Service trails and snowmobile trails running through the area. Be sure to have your map handy if making your way to this hut!
The Eiseman Hut
Nearest town: located between Leadville and Aspen
With its location at the foot of the Gore Range, this hut provides some of the best backcountry skiing options of all the 10th Mountain Division Huts. Out the front door, a short walk up a ridge leads to a plethora of glade skiing, and further on skiers will find tall peaks, faces, and couloirs. To access the hut, aggressive mountaineers can use one of the main routes that climb 7 miles up Saddle and Middle Creek or follow Booth Creek up and do a ridge-run to the hut. An easier route is available. The Eiseman Hut is ideal for base skiing- stay a few days and explore the surrounding terrain!
Nearest town: Breckenridge
This cabin in the Summit Hut system is one of the best huts for advanced ski mountaineering due to it’s proximity to the Tenmile Range and its elevation. The 10 peaks in the area offer a variety of advanced skiing options, and experts can try their hand at the 13ers Crystal Peak and Pacific Peak, and even Quandary Peak at 14,265′. Being aware of the avalanche conditions is a must, as is having proper equipment and experience.
Completed: 1970s, renovated 2001
Nearest town: Aspen
The Goodwin-Greene hut is the hardest to reach and most remote of the Braun Hut system, because of it’s high elevation and the fact that it is surrounded on three sides by federal Wilderness. Finding the hut can be a challenge in itself. These factors do however make the hut a great base camp for spring skiing!
Opa’s Taylor Hut
Nearest town: Ashcroft
One of the newer huts in the system, Opa’s Hut is seriously remote. There are no marked routes to the hut, and the known routes cross dangerous avalanche terrain. GPS is mandatory. Once there, however, backcountry experts can find a wide variety of skiing options.
Nearest town: Leadville
Staying true to its name, climbing skins are a necessary piece of equipment when headed to this hut. All routes to the cabin are rated an advanced or higher because of the steep terrain and avalanche danger. The constantly changing weather can also provide a challenge. The hut is located on the east side of Hagerman Pass, and the Continental Divide is only a short hike away.
It is important to remember that to access any of the huts, proper equipment, knowledge, planning and experience are necessary. Guides can be hired through Aspen Alpine Guides or Aspen Expeditions. Book your hut trip at huts.org or call 970-925-5775.