Photograph by Pat Gaines
Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Huts are the fruits of one man’s crazy idea: Fritz Benedict, a 10th Mountain Division soldier who fought in World War II and an Aspen architect, dreamed of setting up a system of winter huts to rival the Alps’ Haute Route. The results arguably outdid the Europeans at their own game. Today, the system, located on the division’s former training grounds between Aspen, Vail, and Leadville, is 14 huts strong and connects to another 17 in the area. Linked with 300-plus miles (483-plus kilometers) of skiable routes, it’s the largest system of its kind on the continent.
It also accesses the best of Rocky Mountain skiing and a menu of terrain and scenery as diverse as the state itself. Choose to stay at one or to link up several. Backcountry beginners often head to the McNamara Hut, a stone’s throw from mellow intermediate ski touring. Or, for seasoned alpine tourers and telemarkers, the Eiseman Hut has access to steep couloirs and lines that’ll grow hair on most anyone’s chest.
No matter the level of challenge, the greatest reward is returning to the huts themselves. “Hut,” in fact, might be a misnomer: These are more like miniature trophy homes, with wood-fired heating stoves, propane cook stoves, porches, private rooms, million-dollar views, and sometimes even saunas. Come evening, after a long day and a good dinner, kick back by the fire in the grand tradition of America’s storied ski pioneers.
Need to Know: The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association (www.huts.org) holds a lottery for winter hut reservations every spring. Huts from $30 per person, and guides are available.