Published: February 2009
Moving Mountains
North America’s hut-to-hut ski circuits upgraded the classic European model—but left out the crowds.
Text by Robert Earle Howells

The most spectacular of hut-to-hut trails, the Haute Route through the French and Swiss Alps, is also spectacularly crowded: Cross-country pilgrims share the circuit with about 200 other skiers each day, then bunk with them at night in huge dorms festooned with sopping garments. Thankfully, you don’t have to schlep all the way across the pond for a jaw-dropping Nordic tour. North America has built its own portfolio of equally impressive hut-to-huts in the years since WWII, when at least one veteran who had served as a special ski trooper in Europe returned home and later re-created the famous Alps circuits in his own backyard. The trend took hold from there, and the results, from steep Rocky Mountain runs to rolling North Woods loops, are more remote—and far less trodden—than the Alpine classics they mimic. And with what you save in airfare to Chamonix, you could make tracks to more than one.

1. Vermont
Indulge on the Green Mountains’ Red-Carpet Route

For skiers who like their accommodations extra cushy, the Catamount Trail through the Green Mountains reigns supreme: It was created to link plush cross-country ski inns and lodges. The 300-mile route runs from Readsboro, Vermont, to the Canadian border through a mix of parks and private land, so skiers pass through a pastiche of villages, farm valleys peppered with barns and Holsteins, and thick national forest. The 60-mile, four-night stretch between Sections 19 and 24 is an ideal primer. Start at Mad River Barn near Sugarbush Valley. From there, it’s down the flank of Camels Hump, in and out of groomed segments, to the resort town of Stowe. Along the way are generous doses of storybook New England: split-rail fences and old stone walls, country stores and great home cooking—about as much quaintness as anyone on two sticks can handle.

Vitals: Outfitter Country Inns Along the Trail sets up self-guided packages with luggage transfer (four nights, $699; inntoinn.com). Or tag along with the Catamount Trail Association ($35 membership; catamounttrail.org) on a three-day tour (February 6–8; lodging not included), a nine-day tour (February 14–22; $50 deposit), or a six-day tour (March 5–10).

2. Minnesota
Find Comfort in the Great White Wilderness

Boundary Waters is utterly remote in look and feel (hear those wolves howling?), but it’s also home to one of the most established hut-to-huts in the country—the 20-mile Banadad Trail and its 132-mile network of interconnecting routes, with enough yurts to create almost endless combos for multiday tours. Start with a classic: Access the Banadad at its westernmost trailhead and ski eight miles east to the insulated Croft Yurt and Olga Hut, set side-by-side on a ridgeline above Bedew Lake. The breeze will be at your back (no small thing in the world of windchill) as you ski through aspen and pine forests. Your Boundary Country Trekking hosts, who have snowmobiled your luggage in, meet you at your yurt with a fire blazing and a bottle of wine uncorked, then leave you alone to enjoy a star-filled night.

Vitals: Boundary Country Trekking coordinates two-night trips ($340 per person, all inclusive; boundarycountry.com).

3. California
Meet Yosemite’s Quieter Side

The winter vista from Glacier Point—across the valley to El Capitan, Half Dome, and the Sierra summits beyond—is where John Muir chose to extol the glories of Yosemite to Theodore Roosevelt on a snow-dusted campout in 1903. In the summer months, the sublime view is marred by mobs of drive-by gawkers. But in winter, the road between Badger Pass and Glacier Point belongs to Nordic skiers. The ten-mile groomed trail follows a gentle gradient to the Glacier Point Ski Hut, where hosts serve up carb-rich buffets. But the real reward is that end-of-the-road, king-of-the-world view—and with a little legwork, it’s all yours.

Vitals: Outfitted two-day trips are $192, including gear and meals, while self-guided two-day treks run $110, including meals (yosemitepark.com).

4. Colorado
Carve the Best of the Rockies
Tick off everything a skier could want in a hut-to-hut network and you’ve got the 10th Mountain Division: Great huts? Yep. The lodges were designed to serve backcountry skiers, right down to the wood-burning stoves. Prime views? Check. Twenty-nine huts dot the valleys and fourteeners between Aspen, Leadville, and Vail. Variety? Naturally. Huts were deliberately set near the tree line, fairly close to trailheads, so novices don’t have to push too far, but ambitious experts are within shouting distance of the looming peaks. "The coolest route is from Leadville to Aspen," says local backcountry master Lou Dawson. But, he cautions, "you might have to break trail." If commuting through unplowed snow isn’t your idea of fun, then hole up in the namesake 10th Mountain Division Hut for a few days and feast on the Continental Divide’s supply of bowl skiing and ridge runs right out your back door.

Vitals: Huts start at $28 per person (huts.org). Paragon Guides outfits 10th Mountain trips (three days, $1,000; paragonguides.com). Maps: hutski.com

5. Alberta & British Columbia
Conquer the Banff Backcountry

A traverse of the Wapta Icefields in Banff and Yoho National Parks feeds every fantasy a backcountry ski mountaineer could conjure: vast tracts of pure treeless whiteness, deeply crevassed glaciers, and countless peaks to bag. The six-day, 29-mile Wapta Traverse isn’t for everyone. Skiers will need telemark or alpine gear and intermediate skills—and the potential for whiteouts is strong. But what a reward for the risk. The trail climbs 2,200 feet in 5.5 miles to the Peyto Hut, surrounded by glaciers. Day five ascends the 10,000-foot Balfour Col for a glorious panorama of ice fields, summits, the Waputik Glacier—and your destination hut, waiting quietly three miles below.

Vitals: Wapta’s four huts fill up fast, so book ahead ($31 per person, plus $8 wilderness pass; alpineclubofcanada.ca). Yamnuska Mountain Adventures leads six-day Wapta Traverse trips ($1,115; yamnuska.com).

6. Maine
Ski Fresh Tracks in the North Woods

Sporting camps are as quintessentially Maine as L.L. Bean and lobster. (Think toasty cabins with woodstoves and hearty family-style meals.) The Appalachian Mountain Club links three of these camps in central Maine’s North Woods. The route starts near Greenville and crosses 14 miles in the 100-Mile Wilderness to West Branch Pond Camps. There you’ll be greeted by slow-roasted turkey and chocolate pudding cake. Day two calls for a 12-mile ski to Little Lyford Pond Camps, where you’re likely to spot river otters and martens—or at least their tracks. Arrive early so you can ski into Gulf Hagas, "the Grand Canyon of Maine."

Vitals: The Appalachian Mountain Club offers all-inclusive packages, from $420 for three days (outdoors.org).