Inside Scoop: The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association
By Emily Krempholtz
Picture this: a rustic cabin deep in the Rockies, with some of the best backcountry skiing you’ve ever experienced just steps from the front door. A cozy fire in the woodburning stove, new friends around the communal dining table, and a breathtaking mountain view out the window. That’s what a stay with the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association will be like.
The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association is a nonprofit organization that comprises 34 huts and cabins across the Rocky Mountains, connected by over 350 miles of suggested routes. Named for the famous military division that fought in the mountainous regions of Italy during World War II, and were trained in Alpine survival and combat techniques right here in Colorado at Leadville’s own Camp Hale, the huts were founded in the 1980s by veterans of the division, and have grown over the years to be a treasured part of Colorado’s backcountry culture.
What to Expect
Each of the huts has its own personality and different amenities. Some of the newer buildings, like Shrine Mountain Inn near Vail, have electricity, running water, and flush toilets, while others are pleasantly simple and rustic, like McNamara or Margy’s Huts, which were the two original huts built during 1982 when the Hut Association was founded. Most of the huts have compost toilets or outhouses—though even those have their charm, as the incredible view from the outhouse at Fritz and Fabi’s huts will show you—and woodburning stoves. Some even have woodburning saunas! Most of the huts sleep up to 16 people, with 3-4 sleeping areas, and they come equipped with some basic amenities like firewood, matches, propane burners for cooking, eating utensils, electric or photovoltaic lighting, mattresses, and pillows. You’ll need to provide your own food, water (and water purification method), sleeping bag, and emergency gear.
All huts have a non-motorized envelope around them, meaning you won’t be able to pull right up to the hut for a weekend of glamping. Some of the huts have parking as close as ⅛ of a mile from the hut, with a small cart by the gate you can use to ferry your belongings to the cabin. Others are deep in the backcountry, requiring miles of snowshoeing, skinning, or hiking to get to them, sometimes through bear country (summers) and avalanche terrain (winters). Furthermore, not all of the routes to get to the huts are well marked or maintained. What this means is you’ll have to do your research before you go, and be prepared for any eventuality in the backcountry. These are high altitude treks, many of which have elevation gains of over 2000 feet, so if you’re not used to backcountry travel, you’ll need to do some preparation before your trip. Always make sure someone knows where you are when you travel into the backcountry, and that they know your itinerary and return dates. Don’t travel alone, especially in the winter, unless you have avalanche certification and plenty of experience in backcountry travel, and make sure you pack enough food, layers, gear, and emergency supplies should the worst happen.
If you are concerned about any of this, or you don’t feel prepared for a hut trip, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the fun. There are plenty of guide services who can help you discover the 10th Mountain Hut Association—whether on foot, skis, snowmobile, or even on horseback or by llama
Summer vs. Winter
The availability of the huts changes depending on which one you’re interested in. Some are available from Thanksgiving to May, and others are available year round. Some are open only in the summer, and many of them close during the spring and fall months in between seasons. In the winter, you can expect deep snow, pristine mountain views, and some of the best skiing and snowshoeing opportunities right outside your door. During the summer, you can plan on some amazing hiking or mountain biking, well away from the crowded trailheads of more popular trails, and nights full of stars and the towering silhouettes of the nearby peaks. Check the website for more information about each hut’s availability.
How to Reserve a Hut
Huts book up fast, so plan ahead as far as possible. The most popular huts are often booked solid, especially on weekends and holidays, and sometimes as far as a year in advance. You can make all reservations on the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association website, and if you join the Hut Association as a member (there are annual and even lifetime memberships available), you can join a lottery for early access to reservations. Even if the hut you’re interested in is already reserved, you can check online to see if someone else is selling their space, or whether there’s another hut that has availability. There is also a waitlist signup on the website where you can be notified about cancellations. Note that the more accessible huts, and those closer to the Front Range tend to fill up first, so if you’re looking for one of these, it’s best to think ahead as far as you can.
While most years, part of the fun of staying in the 10th Mountain Division Huts is meeting new people, due to the coronavirus pandemic, each hut rental is currently single party only, and capacities have been reduced for some of the larger buildings. This means when you reserve a hut, there will be no conglomeration of random guests and parties, only you and your group, and you will be renting the entire hut. You may mix households so long as you follow hut and public health regulations.
Staying in a Hut
You might think you know camping, and you might think you know the mountains, but the truth is you haven’t truly discovered Colorado’s backcountry until you’ve stayed in one of the 10th Division Mountain Huts. These huts run the gamut of rustic to modern, but what they each have in common is a stunning backcountry experience like no other. Whether you’re looking for a winter wonderland full of backcountry skiable terrain at your doorstep, or a summer morning with an unbeatable view and a world of great hiking just steps away, the huts have it, and believe us, even with a waitlist that sometimes extends nearly a year, they are worth it.