The Crestone Eagle, December 2005:
Winter camping in the back country
The comfort & convenience of yurts & huts
story by Thomas Cleary
photos by Cindy Cleary
For some, the idea of winter camping conjures up thoughts of cold body parts, long dark nights, heavy backpacks, expensive equipment, and “Let’s wait until next summer.” But, done right, winter camping can be easier and cozier than summer hiking. Across Colorado there are over 100 back country cabins, huts, and yurts (large, round, insulated, tent-like structures) that are available year-round. While there is not a centralized reservation system, these retreats in the outback are easily booked through the internet or over the phone. The hardest part is deciding where to go!
With a few exceptions, all of the shelters are stocked with firewood and stove, propane cook stoves, bunks with mattresses, cooking utensils and eating dishes, and a warm atmosphere. Some even have hot tubs or saunas! With all that stuff at the end of the trail, the idea of a heavy pack full of expensive stuff is easily dispelled; all you need is a sleeping bag, personal clothes and gear, and food! Websites and reservation packets include suggested gear lists. Lodgings vary from 4 beds to over 20, with costs starting around $20 per person or exclusive use for as little as $55 a night.
I have skied to some of these cabins with infants less than 1 month old, pregnant moms, and grandpas and grandmas. Routes vary in difficulty, and shelters vary in amenities, but there is something for every ability and experience level; take advantage of these Colorado treasures.
Around the San Luis Valley we have four nice shelters. One of the longer established choices is San Juan Snow Treks out of Creede, www.sanjuansnowtreks.com, 888-658-0851. They manage the Fisher Mountain Hut that sleeps six and is approached by a 5 mile long trail with an elevation gain of 1500 feet. They also manage the Lime Creek Yurt which sleeps four and is approached by a 5 mile, 1000 vertical foot ski trail. Both locations cost $55 midweek, and $85 on weekends for exclusive use of the shelter. The two sites are 5.5 miles apart and could be done as a multi-day loop for the adventurers among us. This organization has several other sites in the works for longer loops; check their website for updates.
Also near the South Fork corner of the Valley is the Pass Creek Yurt, just southeast of Wolf Creek Pass and managed by Wolf Creek Back Country, www.frontier.net/~wcb/, 970-731-2486. This yurt sleeps four to six and is accessed by a 6 mile, 1000 vertical foot route. Cost is $90 weekday and $160 weekend nights.
For those of us in the northern Valley, the Lost Wonder Hut is just 12 miles west of US Highway 285 on US Highway 50 near Salida, www.lostwonder.com, 719-539-3382. It sleeps 10 and is located at the end of a 3 mile, 1200 foot climb. The winter costs are $24 per person or reserve the whole cabin for $240 per night. Warning: this trail crosses a known avalanche slide path that travelers should locate and cross one at a time during times of avalanche danger. An excellent source of up-to-the-day avalanche hazard information, and one of the best mountain weather forecasts that I have found, is the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), http://geosurvey.state.co.us/avalanche/, 719-520-0020, or 719-395-4994, or 970-247-8187.
The following is a list of other hut systems across the state:
The 10th Mountain Division/Alfred Braun ski huts are the oldest in the state and include 29 huts across Summit County, Leadville and Vail, Aspen and Crested Butte areas, www.huts.org, 970-925-5775.
Never Summer Nordic manages a group of six huts and yurts in the Never Summer Range on Colorado State Forest State Park, west of Fort Collins and north of Granby, www.neversummernordic.com, 970-482-9411.
The Hindsdale Haute Route, modeled after European high ski traverses, surrounds the Lake City area, www.hinsdalehauteroute.org or 970-944-2269.
The San Juan Hut Systems ski route consists of five back country ski huts connecting Telluride, Ridgway and Ouray; www.sanjuanhuts.com, (970) 626-3033.
Red Mountain Pass ski huts are on Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton, www.skihuts.com, 970-257-0787.
The Hidden Treasure Yurt is 16 miles south of Eagle, http://web.vail.net/winter/yurt/, 800-444-2813.
The Columbine Cabins are near Steamboat Springs, www.coloradovacation.com/cabins/columbin, 970-879-5522.
The Lonesome hut is outside of Winter Park, www.lonesome-hut.com, 970-726-4099.
And the James Peak Yurt lies near Black Hawk, www.jamespeakyurt.com, 888-287-1202.
As I said, the hardest part will be deciding where to go. If need be, throw a dart at a map of Colorado, pick a date in March when the days are longer and warmer, make your reservation before the calendars fill up, and get out there and winter ‘camp’.