The grand European tradition of hut-to-hut skiing has spread to North America, but on our continent, the vibe is more about wilderness and less about crowding in among strangers clad in damp wool. The classic Euro hut-to-hut, the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, is a spectacular foray into the Alps, but you’ll share the trail with 200 other skiers who’ll join you at night in a huge, dorm-style refuge festooned with drying garments. On these North American routes, don’t expect ski pelotons. Do expect lodges with an intimate feel. Some serve meals; others provide stoves and cookery. The skiing between huts may not be extremely difficult, but it’s bound to be wild and remote. Hut-to-hutters don’t need to hump camping loads—liberation afforded by the genre—but skiers need good gear, multiple layers of quick-dry ski duds, at least intermediate skiing ability and the navigation know-how to steer to the next hut in a zero-visibility snowstorm. (Of course, a good outfitter is handy to have along in those white-case scenarios.) But no matter how fancy or primitive the hut, you’ll feel triumphant arriving there. Maybe you’ll have time to climb and carve a few turns. Then: a hot wood fire, a mug of wine, calorie replenishment and a few friends to share a wilderness winter night with you.
VermontSki Inn-to-Inn on The Catamount Trail
The country’s longest ski trail is also its most brilliantly conceived. About a quarter century ago, three zealous backcountry skiers, one of them a cartographer, decided they didn’t want only a straight-shot wilderness route from the Massachusetts border to Quebec, so they deliberately set out to weave together the state’s best cross-country ski areas—all of which happen to be nicely served by that most Vermontish of institutions, the country inn. So the 300-mile Catamount Trail is about more than getting from point to point. Instead, savor schussing in groomed backcountry ski areas with storybook scenery in between, plus a mint on your pillow every night. A four-night, 60-mile chunk illustrates the pleasures of the whole: Section 18 of the trail starts in Sugarbush Valley and heads north into ungroomed State Forest wilderness before rejoining civilization in Huntington, where a feast of trailside inns offers (you guessed it) feasts. After descending to the Winooski River Valley, the trail makes a steady climb to the Bolton Valley Resort and more cushy lodging. The next day’s trek starts off with an hour-long climb to the trail’s highest point—killer views, of course—before a phenomenal downhill run through open glades of birch and poplar forests to the Nebraska Valley. When you reach the Trapp Family Cross-Country Ski Center, you’ll get groomed runs and luxe digs at one of the best cross-country resorts in the States.
ColoradoRocky Mountain Skiing Amount the 10th Mountain Division Huts
Like the great ski huts of Europe, the lodges of the 10th Mountain Division were custom designed to accommodate groups of hungry, sweaty, cold, eager skiers, and they do the job very well. Twenty-nine kitchen-equipped lodges dot Rocky Mountain valleys in a triangle of mountainscape between Aspen, Leadville and Vail. 10th Mountain Division soldiers, for whom the network was named, trained on a similar (though hutless) route in 1944. This version is a 25-miler that links 10th Mountain Division Hut, Skinner Hut, the Frying Pan Drainage and Margy’s Hut, and McNamara Hut. But with so many huts to choose from amid 350 miles of trails, the possibilities are plentiful.
Huts range $25–41 per person per night; see huts.org for reservations. Lou Dawson’s online guidebook has maps and route and hut descriptions: hutski.com. Paragon Guides in Vail guides hut-to-hut 10th Mountain trips that last three to five days, $999–1,599; paragonguides.com.
Banff and Yoho National Parks, AlbertaThe Wapta Traverse
The Wapta Icefields straddle the Continental Divide in Banff and Yoho National Parks. This spectacular mountain terrain lives up to every ski mountaineer’s fondest fantasies—summits to bag; vast tracts of pure, treeless snow to ski; deeply crevassed glaciers to negotiate; and weather that can hunker you down or reveal the glory of the landscape. A six-day, 43-mile traverse from Peyto Lake travels up the Peyto Glacier and climbs 2,500 feet in 5.5 miles to the Peyto Hut, where you’re utterly surrounded by glaciers. Another day guides you to dodge crevasses on the way to 10,000-foot Balfour Col and the Scott Duncan Hut, where clear weather reveals a glorious panorama of icefields, summits and the Waputik Glacier—plus your destination hut, sitting quietly below. The Wapta Traverse isn’t notably steep, but every day requires ascents and descents under a full pack, so skiers need telemark or alpine gear and strong intermediate skills. Wapta’s four backcountry huts, run by the Alpine Club of Canada, are very basic, sleeping 18 in bunks, but they have all the necessities of a winter refuge.
On your own: Book kitchen-equipped huts through the Alpine Club of Canada, $36 per person per night; alpineclubofcanada.ca. Guided: six-day Wapta Traverse with Yamnuska Adventures, $1,395 per person; yamnuska.com.
Yosemite National Park, CaliforniaBadger Pass to Glacier Point
The vista from Yosemite’s Glacier Point—across Yosemite Valley to El Capitan, up the valley to Half Dome and out to an endless backdrop of Sierra summits—is one of the park’s most storied and crowded viewpoints in the summer. But in winter, it’s all yours on a weekend out-and-back ski trip that leads to one of the world’s most jaw-dropping natural sights. In fact, John Muir chose to extol the glories of Yosemite to then president Theodore Roosevelt on a snow-dusted overnight campout in 1903 on this exact spot. The unplowed road between Badger Pass Ski Area and Glacier Point belongs to cross-country skiers during the winter. The groomed trail follows a gentle gradient through thick forest that opens up to some great views (to wit, the midway break called Clark View takes in Mounts Clark and Starr King). At the end of the trail lies the dorm-style Glacier Point Ski Hut, where your hosts serve up carb-rich buffet repasts. But the real reward is that end-of-the-road, rim-of-the-valley, king-of-the-world view—and it’s all yours.
Guided two-day overnight hut trip, $192, including gear and meals; self-guided, $120.50, including meals; yosemitepark.com/BadgerPass_CrossCountrySkiing.aspx.
MaineNorth Woods Lodge-to-Lodge
Remote wilderness sporting camps are a great Maine tradition: country cabins with gas lights and a woodstove surrounding a toasty central lodge that serves up hearty, family-style meals. The Appalachian Mountain Club links three such camps in the Moosehead Lake region of upstate Maine on a backwoods ski trip that can be done in four days. The marked trails are “enhanced” (i.e., broken by snowmobile) but intersect nothing other than trees and hills between camps. The skiing is nontechnical but intermediate, considering the distances. The trek starts with a five-mile ski-in to Medawisla Wilderness Lodge and Cabins in the 100-Mile Wilderness region near Greenville. The first tour day covers an 8.7-mile ski with lovely views of 5,268-foot Mount Katahdin, the highest point in Maine, en route to West Branch Pond Camps. The 1870s camp is a fit setting for digging into old-fashioned comfort chow, such as slowroasted turkey and “West Branch mud,” a rich varietal of hot chocolate. Then it’s an 8.4-mile ski to Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins, tracing the Pleasant River Valley Trail around White Cap Mountain.
The Appalachian Mountain Club’s three night package—including meals, shuttle to starting point and gear shuttles—starts at $378; Five-night package, $544; outdoors.org/mainelodges.
ROBERT EARLE HOWELLS earned the Society of American Travel Writers’ 2009 Travel Journalist of the Year Lowell Thomas Silver Award and is an editor-at-large with National Geographic Adventure.