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How to plan a backcountry hut trip

January 26, 2023

Found in Activities, Skills and tips

What’s the best kept secret about backcountry hut trips? It’s not just about the skiing.

“People who’ve done multiple hut trips will all tell you: getting to the hut is only half the fun,” says the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC), which operates the largest network of backcountry huts in North America. “It’s easy to visualize a backcountry trip as being all about the skiing, and to think of the hut as just a place to sleep, eat and dry out gear. Truth is, time in the hut with family and friends are some of the most memorable parts of a trip.”

We couldn’t agree more. And hey, if hut memories are topped off with skiing a few lines of cold blower pow, all the better.

To help you prepare, we called in MEC Ambassadors Bruce Kirkby and Yuki Tsubota, along with folks from the ACC for tips on how to plan, how to book, and the number one item to bring outside of ski gear.

Prepare your party

First up: assemble a group of compatible people – you will be sharing a cozy space, after all. “Make sure it’s people you want to hang out, cook and live with, not just ski with,” the ACC says.

Along with being fun, ski-loving folks, it’s essential that everyone has taken an Avalanche Skills Training (AST) program. Start with courses through Avalanche Canada; MEC is proud to be the primary sponsor of their training program. Afterward, practice using your safety gear and skills with your group. Research where you’re going and know the conditions too.

Fresh to the backcountry? Get an introduction to avalanche safety with Avalanche Canada, or check out their online tutorial, Avy Savvy, before taking an AST course.

Snowboarder holding up blue iPhone in the forest

Photo: Avalanche Canada

“Rather than heading out with an entire group of first-timers, ensure there are some backcountry veterans along. Equally important, make sure the entire group’s risk tolerance and goals align.” – Bruce

Book early

Hut reservations can fill up fast. Start planning a few months in advance if possible. Tip: ACC members can book huts before non-members, and they save about $10 per night as well. “Know the cancellation policy for each hut,” Yuki says. “I find it can make it a bit easier to plan in advance without being locked in, especially when you have a larger group of people.” Organize everyone’s details (names, contact info, membership numbers) before you book the hut.

Because hut trips generally have to be booked so far in advance, have a range of objectives in mind. “If weather and avalanche conditions don't cooperate,” said Bruce, “you should have safe options that are amenable to the entire group – rather than find yourself dragged into unsafe conditions because of plans made months earlier.”

Wood cabin in the winter

Photo: The Alpine Club of Canada, Bill Putnam (Fairy Meadow) Hut

“ACC membership is open to everyone, so if you’re booking a hut for four or five nights, the membership pays for itself.” – ACC

Person in a cabin reading a map

Photo: Bruce Kirkby, MEC Ambassador

Get a little gourmet

If you’re not focused on going ultralight, skip the dehydrated meals and bring real food. We’ve heard of some epic hut meals, from a full turkey dinner at the Wendy Thompson Hut to backpacks of cheese fondue for twenty.

Shared meals with your group are awesome. Put together a Google doc to divvy up food duty (it also means you don’t have to cook every night). Also bring plenty of coffee and snacks, plus extras to share. “I can only handle so many bars and sweet stuff during the day,” said Bruce, “so I always have a bag of nuts, and a bag of landjaeger and cheese handy.”

People in a cabin sitting at tables and eating

Photo: The Alpine Club of Canada, Conrad Kain Hut

“My staple hut meal is Annie’s mac and cheese with a can of tuna, but I really want to try some of Colin Yen's @campwithcol recipes this season.” – Yuki

People skiing on top of a snowy mountain in the winter

Photo: Kathy, MEC staffer on a trip to Battle Abbey Backcountry Lodge

Know your hut etiquette

Short version: pitch in, be respectful, and carry out all your unused food. Being a good hut visitor and roomie makes a huge difference to everyone having a good time. Hut etiquette is such a big deal that the ACC put together a two-part blog series of stories and tips from their members. A few key ones:

  • Give a warm welcome: When new people arrive, show them the ropes: how to get water, where food goes, and helpful tips.

  • Pitch in with hut chores: Fill the water buckets, carry firewood, clean up dishes that aren’t yours. It’ll all come back to you.

  • Respect bedtime: “I'm all for people staying up late but do it in a respectable manner,” says Yuki. “There's nothing worse than starting an early ski day tired from not getting a good sleep.”

“Once it’s dark, grab your puffy jacket and camera and step outside. If the night sky is clear, it will be worth every effort. Hut pics at night are amazing too.” – Bruce

Wood cabin in a winter forest at night

Photo: The Alpine Club of Canada, A.O. Wheeler Hut

Bring the right gear

Use our backcountry ski touring checklist to cover all your basics, safety and technical gear. Then plan your comfort zones: stuff to bring for hanging out at the hut. A few tips from hut pros:

  • Hut booties: “The number one item for any hut trip in any season is hut booties,” says the ACC. They’re like sleeping bags for your feet and top everyone’s list of comfort items.

  • Cozy PJs: “I bring cozy long underwear tops and bottoms (generally MEC T2 Base layers) to use exclusively as pyjamas,” says Bruce.

  • Games: Easy to carry games are a great way to meet people and hang out. Some faves? Bananagrams, Pass the Pigs, Monopoly Deal, Uno or travel cribbage.

  • Creature comforts: Like hand sanitizer, a face mask, ear plugs and toilet paper.

Four people in yellow, blue and black sleeping bags in the snow

Photo: Marie-Pier, MEC staffer

Want to know more about ACC huts?

MEC has been partners with the ACC for ages, and our annual funding supports diversity and inclusion programs, ACC grant programs, and the operation and maintenance of the ACC’s hut network. We asked the ACC for a few hut tidbits to help you plan your winter and summer trips (yep, huts are great for hiking too!):

  • Heats and eats: All ACC huts have mattresses as well as cooking and eating utensils. Most have stoves (with fuel) and are heated, with firewood or propane provided.

  • Most remote: Glacier Circle Cabin in the Dawson Range of Glacier National Park. Access is a full day’s travel across the Illecillewaet Glacier and requires mountaineering skills.

Wood cabin in the forest

Photo: The Alpine Club of Canada, Glacier Circle Cabin

  • Most accessible: A.O. Wheeler Hut at Rogers Pass is a short walk from the parking lot in summer.

  • Largest to smallest: Conrad Kain Hut in the Bugaboos sleeps 35 people, Sapphire Col Hut in Rogers Pass sleeps just 4.

Hiker looking at a snowy mountain with a camera

Photo: The Alpine Club of Canada, Sapphire Col Hut

  • Best outhouse view: Castle Mountain is summer-only, and is too good not to mention. Picture an outhouse close to the edge of a 1,000-foot cliff with 180-degree views north and south up and down the Bow Valley.

Happy hut trips!

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