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How to plan a winter backcountry hut trip

January 16, 2020

Found in Activities, Skills and tips

The first time I went on a backcountry hut trip, I was excited. So excited, in fact, that I set a blistering pace on the ski in to the hut… literally. By the time I got to the hut, my feet had blisters on top of blisters. It was the first time I’d experienced blister inception, and I vowed then and there it would also be the last time. The one perk of not being able to ski that weekend? I got to hang out in an amazing backcountry hut for a few days.

I learned a lot on that first hut trip and the many more I’ve taken since, which have thankfully involved a lot more skiing. Few things in life are more fun: you get ski-in/ski-out accommodations, epic mountain views and endless terrain. But before you head out into the backcountry armed only with skis and hut booties, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Step 1: If you book it, they will come

It can be challenging to get friends to commit to a trip unless there’s something tangible they can latch onto. Something tangible like an email confirmation for a hut reservation.

A hut reservation through the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) is the first step to getting people to commit. In addition to being Canada’s national mountain organization, the ACC is one of MEC’s community partners and operates the largest network of backcountry huts in North America, including BC, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario. You get reliable shelter, clean cooking and sleeping areas and access to water and toilets. Bonus: if you get an ACC membership, you’ll snag a discount on future hut fees.

Staff tip: Backcountry hut reservations fill up very early in the season, sometimes up to three months in advance. You have to book super early, otherwise you may be waiting till next year.

Wendy Thompson Hut

Step 2: Rally your crew

Once you’ve secured your reservation, it’s time to fill the hut. Set the tone early with a raucous invite to your fellow shredders. I like to use group chat for invites as it’s guaranteed to get the banter going and maximize stoke, which means better odds for your pals to commit early.

Remember to keep the group dynamic in mind. It’s best to bring along like-minded individuals with similar objectives. Nothing’s worse than wanting to crush ski lines in the morning while others want to crush beers past midnight. It’s also essential that everyone has their avalanche safety training (more on this below).

Two skiers, one with a frosty mustache and the other wearing goggles

Step 3: Make a list, check it twice

Do you know people who pack for trips the morning they’re leaving? I, too, used to employ this strategy.

But then I forgot skins on a 25cm day in Revelstoke. Another trip, I forgot hut booties and had to wear my liners all weekend. After these valuable learning experiences, I’m now a huge fan of packing lists and being organized. Before a hut trip, I start with a backcountry skiing packing list and cross-reference it with a winter camping gear list.

Aside from the obvious items (skis, skins, sleeping bag), other things you don’t want to forget are:

  • Avalanche safety gear and the know-how to use it. It’s a must – and are there fresh batteries in your beacon?

  • Coffee. It doesn’t weigh much and can greatly alter moods. Pack extra and make sure your group has an Aeropress or two.

  • First aid kit. Include blister treatment and treat any blisters as soon as you notice a hot spot. It may seem like a pain to take your boots off, but I promise it’s a much bigger pain not to.

  • Good ski socks. If you’ve haven’t tried Dissent Labs, do yourself a favour and get a pair – you’ll never buy another pair of ski socks again. You also won’t end up stuck in a hut all weekend unable to ski because of massive blisters.

Ambassador tip: “My secret item for a hut trip is wet wipes. Shower in a bag is a must for the musty.” – Reuben Krabbe

Skier in deep powder

Step 4: Make a meal with appeal

Dehydrated meals definitely have their place in the adventure kingdom. But unless your hut trip is a long slog in and you’re going ultra-light, you’ll want to bring along real food. Dinner at the hut is when everyone shares stories of their awesome ski day. I’m a big advocate for a little suffering on the ski in if it means I get to après with a charcuterie board and ice-cold drinks all weekend.

My recommendation? Divide your crew into smaller groups and assign each group a meal. Yes, it means you won’t have to cook every night, but it also means you’ll get to eat something you don’t normally make. People can even get competitive trying to one up each other and you may end up with a delicious spicy tofu curry served over garlic risotto and naan bread.

Finally, you may be sharing the hut with other people (and likely a few mice, maybe a pine marten), so make sure to tidy everything up when you’re done and pack it all out with you when you leave.

*Ambassador tip: “*I’ve made a few pasta dishes with real vegetables that went down great. I’m not sure if it would have gotten a standing ovation from my home stove, but it was a treat in the hut. More memorable was probably the time I packed a cucumber to the Watersprite Hut that froze solid by the time I got there. Lesson learned!” – Jessa Gilbert

Person making dinner on a wood stove in a backcountry hut

Step 5: With great powder comes great responsibility

Before you head into the backcountry in winter, it’s crucial that you have avalanche safety training.

Start by taking a course with Avalanche Canada. MEC is proud to be the presenting partner of their Avalanche Canada Training Program. After the course, get together with your ski group to work through different rescue scenarios and practice using your avalanche safety gear.

It’s also important to research the area you’re going to, along with the recent conditions. Bring a compass, a GPS and a map with popular ski lines on it. Most skiers know north facing > south facing, but that’s only helpful if you know which way is north. Being prepared with knowledge of the area, the snowpack, and where you’re hoping to ski will increase your chances of hitting the best (and safest) terrain.

Skier holding a beacon the backcountry

Step 6: You won’t be skiing the whole time

A great way to pass time when you’re not skiing is to play hut games. Lots of huts have a deck of cards kicking around, or rogue games that the whole cabin can get involved in. The sun sets early, so you might as well get to know the group.

Ambassador tip: “I always carry a film camera and sketchbook with me. Sketching in the outdoors helps me slow down and observe and appreciate my surroundings. The film camera gives me something to look forward to between the time the photo is taken and the roll gets developed… which is usually many months later. Surprise!” – Jessa Gilbert

Fun group of skiers in the backcountry

Lightning round: hut etiquette

When you’re sharing small spaces in the middle of nowhere, there a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t pack the stove full of wood before you go to bed (unless you want to go to bed sweltering hot and wake up hypothermic).

  • Bring good snacks to share. Skiing is hard work and your body will be craving calories.

  • Share the space. Sitting on the long bench by the good table all night is fun for everyone. Let others have a chance in that primo seat.

  • Be bold, start cold. It takes about 10 minutes to warm up once you start skinning. Keep this in mind when starting your day and dress accordingly. There’s nothing worse than someone stopping the group every 10 minutes to de-layer.

  • Take your turn with hut chores. Hut life is similar to farm life, except instead of hauling water, you melt snow, and instead of chopping wood you… well actually, you’ll still have to chop wood.

  • Finally, don’t wear your ski boots inside – you’re going to get everyone’s hut booties wet. (And don’t forget your hut booties.)

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