This is serious backcountry skiing. The average route is 3-5 miles long and climbs 1500 feet in elevation from a trailhead that is at 8,000 feet or higher. Ski touring at high altitude is physically demanding and each person responds to high altitude differently. Be sensitive to any symptoms related to altitude sicknesses among members of your party.
The U.S. Forest Service recognizes that the public trails that access the huts generally require use of intermediate backcountry skiing skills. However, some trail sections are more difficult and may require more advanced skiing skills. You don't have to be an expert but you should at least be strong and stable on your skis, and have the right equipment. Skis with metal edges, climbing skins, backcountry poles, and heavy leather or plastic boots are recommended.
Someone in each group must have leadership, route finding, avalanche awareness, and first aid skills. Route finding may be the most important skill you need. A detailed topographic map, a compass, and the ability to use them are absolutely essential for a successful trip. Suggested routes may or may not be marked. Even shorter trips, with minimal elevation gains, can become very challenging in whiteout conditions or if you have to break trail in deep snow.
The Colorado backcountry is known for widespread and long lasting snowpack instabilities. Avalanche hazard is a real concern for all winter travelers. A number of the suggested routes to the huts and yurts pass through or are next to terrain that may be prone to avalanches. Accordingly, pick the suggested route that most suits your group and its abilities, carry appropriate equipment, and always exercise prudent backcountry travel techniques when passing through avalanche prone terrain. Remember, avalanches can occur in forested areas and can run into forested areas from open slopes. Each group must continuously evaluate the danger and practice safe travel procedures. For more information we strongly suggest you visit the Colorado Avalanche Information Center Website. They have the most up to date avalanche information as well as a ton of excellent weather and snow science information.
Guide services may available if your group lacks the skills necessary to complete a safe trip or is interested in a catered trip. Along with their knowledge of the backcountry, routes, and huts, guides can provide transportation, food, gear rentals, and instruction.
If you would like to improve your skills, many organizations sponsor avalanche awareness workshops, wilderness medicine, and backcountry skills. Please see the Workships/Courses section of this site for information on upcoming classes.
Hiking and mountain biking at high elevations are very physically demanding activities. The average suggested summer route to a hut or yurt is 5+ miles long and climbs 1500 feet in elevation from a trailhead that is at 8,000 feet or higher. Suggested summer routes may not be marked or maintained. A detailed topographic map, a compass, and the ability to use them are absolutely essential for a successful trip. Someone in each group must be proficient in route finding, map/compass reading, and first aid.
Weather in the mountains can change rapidly. A warm summer morning at a trailhead can turn into a cold storm with lightning at 11,000 feet. Snow and hail are not uncommon at high elevations in the summer and temperatures can drop below freezing. Other days can be very hot. Rain and snowstorms can leave backcountry roads in bad condition and make travel difficult or impossible. Hut users need to be adequately prepared and bring extra food and water.
Some routes may remain snow covered and impassable by vehicles well into August and sudden thunderstorms can render roads un-drivable at any time. Vehicle access is not guaranteed to any hut or yurt at any time. Do not count on a vehicle to execute your chosen itinerary.
Step 1: Gather Information.
Read through all of the information available on this site and at the individual website of your chosen hut or yurt. Contact the owner/operator of your selected hut or yurt if you have questions.
Step 2: Check availability.
Visit the individual website of your selected hut or yurt and check availability.
Step 3: Designate a group organizer.
Decide who will be responsible for making the reservation and distributing all of the information to each member of the group, and attending to all reservation requirements.
Step 4: Reserve your trip.
Now you are ready to book your trip. This process will vary depending on your chosen hut or yurt. Please check the individual website of your chosen hut or yurt regarding how to make your reservation.
Step 5: Purchase topographic maps.
If you have not already purchased maps when planning your trip, make sure that you get the appropriate maps and study them with your group before you depart for your trip. People who have had to spend an unplanned night out, or who were unable to locate a hut, most often were using an inadequate map, lacked route-finding skills, or got a late start.
Step 6: Prepare If you are not experienced.
Take some backcountry ski day trips to get in shape and become familiar with the equipment. The first day of your trip is not the right day to try out new equipment! Study the maps. Decide which trailheads and routes you will use. Evaluate car shuttle requirements, if necessary. Discuss what your group will do if there is an emergency at the hut/yurt or on the trail. As part of your emergency preparation, we suggest that each member of your group purchase a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card, available from outdoor retailers and online. Plan the menu and shop for food. Before departing, check weather and avalanche reports. Avalanche information numbers are provided in the Avalanche Information section of this site.
Step 7: Return signed waivers to hut or yurt owners before departure.
Step 8: If necessary, bring your door lock combination(s) with you to the hut or yurt.