Leslie and I love the mountains. We love to be on our skis, enjoying Colorado’s ski resorts and the high alpine beauty that make Colorado so special. We have great memories with friends and family at places called Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge Ski Area, Steamboat Resort, Eldora Mountain Resort and more. I have to admit though, as fun as these places are, I am not really a crowds guy…. And yes most of the time there are crowds of people these days on the slopes..
The past several years though, we have spent much more time on our backcountry skis. What is unique about backcountry skiing is it’s completely self powered, often in wilderness areas with untracked snow, and at best a handful of people.
It is important to have some initial backcountry education, equipment and avalanche awareness, or go with someone who does. It’s also a pretty good idea to be a confident skier and able to ski expert terrain if necessary. You also need special skis and bindings that allow the back heel to release in order to climb uphill. Next, you will need skins – a synthetic material that fits on the bottom of your ski to allow you to grip the snow as you climb uphill. The climbing is definitely a work out, but that is part of the fun. After the climb, it is time to ski back down. In just a few minutes, you can transform your ski into a downhill ski by removing the skins and by switching your bindings and boots to downhill mode. Skiing untracked snow with no crowds, or lift lines… it really doesn’t get any better. It is just……a lot more work!
Recently Leslie and I drove to Aspen to ski the Upper Hunter Creek Trail, and Smugglers Road Trail up to a backcountry hut called the Fabis Benedict Hut. It is part of the Tenth Mountain Division Hut System in Colorado. There are 34 huts in this system managed by 10th mountain on over 350 miles of trails. These backcountry huts are accessible in winter only by hiking, snowshoeing or backcountry skiing. They are scattered all over the state, sitting on mountaintops, in beautiful basins, and in alpine forests. They are not easy to get to as they often require hiking or skiing uphill for 3-9 miles climbing a couple thousand feet of altitude in the process.
Leslie and I got our packs on, put skins on our skis, checked our maps and headed out at 12 noon from the Upper Hunter Creek Trailhead with 2300 feet and 5.4 miles of climbing ahead of us. In our backpacks were all the water we could carry, food, sleeping bags, first aid stuff, books and journals, headlamps, change of clothes, avalanche shovel, beacon and more.
It was a warm March day, so the snow was soft and sticky. We traveled across the 10th mountain bridge and headed up the trail. Along the route, we traveled through beautiful aspen forests, dark groves of pines, and occasional open meadows.
A couple miles up we had a stunning view of the town of Aspen as we connected to Smuggler Mountain Road.
Climbing started in earnest at this point as the trail got much steeper.
In about 3 hours and 10 minutes, we finally arrived at the Benedict Huts, two huts built in 1997 to honor the lives of Fritz and Fabi Benedict who were some of the original visionaries of the 10th Mountain Hut System.
We stayed in Fabis hut, which sat next to the Fritz Hut. Our hut boasted two simple double beds, and 2 single beds. A large wood burning stove, dining table, simple kitchen with a gas stove awaited us. These huts have no running water, so we built a fire and got to work melting snow on the wood stove to use for cooking, washing etc. The first thing you notice when you arrive, is how stunningly quiet it is! Nothing but you, the remote cabin, and thousands of acres of wilderness. If you want to shut out the noise, marvel in the majesty of creation, and enjoy the stillness of a snowy night under a massive sky, you may want to give this a try.
Many of the huts sit in backcountry areas that offer more opportunities to hike and ski till you drop. Not so much at these huts. We just hunkered down, made dinner, read, played games and crashed hard.
The next morning we got up, made breakfast and headed back down the trail. Because of the warm temps the day before, followed by a cold night, the trail was icy and fast on the way down! Yet, it’s always fun to get the reward of a downhill ski after a tough climb. Before we knew it, we were back at the trailhead and our adventure was complete. If you are looking for a unique Colorado experience, it does not get much better. Give us a shout, we will tell you more, or better yet…come with us next time!
The Fox Group at Fathom Realty