Hut-to-Hut Skiing Is the Coziest Way to Explore the Backcountry
Ski from lodge to lodge through the snowy wilderness.
Unless you’re incredibly outdoorsy, spending days roaming a dense, snowy woodland on skis might not sound like a good time. But let me paint a more appealing picture: You’re wearing cross-country skis, and a backpack filled with daily necessities (a packed lunch, some warm layers, and a thermos of hot cocoa). You have a hearty breakfast in your belly, and you spend the day breathing in the sweet aroma of pine forests and watching pale light filtering through the trees. And at day’s end, the sight of an accommodation in the distance, visible only by the tendrils of smoke wafting from the chimney, brings a sense of accomplishment. You see, you’re not exactly spending your nights outdoors, nor will you be anxiously cooking meals over a campfire. Instead, you’re skiing from hut to hut, or lodge to lodge, through a network of trails that connect a series of comfortable accommodations.
These kinds of hut-to-hut experiences exist all over the world, and they vary considerably, so you can customize your trip to fit your needs and preferences. You’ll find a range of trails—well-groomed and wild, gentle and steep, beginner and expert. Some accommodations are rustic backcountry huts that require you to bring all your own food and gear—but on the flip side, you’ll also find lodges that provide hot meals and saunas for end-of-the-day relaxation. But no matter how rustic the dwelling, curling up with a book near a fireplace, or gazing at the constellations from an outdoor deck, are uncomplicated delights that serve as a balm for the soul.
Of course, backcountry skiing isn’t inherently easy just because the accommodation is taken care of. Those who plan to venture beyond flat, groomed trails may need to swap their classic Nordic skis for wider alpine touring skis with metal edges. You’ll also want to bring skins, synthetic or mohair strips that stick to the bottom of your skis, to aid any steeper ascents. And keep in mind that things like carrying a heavy bag, skiing into headwinds or a snowstorm, or skiing at altitude can be harder than you might expect. All skiers will want to bring a compass and paper map, and beginners might opt to hire a guide who knows the routes. That said, the hard work is its own reward—and the sight of a cozy hut or lodge at the end of each day will feel totally worth the effort.
Ready to ski? Here are seven of the most stunning hut-to-hut ski treks in the US, Canada and Europe.
The Maine Highlands, Maine
An itinerary linking the three Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC)-owned lodges—Gorman Chairback, Little Lyford and Medawisla—provides access to 90 miles of groomed trails, showcasing the best that wintery Maine has to offer. You’ll traverse snowy pine forests, see 3,000-foot summits hovering in the distance, and ski past icy ponds and rushing rivers. Keep your eyes peeled for an array of bird species, as well as moose, otter, and deer as you travel the six to nine miles between the lodges. To ease your burden, AMC will transport your baggage.
As for the accommodations, AMC lodges are designed as traditional Maine sporting camps, where you have space to lounge, socialize, and dine family-style on home-cooked meals while overnighting in the surrounding wood stove-heated cabins. You’ll hardly be roughing it: Expect wool blankets, wine and beer for sale, and scrumptious fare like pan-seared salmon with blueberry chutney. You can also add the privately owned West Branch Pond Camps to your journey to cut down on the daily mileage.
In Eastern Canada, Gaspésie National Park — especially the Chic-Choc Mountains — is a mecca for backcountry skiers. It’s no surprise, given that the park boasts mounds of fluffy powder, a network of ungroomed trails linking 16 backcountry huts, other lodging options like the historic Gite du Mont-Albert, and breathtaking views of majestic mountain summits and the St. Lawrence River. A hut-to-hut expedition in the Chic-Chocs traverses an awe-inspiring environment of snow-blanketed spruce, pine, fir and birch forests, wide alpine bowls, frozen lakes, and high plateaus. But beauty comes at a (quite literally) steep cost; expect to gain and lose altitude pretty quickly as you ski five hours or so between huts. There are multiple routes to choose from that are best for intermediate or advanced skiers, including the Logan circuit, which connects the Le Huard, La Nyctale, and Le Carouge huts. Accommodation here is rustic, and you’ll have to bring everything, including food, flashlights, and cooking gear. Call 1-800-665-6527 to reserve the huts and luggage transport.
Grand Marais, Minnesota
Northeastern Minnesota offers an idyllic way to ease into the whole lodge-to-lodge jaunt. A pair of charming, family-owned lodges in pristine settings allow you to hop on any of the Central Gunflint’s 50 miles of groomed trails, starting right outside your door. Make the Bearskin Lodge your base for a few days, tackling the hills and pampering yourself at night in their hot tub and sauna. For a wilderness experience where a hushed silence pervades, go out-and-back along the narrow Banadad Trail. Next up: a few nights at the Golden Eagle Lodge. This second stay is less than two miles away, and there’s no need to tote your heavy gear between lodges; simply pack up your vehicle and a Bearskin staff member will shuttle it ahead.
With treeless slopes, dense forests of larch and fir, and views of mountain ridges and rugged peaks, this snow-cloaked corner of southeastern France has been spared the development (and tourism) of other alpine areas. Mountain Tracks leads a seven-night tour that wanders between mountain hamlets, starting in Ceillac. One highlight is the alluring village of Saint-Véran that sits at almost 7,000 feet. Another: possible wildlife sightings such as chamois (a goat-antelope), mouflon (wild sheep), and ibex. Accommodations include warm lodgings in mountain villages and rustic but cozy huts on the slopes above them (In most cases, expect tasty meals, hot showers, electricity and flush toilets). The amenities are welcome after a strenuous day; strong intermediate skiers will be lugging their gear for at least four hours between lodgings over slopes with significant elevation change, sometimes 3,000 feet up or down.
Some three hours from Spokane, this 130-mile network of groomed cross-country trails is the largest in North America. You’ll never be bored on the numerous interconnected paths criss-crossing a bucolic landscape full of farmland, conifer forests, and spacious valleys. Hut-to-hut skiers gravitate towards the hillside Rendezvous Huts trail system with its network of five rustic cabins. The one-room huts are without running water, but come with firewood, cooking supplies, propane/solar lights, and enough space to sleep 10 people. Getting to any of them means a steady uphill workout, though you can at least arrange for a snowmobile to haul your gear. And while the distance between each hut is short—around two to six miles—the undulating path is full of adrenaline-inducing mountain vistas.
For those who prefer something a little less demanding with cushier digs, the area offers another option. You can glide between a series of welcoming inns and cabins (Freestone Inn, Mazama Ranch House, and Brown’s Farm) via the flat Community Trail.
Experienced skiers can sign up for the trek of a lifetime with adventure guide Tracks & Trails, following ungroomed trails across a remote Arctic plateau. You’ll glide over frozen lakes, gaze at 5,000-foot mountains, and pass several glaciers, including one of the largest in Norway. A ptarmigan or an arctic fox might make an appearance; if you’re very lucky, you may encounter the Sami people driving herds of reindeer. After hefting your gear 12 or more miles each day over hilly terrain, you’ll overnight in a medley of staffed and self-service huts. The staffed huts are lodge-like, with duvets, hot showers, and yummy meals. With self-service, you’ll sleep in bunk beds, chop wood, and cook.
A chain of 40 accommodations that range from simple (think outhouse and no refrigerator) to grand (running water and sauna)—pepper more than 300 miles of skiable routes in the Rockies. Named for the US Army division that trained in Colorado and fought in World War II, the non-profit that manages the huts provides intermediate/advanced backcountry skiers with access to a stellar trail network, weaving through vast high alpine meadows and forests of aspen and lodgepole pines. Your days will be long and exhausting (but fulfilling) as you navigate up and down steep, ungroomed mountain trails at high altitudes of more than 9,700 feet.
Since you’ll encounter avalanche-prone areas, it’s best to travel with a guide service. Arrange a customized Aspen to Vail hut-to-hut trip with Aspen Expeditions, where a porter can carry your load, and meals are prepared for you in five different huts, including one with a sauna to soothe your weary muscles.