Spots on the annual Hut Trips sent out by Colorado College’s Outdoor Recreation Club (ORC) are coveted and competitive with good reason. CC’s active student body is especially involved in alpine skiing, and the chance to spend a block break skiing powder well away from the crowded slopes of Breck is a dream come true for many. Although some students apply to the lottery system every year, many only manage to get onto one trip during their four-year CC career.
This year, the ORC sent out four different skiing-related trips for fifth block break. These were comprised of a Touring Trip outside of Eagle, Colo.; an AIRE Avalanche 1 Course in the San Juan Mountains; a telemark skiing trip also outside of Eagle, Colo.; and an Alpine Touring and Splitboarding Trip to Monarch Pass.
Each trip focused on a slightly different aspect of backcountry skiing. Vastly different from taking a gondola and chairlift to the top of a pre-rated run, hut trips involve “skinning in,” or hiking on skis and picking lines through the trees.
“A hut trip is special because for a few days, you get the chance to live where you ski,” freshman biology major Taylor Schwabe pointed out. “In the mornings, we would wake up with the sun, look out at the valleys, and decide where we wanted to hike to ski for the day.”
Schwabe’s group, which skied near Lost Wonder Hut on Monarch Pass, woke up early on their final morning, in alpine style, and skinned to the top of a valley to watch the sun rise. Although Schwabe has been skiing for 14 years, this was her first hut trip and her first time “skinning,” which involves using carpet-like covers on the underside of alpine skis that allow the skier to trek uphill by increasing friction with the snow. Most participants agreed that although skinning was the hardest part of the trip, it was also most rewarding.
Freshman Alex Beutel has been downhill skiing twice in his life, but on Tuesday before block break, he picked up a telemark ski set from a friend, listened carefully to a quick explanation of technique, and headed off on the Nordic Touring trip led by alum Neal Smeltzer and sophomore Austin Miller.
A competitive Nordic skier in high school, Beutel admitted that he fell a lot and even hit a tree during this first hut trip experience.
“It was a lot of fun, but a little frustrating and painful towards the end of the day,” Beutel said. “You know it’s bad when you are more sore from the downhill than from breaking trail and skiing up 2,200 feet.”
All of the trips included components on avalanche safety, a matter of no small importance when picking unskied lines in fresh snow. Freshman Sam Elkind found that hut trips by nature foster camaraderie and closeness within the group that is not found in a day of skiing at Vail, partially because of the responsibility each person holds for the safety of the others.
“In the backcountry, everyone has to be responsible and be vigilant about avalanche conditions and the snowpack,” Elkind explained. “But when you have to camp with those same people for five days in a row, you get closer to them. You’re all either constantly stoked, exhausted, starving, or freezing. Usually everyone is stoked and that’s awesome, but you also have to deal with the times that you aren’t.”
The contrast between hut trips and resort skiing is like backpacking in the Sangre de Cristos versus a walk along Monument Creek. The removal from an electronic world of cell phones and Facebook, frequently mentioned as a huge factor in backcountry trips, is a great way to decompress from a hard block.
“Hut trips are an amazing escape into some of the most beautiful places of Colorado, and offer access to some of the best skiing in the state,” freshman Gabby Palko said.
It’s possible that a huge draw of hut trips spans beyond the obvious beauty and solitude of skiing virgin powder on an empty pass. Skinning, especially for newcomers to the technique, can be extremely difficult. It is undeniably hard work to carry gear and trek uphill on fat, heavy skis.
However, similar to the satisfaction of reaching the top of a difficult climb or hike, the pride of reaching the top of a ridge by your own power is a feeling that is impossible to achieve using a chairlift, and somehow makes that ride down all the more glorious.