Three groups of adventurous CC students set out this past block break in pursuit of powdery snow, beautiful ski lines, and the warm, welcoming atmosphere of the Colorado wilderness’ backcountry hut systems.
The hut trips are some of the most popular annual trips the ORC runs. This year alone, 60 students applied for a total of 17 spots distributed over three trips.
“I love leading hut trips because they combine two of my favorite activities: leading trips in beautiful places and skiing,” Kiko Sweeney, senior and co-president of the ORC, said. “[A hut trip is] a unique experience because you’re living and cooking a in a warm hut as opposed to winter camping.”
This warmth is a crucial benefit of a hut trip. Other benefits include escaping the crowds of resort skiing and being rewarded with pristine views. By “skinning,” a method of traveling uphill on skis or split-boards, trip participants can access wilderness areas.
Sweeney co-led the Introduction to Backcountry skiing trip with first-year Tessa Greer. Their destination was the Blue Lakes Hut, nestled in the San Juan Mountains.
“Our trip went really well,” Greer said, “This was my first trip that I’ve led for the ORC and the first time I’ve been involved in the planning process and working out logistics, which was a great experience.”
The Introduction to Telemarking Skiing trip, led by senior Noah Greenstein and sophomore Ellie Campbell, ventured to the Burn Hut, also part of the San Juan Hut System.
“I wanted to go on [the San Juan hut trip] to try out telemark skiing and adventure with a great group of people,” said first-year Sam Saccomanno. “The trip was super fun and beautiful.”
The Intermediate Backcountry Skiing trip, led by sophomore Austin Miller and senior Andrew Gregovich, was also described as fun with incredible scenery, if with a few bumps along the way.
“It was a great trip, but nothing really went the way it was supposed to,” said first-year Kaitlyn DiMarco.
Two different participants got the stomach bug – one during the van ride and one on the trip – and both had to be evacuated. Instead of making it to the Hidden Treasure Hut near Eagle, the group changed their destination to backcountry skiing near Monarch Resort. Despite the changed itinerary, they still had a blast.
What other challenges might a hut trip face?
“The greatest challenge for our trip was risk management,” said Greer. “We were in a very avalanche-prone area, and the snow pack was particularly sketchy, even for Colorado. It was about making sure everyone was having a good time even with avalanche danger, which resulted in us not getting a lot of turns in and instead doing more touring.”
Sweeney agreed and added, “Another challenge for the ORC is to get enough gear that works properly for as cheaply as possible, which is no small feat.”
Despite the challenges, it is clear that these wildly popular backcountry ski trips are providing fun, access, and instruction to students who may not otherwise have these opportunities.