Hut traverses were born in Europe, where groups like the Swiss Alpine Club began building and managing high-mountain shelters as early as the mid 19th century. And while North America can’t hold a candle to Europe’s extensive mountain-chalet infrastructure and deep hut heritage, there are more than 200 backcountry huts, lodges and yurts throughout the U.S. and Canada. Link some together, and you’ve got a Euro-style ski-touring experience (schnitzel not included).
Big Sheep Traverse
Wallowa Mountains, Ore.
Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains are known as America’s “Little Switzerland” for their jagged alpine terrain, and Wallowa Alpine Huts manages four shelters throughout the range. The outfit offers a five-day, four-night trip that travels between their Big Sheep Hut (6,400 feet) and McCulley Camp (7,500 feet). Sauna and burn skiing included. Source: $800 per person for four nights (includes guiding, meals, portering and shuttle). wallowahuts.com
Telluride to Ouray Traverse
San Juan Mountains, Colo.
The route runs east/west along the San Juan Mountains’ Sneffels Range below notable 13,000-foot peaks like Teakettle Mountain, Last Dollar Mountain and Mears Peak. Linking each hut—Last Dollar, North Pole, Blue Lakes, Ridgway and Burn—covers some 35 miles, and the distance between huts varies between five and nine miles. Source: $30 per night per person, unguided. sanjuanhuts.com
Teton Wilderness Hut to Hut
Teton Mountains, Wyo.
Out of Jackson Hole, Teton Backcountry Guides operates Wyoming’s sole backcountry hut system and manages three wintertime yurts (plus a summer-only yurt) in the Tetons. Their five-day, four-night hut-to-hut trip stretches between Baldy Knoll Hut (8,800 feet) and Plummer Canyon Hut (8,400 feet) at the southern end of the Tetons. Source: $1,475 per person for four nights (includes meals, porters, guiding and shuttle). tetonbackcountryguides.com
Canadian Rockies, Alberta/B.C.
The 28-mile trek across Banff and Yoho National Parks’ Wapta and Waputik Icefields is North America’s premiere hut-to-hut route, linking four Alpine Club of Canada huts (Peyto, Bow, Balfour and Scott Duncan). “North America’s Haute Route,” as it’s often called, takes four to six days, tops out at more than 10,000 feet on Mt. Balfour and can be skied either guided or unguided. Source: Several outfits offer guided trips starting around $1,200 (including meals, guiding and lodging). alpineclubofcanada.ca
Sun Valley Linkup
Smoky Mountains or Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho
Sun Valley Trekking has been guiding throughout central Idaho for more than three decades, and several of their six huts lie close enough together to travel between. In the Smoky Mountains, connect Tornak Hut to the brand-new Coyote Yurts for a wildfire-burned glade tour. Northward, in the Sawtooth Mountains, Bench Hut and Fishhook Yurt are easy to link up with a descent of the notable Gun Barrel Couloir. Spend two nights at each shelter. Source: Guided rates are based on number of days and group size. Self-guided options are available, too. svtrek.com
Chugach Mountains, Alaska
Connecting Anchorage to Girdwood, the 38-mile Eklutna Traverse is Alaska’s premiere hut-to-hut route, usually done over five or six days. Shelters along the way include Pichler’s Perch, Rosie’s Roost and Hans’s Hut, each built in the ’60s and managed by the Mountaineering Club of Alaska. The route primarily covers low-angle glaciers, but tops out with a 40-degree descent of Raven Headwall on the final day. Source: Guided rates are based on number of days and group size ($200 per person per day with a group of four). stockalpine.com.
This story first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Backcountry Magazine.