Colorado is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts year round. Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in the Colorado backcountry in the winter is fantastic, and a great setting to explore is the hut system located in the mountains between Vail and Leadville. Connected by hundreds of miles of trails, the 34 huts offer comfortable accommodations in the winter, and some are open to the public in the summer as well.
The huts are managed by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, a nonprofit organization named after the U.S. Army division that trained in Camp Hale during World War II between 1942 and 1945. The camp housed as many as 15,000 soldiers who trained in mountain and cold weather survival skills.
Some huts are as close as 2.5 miles from the trail, and others are significantly farther. The average distance is around 7 miles with elevation gains ranging from 700 to almost 3,000 feet. Shrine Mountain Inn is located near Vail Pass, with a limited parking area available at the trailhead. At only 2.7 miles from the trailhead with less than 800 feet of elevation gain, this is an easy route, making it an ideal destination for a family trip. However, the trailhead is at 10,600 feet above sea level, and weather can be extreme and unpredictable. Therefore, proper equipment and preparation are necessary.
Shrine Mountain Inn includes three very comfortable, privately owned huts. They all have hot and cold running water, flush toilets, electricity, and some have wood burning stoves. After skiing or snowshoeing 2.7 miles to the inn, it is great to warm up in the shared wood-fired sauna. It is possible to reserve a floor, the whole hut, or individual spots if you are willing to share the huts with other guests. That allows people to plan a longer trip, skiing or snowshoeing during the day and staying at a different hut each night. Alternately, spending a weekend at a hut enjoying day hikes or snowshoeing excursions can make for a great winter family adventure.
It is not uncommon to see jays, nutcrackers and ravens, among other birds. Although very difficult to see, lynx, bobcat, mountain lion and bear inhabit the area, which is surrounded by Pike-San Isabel and White River National Forests and Holy Cross and Eagles Nest Wilderness. Wildflowers are quite abundant in the summer, and mountain views are wonderful all year.
Conservation Colorado has worked with communities around the state for over 50 years in pursuit of its mission - to protect Colorado’s environment and quality of life by mobilizing people and electing conservation-minded policymakers. It fights to protect the air, land, water, and people of Colorado. Their collaborative approach and focus on electing pro-conservation officials has yielded successes in addressing climate change, supporting clean energy development, conserving water resources, and protecting our public wildlands and rivers.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.