The world’s most famous hut-to-hut trail system is also one of the most difficult. The Haute Route passes the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, with nights spent in mountain huts, and requires a significant fitness level and back country experience. The trip has become a pilgrimage for hardcore adventurers, so popular that the huts are jammed nightly, but it remains daunting to more casual fans of winter recreation.
The good news is that the Haute Route spawned a global interest in hut-to-hut winter travel, and today trail networks with rustic accommodations along the way can be found wherever there is snow, including several in the United States.
The concept and appeal are simple: You spend a day outdoors in the wilderness getting exercise and enjoying magnificent surroundings, then have shelter without having to return to a car or civilization, staying multiple days at one hut while doing day trips, or touring from point A to point B using multiple huts along the way.
As in Europe, skiers here first began repurposing hiking huts more than a century ago, but according to the historians at the nation’s largest and most famed network, Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, the first one purpose-built for winter use was likely a hut outside Aspen erected just after World War II.
Several more winter-focused hut networks have been built around the country in recent decades, the newest being a user friendly system in Maine. The Maine Huts & Trails system was meant for both average cross-country skiers using classic gear (the relatively simple skinny skis used on groomed tracks at Nordic centers) and those on snowshoes, which require little more special expertise than knowing how to walk. More adventurous guests can do longer daily distances and pack in heavy loads, while those seeking a cushier winter getaway can opt for less mileage and travel light, having their gear transported to the huts by snowmobile.
The system is well-mapped and easy to navigate, but private guides and scheduled tours are offered as options. The network is also available to mountain bikers, hikers…