WHAT IT TAKES: No crowds, no condos, no traffic. What better way to enjoy the mountains? Hut trips—where skiers skin to mountainside cabins—promise memorable rewards. Every hut offers a different payoff, whether it's spectacular scenery, exceptional terrain or gourmet meals. And absent outside distractions, evenings are filled with conversation and camaraderie.
But socializing is the easy part. You'll have to get there first, and you'd better be in shape. There's also the challenge of staying warm in a high-alpine environment. And since most huts are at high altitudes, it's important to acclimate before a trip. Jetting up from sea level and jumping on the trail could be disastrous.
Uphill travel also requires specialized gear, such as climbing skins and telemark skis. Can't tele? Alpine-touring bindings (also called randonée) allow you to lock and unlock your heels for descents and ascents. Smart skiers have avalanche beacons, plus a pack containing a shovel, a probe and tools for assessing avalanche risk. Loaded packs often weigh 30—40 pounds. The terrain is uncontrolled, with variable snow. "You should be a competent fall line skier and in good physical condition, says Dick Jackson, owner of Aspen Expeditions. "If you don't have avalanche training or route-finding experience, go with a guide.
HOW TO GET THERE: Build your legs and lungs with aerobic activity, such as running, hiking or biking. And for at least six weeks before your trip, get into a routine of consistent weekday exercise and weekend trips to the mountains. If you've never used skins, practice at a ski area. If you're going to invest in equipment, start with boots and rent the rest. Learn backcountry skills, or go with a guide. Contact the American Mountain Guides Association (amga.com) for information on guide services throughout the country.