There are half a dozen backcountry huts near my Aspen home, so it wasn’t easy convincing 11 friends to drive 100 miles—and ski another eight—to reach a hut near Vail. But, like me, they’re suckers for superlatives.
Perched at 11,180 feet, Colorado’s Eiseman hut is the highest of 29 “alpine hostels” in the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association system. It accesses some of the best backcountry skiing in the state, and it boasts the system’s largest sun deck. Ours was an out-and-back mission, but if we’d wanted a longer adventure, we could have skied as far as Leadville, 70 miles from the Eiseman. Unloading the cars at the trailhead, I realized our weekend trek would be neither light nor fast. This crew was into bacon, beer, and whiskey. One brought a BB gun; another, his special pillow. Someone even packed a set of metal horseshoes. No one was to go hungry, sober, or bored.
As it turned out, we didn’t do much sunbathing. A late April storm rolled in our first night and delivered midwinter powder to every aspect in sight. We broke into smaller groups during the day—some to lap the shorter but steeper shots to the north, some to ski the glades facing south. A few guys built a kicker and launched over the hut for our viewing pleasure. Someone just read by the roaring fire.
Excellent skiing on a hut trip is extra credit. If you’re counting your vertical, you’re missing the point. Evenings are what you’ll remember most. Ours consisted of lively fireside chats and raucous games of Jenga and gin rummy; group cooking incorporated copious cured meats. There wasn’t an iPhone in sight; we talked rather than tweeted. When I retired to my bunk, full, tired, and content, reflecting on this hut tour among the many we’d done before, one word came to mind: superlative.—Tess Weaver