Skier's Paradise: Backcountry Hut & Yurt Destinations

Maximize your winter fun with a backcountry basecamp where you can spend all day skiing or snowshoeing, and all evening lounging by the fire.
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Maximize your winter fun with a backcountry basecamp where you can spend all day skiing or snowshoeing, and all evening lounging by the fire.

Baldy Knoll Yurt
Tetons, ID/WY
Explore a big-view ridge with 5-star skiing in all directions.

When we looked for the perfect place to test this year’s Editors’ Choice Snow Award finalists, it didn’t take long to pick the Baldy Knoll Yurt. Perched at 8,800 feet on the west slope of the Tetons, the ridgeline basecamp sits in the middle of a skier’s choice of big bowls, experts-only chutes, and mellow glades. Backcountry bonus: The view from 10,537-foot Housetop Peak, a short day tour above the yurt, affords a rare perspective of the west side of the Tetons’ iconic peaks. And the approach—5.5 miles and 2,200 feet of climbing—proved a perfect test piece for skinning up with gear-laden packs. (First-time visitors need to hire a one-day guide to show them the route and get a yurt overview. Bonus: expert advice on snow conditions.) The yurt itself? It sleeps eight, and is equipped with wood-burning and propane stoves, lanterns, cookware, and washing supplies. $355 to $395/night (plus $150 for First Day Guide); Rendezvous Backcountry Ski Tours (skithetetons.com; 307-353-2900)

Bell Lake Yurt
Tobacco Root Range, MT
Extend your season at this remote hideaway.

Most years, you can ski well into June from this 450-square-foot canvas yurt tucked among a cluster of 40 peaks over 10,000 feet. Their long shadows harbor powder well after warmer slopes have succumbed to slush. Skin 2.5 miles and 1,700 feet up the unmarked Bell Lake drainage (guide required for first-timers, $125) to the six-person, wood- and propane-stocked yurt. Study the looming face of 10,450-foot Branham Peak through the yurt windows, then trek .5 mile south to the Bell Lake cirque to attempt Branham’s 2,000-foot couloirs above the lake’s eastern shore. On a snow day, skin 1,000 feet up 10,178-foot Long Mountain behind the yurt for deep turns through well-spaced whitebark pine on the mountain’s east-southeast aspect. $250/night; Montana Backcountry Adventures (skimba.com; 406-995-3880)

Coyote Yurt
Smoky Mountains, ID
Try apres-ski steaming at this sauna-equipped camp.

Wolves, black bear, and wolverines will be your nearest neighbors at this remote basecamp, where two well-stocked yurts supply cooking gear, board games, mattresses for a dozen, and a wood-fired cedar sauna to soothe weary muscles. Trek six miles and 1,800 feet up from the Baker Creek Trailhead to the yurt at 8,700-feet, which overlooks the craggy, 11,000-foot Boulder Mountains and 12,000-foot Pioneer range. The surrounding terrain will suit both intermediate and advanced skiers, with options from gladed powder runs of varying pitches to the north face of 9,127-foot Fox Peak, where in 2007 the 48,000-acre Castle Rock Fire opened terrain previously too densely forested to ski. $35/person/night, minimum five people (or $175) on weekdays, 10 people (or $350) on weekends; Sun Valley Trekking (svtrek.com; 208-788-1966)
Tuna Yurt,
Uinta NF, UT
Start smart with this easy-access dome.

Looking for an entry-level challenge? Combine beginner-friendly backcountry with a gentle approach to this eight-person yurt nestled in an aspen stand 8,600 feet high in the western Uintas just an hour from Salt Lake. From the Norway Flats trailhead, ski in 3.5 miles and 1,000 feet up to the 18-foot-wide yurt, where you’ll find cooking supplies and a year-round spring (read: no snow melting required). Trek five minutes east to the opposite side of the Boulder Creek drainage for 500 vertical feet of 30- to 35-degree open glades; when the weather warms, you’ll find spring corn on the slope directly below the yurt. $55/night weeknights, $110/night weekends; Utah Nordic Alliance (utahnordic.com; yurt@utahnordic.com)

Bryant Cabin
Mansfield State Forest, VT
Score a rustic bargain.

What this 180-square-foot Green Mountain getaway lacks in amenities (no lights, water, or outhouse), it compensates for with classic Vermont charm, from its silvered wooden walls and claw-footed woodstove to its ladder-accessed loft, which sleeps six. From the Nordic center, ski or snowshoe one mile and gain 700 feet northeast to the cabin, nestled in a birch-spruce forest at 2,690 feet. At your doorstep lies a classic, rugged 9.4-mile section of the 300-mile-long cross-country Catamount Trail, plus 6,000 acres of endangered backcountry glades and gorges, for which the Vermont Land Trust must raise $1 million by March 2013 in order to protect indefinitely. $75/night; Bolton Valley Nordic Center (boltonvalley.com; 802-434-6876)

Hermit Lake Shelters 
Tuckerman Ravine, NH
Pack warm gear for this cross between camping and cabin—it’s worth a few extra layers.

Bare-bones accommodation meets superb location at this cluster of eight unheated lean-tos (five of which are open-air) at the base of Tuckerman Ravine, a mile-long, half-mile-wide glacial cirque carved into Mt. Washington’s eastern face. Climb 2.4 miles and 1,800 feet from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center to the 86-person basecamp, your launch pad to Tuck’s 300-plus inches of annual snowfall. Advanced skiers: Earn your stripes on The Lip, a 45-degree line on the ravine’s northern flank. Hillman’s Highway and Right Gully better suit intermediates, while novices can traverse the floor of the bowl or coast down the Sherburne Ski Trail, which leads two miles from the shelter back to the notch. $15/person/night; Appalachian Mountain Club (outdoors.org; 603-466-2727)

Grace Camp
Adirondack Park, NY
Tag the top of gothics mountain.

Delve into the Daks’ winter solitude at this rustic, 45-year-old pine A-frame, one of the High Peaks’ only two public backcountry cabins. From the Garden parking lot in Keene Valley, hike, snowshoe, or ski 3.5 miles southwest, catching views of 4,200-foot Upper and Lower Wolf Jaw as you ascend 700 feet to the six-person hut. The insulated shelter is equipped with heat, cookware, and mattresses and is situated in the lush Johns Brook Valley. From here, you’re perfectly positioned to ski 4,736-foot Gothics Mountain, its summit lurks about 2.5 miles south and 2,400 feet above the cabin. Experts may attempt its North Face, an open bowl that usually stabilizes in late winter; the more sheltered True North face provides an earlier season and somewhat less difficult descent. $199/night; Adirondack Mountain Club (adk.org; 518-523-3441)

Uncle Bud’s Hut
Pike-San Isabel NF, CO
Find skiing for every level at this high-elevation perch.

Savor panoramic views of 14,421-foot Mount Massive and swap tales of triumph around the communal woodstove at this stone-and-wood cabin 11,380 feet high in Colorado’s Sawatch Range. From the Turquoise Lake trailhead, ascend 1,620 feet in 5.9 miles, transitioning from wide-open lake views to lodgepole forest near the two-story, 16-person hut. For fun, low-angle (read: less avalanche-prone) terrain, tour 10 minutes north from the hut to St. Kevin’s Bowl, where 15- to 20-degree pitches provide a few hundred vert of open, intermediate-friendly tree skiing. Experts may tackle the 30-plus-degree slopes of 12,893-foot Galena Mountain, a half-day trek from the cabin. $33/person/night; 10th Mountain Division Hut Association (huts.org; 970-925-5775)

Camp McCully,
Eagle Cap Wilderness, OR
Discover the northwest’s best powder.

Escape into a 350,461-acre wilderness area at this yurt village in the heart of the remote, 9,000-foot Wallowa Mountains, a rare outpost of dry Pacific Northwest powder. Skin up 1,800 feet in four forested miles (guide required for first-timers, $250) to 7,500-foot McCully Basin, home to the camp’s two five-person sleeping yurts, 18-foot kitchen yurt, and 10-foot sauna yurt. McCully’s loyal followers have been making this pilgrimage for more than 30 years, and you’ll understand why: Spend days making fresh tracks in the Wallowas’ 400 inches of yearly snowfall on the wide variety of surrounding terrain, including mellow meadows, steep couloirs, and open alpine bowls. $200/person for three nights on weekends, $250/person for four nights on weekdays; Wallowa Alpine Huts (wallowahuts.com; 541-398-1980)

Ostrander
Ski Hut, Yosemite NP, CA
Stay in a historic sierra lodge.

Bunk in the heart of Yosemite in a two-story stone hut built in 1941, the newest of the park’s CCC-era structures. The journey there is not for novices: From Badger Pass, the 10-mile Bridalveil Creek route offers the most gradual approach (1,950-foot gain) to the primitive 25-person lodge at Ostrander Lake, while the nine-mile, more strenuous (2,300-foot) Horizon Ridge route affords better views, including the backside of Half Dome. Once there, check with the live-in hut keeper for recent avalanche info before lapping Horse Ridge bowl, the 500-foot-deep, north-facing cirque staring at you from across the frozen lake. $32/person/night weekdays, $52/person/night weekends; Yosemite Conservancy (yosemiteconservancy.org; 209-379-2648)