Love winter, but not sleeping in the cold? On a backcountry hut trip, you'll get snow-draped peaks, solitude, and single-digit temps, but you'll end the day with a sheltered bed, card games, and the sweet smell of cocoa warming on a crackling woodstove. Just pack food, a sleeping bag, and personal gear—and leave the igloo-building kit at home.
Carter Notch Hut, NH
Snowshoe to the white's oldest hut
Tucked in a rocky gash between 4,832-foot Carter Dome and the Wildcat Ski Area's north summit, the Carter Notch hut (at 3,288 feet) is the grandfather of the Appalachian Mountain Club's hut system. From the trailhead on NH 16, ascend 3.8 gentle miles on the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to the solar- and wind-powered stone hut, built in 1904. Check in with the caretaker and grab a bed in the 40-person bunkhouse. The next morning, jump onto the Carter-Moriah Trail and snowshoe up Carter Dome. You'll gain 1,500 feet in 2.6 miles and earn views of Mt. Washington to the west and the deep Wild River Basin to the east. Press on: 1.6 miles north, you'll reach the exposed summit of 4,675-foot Mt. Hight. Circle back 4.4 miles to the hut and cook dinner using the provided stove. $25/night; outdoors.org
Head to North Conway and order a maple-fennel sausage pie at Flatbread on Main Street. flatbreadcompany.com
From North Conway, go 18 miles north on NH 16, and turn east just beyond the Wildcat Ski Area.
Mt. Tahoma Trail, WA
Schuss to dirt-cheap backcountry digs
First the bad news: Devastating storms in 2006 destroyed miles of trails and access roads, shuttering the South District of the Mt. Tahoma trail system just west of Mt. Rainier National Park for this season. The good news: Mt. Tahoma's North District—part of the largest no-fee hut-to-hut network in North America—has picked up the slack. Now skiers and snowshoers can tackle 25 miles of groomed trails. Park at the 92 Road Sno-Park lot, just east of Elbe. (Note: While the trail and huts are "free," a Sno-Park permit costs $10/night, and you'll be charged a $5/person per night permit-processing fee.) Ski four miles to the 14-person Copper Creek Hut on the Puyallup Ridge Trail, where gaps in the trees frame big views of Mt. Rainier, the Olympics, and eight volcanoes stretching from Oregon to Canada. skimtta.com
Grab a legendary Scale Burger at Elbe's Scale Shack Burgers, and wash it down with a chocolate shake. (360) 569-2247
From Elbe, take WA 706 east 6 miles. Turn L on 278 Street East. Follow Roads 8, 9, and 92 to the parking lot.
10th Mt. Division Huts, CO
Ski-tour the ritz of all hut systems
There's a reason locals start making their winter reservations in June. Simply stated, this hut system, with 31 shelters all situated between 9,700 and 11,700 feet, is decadent. Link the Polar Star Inn and Peter Estin huts on a three-day loop from the Yeoman Park trailhead (17 miles south of Eagle, CO). Climb 1,700 feet in 5.8 miles along the Newcomer Spring Trail, and then kick back at the swank 17-person Polar Star while you watch the sunset from a sprawling west-facing deck. The next day schlep 8.2 miles south along the Ironedge Trail to the pine-log Peter Estin Hut at 11,200 feet. This two-story cabin has south-facing views of the Elk Range's jagged peaks. Wax your boards for day three. Your exit out is mostly downhill for five fast miles. Tip: Check the site's Space for Sale link for cancellations up to 45 days out. $28-$33; huts.org
Stop at the Grand Avenue Grill in Eagle and order the rack of ribs. (970) 328-4043
From Eagle, follow Brush Creek Rd. to the first Y. Head L or east. Drive 5.8 miles to Yeoman Park.