Backcountry skiers the world over know about Colorado's 10th Mountain Division hut system. For those unfamiliar, the non-profit network of mountain huts was established in the early '80s by 10th Mountain veteran Fritz Benedict and a few other Aspen locals. To fully appreciate the huts, however, a little history lesson is in order (this won't hurt a bit, promise). Allow Curbed Ski to enlighten you, in honor of Memorial Day.
In 1941, Charles "Minnie" Minot Doyle, the founder of the National Ski Patrol, suggested the U.S. Army train troops in winter survival, skiing, and combat tactics. The chosen site was Camp Hale, located outside of Leadville near Tennessee Pass.
In 1945, thousands of highly-trained soldiers were sent to the Apennine Mountains of Italy, and helped with the country's liberation. Nearly 1,000 ski troopers were killed, and over 4,000 were wounded, establishing the battle as having the highest casualty rate of any U.S. division in the Mediterranean, according to Leadville's tourism website.
So. After the war, many 10th Mountain vets settled in the Rockies; some were instrumental in the founding of ski resorts like Vail, Aspen, and Arapahoe Basin. The hut system was established in part as a memorial to the fallen soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division; some of the early huts were even built with donations from their family and friends. Today, the system relies upon donations for new construction, maintenance, and operation).
There are 29 huts connected by 350 miles of suggested routes, and the accommodations range from rustic to downright cutting-edge. Each has its own character, but they're super-affordable, averaging about $30/night (make reservations well in advance in winter and summer; check the hut system website for seasonal closures and private bookings). In summer, it's also possible to drive to some huts. In addition to the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, some of the cabins are owned and operated by Braun and Friends and Summit Huts Association, but booking and information for all can be found under the 10th Mountain website.
A monument to those killed in action was erected at Ski Cooper, and for the past 54 years, survivors have held a public Memorial Day service there. This year's ceremony starts at 11 a.m.; bring a lawn chair, water, hat, and sunblock, and pay tribute to some of the biggest badasses in ski history.
· It's a Tree, It's a Woodpile, No Wait, It's a Super Hut [Curbed Ski Archives]
· Will Whistler Get it's Own Hut System? [Curbed Ski Archives]