Top Tips for Winter Hut Trips

I considered myself a seasoned expeditionary participant before gathering a group of women to join me on a winter hut trip two years ago. However, on this trip, I learned many lessons about planning and preparing for a winter backcountry expedition. As I look forward to another winter of earning your turns through backcountry ski touring, I thought I should sit down with an expert to dig a little deeper. No one better than Don Shefchik of Paragon Guides, who estimates he’s been on around 500 hut trips in his lifetime. Shefchik’s advice goes beyond the “five Ps” — prior planning leads to proper performance — as he shares with us years of experience guiding and participating in winter hut trips.


Photos by Sara Henley.

Shefchik started his 35-year guiding career as a shadow guide and, over time, moved up the ranks to field director for Paragon Guides. Now, he is semi-retired. He’s seen the evolution of ski touring gear and the expansion of huts built within the Colorado hut system. He enjoys winter hut trips because of the physical and mental challenge associated with preparing for backcountry travel. He commented on his favorite hut being Peter Estin Hut, because he grew into his guiding career going there and enjoys skiing at that location.

There are 12 huts in the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association and another 22 available through the Summit Huts, Braun and Friends Huts and privately-owned huts. The popularity of visiting the huts has grown immensely over the years, and making reservations in advance is necessary. Reservations have returned to being able to book individual spots instead of booking out a whole cabin during the post-COVID years. Although, the hut association does recommend booking a whole cabin if parties are using the huts to celebrate a special occasion.

Shefchik doesn’t believe in calling huts beginner-friendly, because in adverse conditions, something easy can become difficult.However, he does recommend Shrine Mountain Inn, Continental Divide Cabin, Francie’s Cabin, Vance’s Cabin and 10th Mountain Division Hut as huts with good access and good skiing. “Choosing an appropriate hut is super important as a novice backcountry user,” Shefchik emphasizes.

Other advice he lists for novice backcountry participants: don’t carry too much stuff, get an early start, stay together, make sure you are following the right trail and don’t go on a hut-to-hut trip for your first hut experience. Most importantly, go with someone experienced, such as a guide or well-seasoned backcountry skier. Making sure everyone in the group has avalanche safety knowledge and tools is also the most vital skill for going on a winter backcountry trip.

Paragon Guides offers a pre-trip shakedown tour as a good way for people who have never gone backcountry skiing to get used to using their equipment before going on one of their guided hut trips. When preparing for a hut trip, Shefchik advises practicing transitions between touring mode to ski mode to become more efficient. “It’s one thing to learn something new and another thing to apply that education in real life situations,” he says.

“Something you want to avoid is your energy leveling going up and down,” Shefchik explains. “Going from hot and cold is wasting physical and mental energy.” Shefchik sees this in his participants and instructs them on proper ski touring techniques so that their uphill travel doesn’t become an uphill slog (he warned me on using such a phrase). “Deal with the situation, so that you don’t end up losing energy,” he says as a general rule in backcountry travel.

We both recommend using touring pants or ski bibs, as they provide warmth to the upper body, ventilation to the legs and are made of lightweight, waterproof yet breathable material. Also, bring multiple upper body layers for the changing conditions and downhill skiing. The phrase “be bold, start cold” is usually a good call when starting the ski tour to avoid overheating while going uphill.

Some of Shefchik’s personal packing essentials go from a head-to-toe check list, such as bringing ski googles, because you never know when conditions will change. He also recommends lighter ski gloves, wearing base layers for two days and always having a pair of dry socks. “It’s okay to smell a little bit,” he says. “The nice thing about hut trips is clothes dry out quicker.” A packing list is available on the 10th Mountain Division Huts website ( to help people prepare for their hut trips.

Managing food is the next step in planning a hut trip, with multiple ways to budget and resource the weight of bringing minimal supplies into the backcountry. Shefchik advises eating breakfast and dinner together and divvying up responsibilities for cooking and cleaning. He recommends boiling water on wood fire stoves, since turning snow into drinkable water takes a while.

“Hut trips offer a celebration of friendship and food,” Shefchik remarks about planning meals. “Be careful, because you need less than you think.” He suggests three ounces of rice and a nickel diameter of spaghetti per person. As a guide, his job is to project the amount of food participants will consume. “I’ve never lost a Paragon participant to starvation,” he laughs.