A Night on Vail Pass is a Hut Trip Away

Looking to spend a cozy night in our winter wilderness? Try booking a stay in one of the iconic huts found on Vail's namesake pass.

By Devon O'Neil Photography by Zach Mahone February 10, 2017 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2017 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

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The hut network off of Vail Pass make a night in the woods a cozy endeavor.

Image: Zach Mahone

In the early eighties, when the fledgling 10th Mountain Division hut system was still being developed from Aspen to Vail, there was no fixed plan for siting cabins in Eagle County. Chuck Ogilby, a local builder, had an idea. One of his friends (Jay Utter) had recently died and left his wife 80 acres on Vail Pass. Ogilby knew his buddy would have loved playing a role in the network’s design. He asked his friend’s widow, Phoebe Barrett, if she might consider a partnership to build cabins for public use on the land. She did, and so Ogilby and an old friend and former ski patrolman, Chuck Malloy, built Jay’s Cabin in 1986, the first of three 12-person huts that became the Shrine Mountain Inn, and introduced hut living to Vail Pass. 

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Built in remembrance of an old friend, the huts now play host to backcountry travelers with like-minded spirits.

Image: Zach Mahone

The two Chucks went on to build Chuck’s Cabin (named for a third Chuck, a friend of Jay Utter) in 1987 and Walter’s Cabin in 1997. All three cabins have hot running water and showers or bathtubs—a rarity at Colorado huts—and require just a 600-foot climb from the parking lot. A low-angle bowl perfect for gentle powder turns sits just above the cabins. “We get a lot of first-time hut users who are sort of dipping their toes in the water, so to speak,” says Ogilby. “They’re not sure they can go full-blown hut life, so they try it out with us. We’re sort of the incubator huts.”

Accordingly, bunks here are among the most-coveted in the 10th Mountain system (and, at $45 per night, are a little more expensive than at other huts). And so is Janet’s Cabin, one of four shelters managed by the Summit Huts Association and booked through the 10th. Janet’s is generally accessed via Copper Mountain and Guller Creek, but it still sits within the Vail Pass winter rec area and can be reached with a 5.5-mile trek from the pass if you prefer not to deal with the resort. It sleeps 20 and costs $38 per night. 

The Fowler-Hilliard Hut, west of Janet’s, is accessed from Vail Pass as well as Camp Hale. Accessed via six miles of groomed road, the ridgetop hut site and frontyard bowl make it one of the most popular huts in the 10th system. Spots run $33 per night. 

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With more than one option for an overnight stay, a trek to one of the cabins can be a shorter jaunt or a day-long excursion.

Image: Zach Mahone

The sixth hut on Vail Pass is the Jackal, an out-of-the-way cabin 2,500 feet above Camp Hale, from where it is most easily accessed. You’ll climb about 4.7 miles to reach the hut, which sleeps 16 and costs $33 per night.

If you’ve never been on a hut trip, it’s best to start with Paragon Guides; they’ve introduced thousands of neophytes to the system. In addition to their know-how, Paragon caches sleeping bags and nonperishable food at each hut, which leaves room in packs for fresh goodies, like salmon and prosciutto and vegetables. Many of Paragon’s trips are three days and two nights, with hut-to-hut options, but trips can be tailored to anyone’s needs, guide Donny Shefchik says. ($455/day, less for a larger group, paragonguides.com; for information on each hut, go to huts.org)

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