February 6, 2024 4:30 pm

Duane L. Coker

A backcountry ski and splitboard hut trip is all about disconnecting from the daily grind and connecting with the

The start of our epic backcountry ski and splitboard hut trip!
The beginning of our Aspen to Crested Butte Traverse: Leaving Ashcroft

awe-inspiring beauty of the high mountains during winter.

Several buddies and I started exploring the winter backcountry a few years back and, as our skills increased a bit, we’ve been looking for a longer adventure than the 1-2 night trips we’ve made in our local Gunnison/Crested Butte area.  While these hut trips had been a lot of fun, and offered serious education, we were all interested in seeing if we could use our new skills to actually go from one place to another, overcoming the cold, snow, and wintery heights along the way.

Come along with me as I describe our trip and what it was like to head into the Colorado backcountry for a 5-day trip from Aspen to Crested Butte at the height of winter!!!

To Lead or to Follow: Whether to use a guide service

At this point, roughly 5 years into our backcountry experience, our group of 4 had ventured out on several overnight backcountry ski and splitboard trips, but nothing longer than a couple of nights and nothing as far into the backcountry as we’d be going on this trip.

While we were moderately confident in our route planning and skiing ability, we were not confident enough in our ability to put all of the pieces together – including, but not limited to, longer-distanced route planning (including backup routes over high passes), advanced avalanche awareness, backcountry hut use, carrying 50 pound packs on skis, and so much more on this long of a trip.

Further, we wanted to maximize our fun on our “non-moving” days when we’d stay in the same hut, but go out for some great turns in the neighborhood of our temporary home. Accordingly, we decided that a guide experienced in the area would help us get more reward for the hard work we’d be doing to get there.

Chris Martin, our exceptionally patient and knowledgeable guide

Having decided to use a guide, we went with Irwin Guides out of Crested Butte, a company we had used before, and, most importantly, we booked with Chris Martin, a truly exceptional guide, and just a great all-around guy, who we’d worked with on numerous day trips and avalanche training courses.

Our group consisted of 4 long-time friends and having a guide like Chris, who had already demonstrated that he could put up with us and our nonsense, was important, especially on a 5-day trip.  Chris not only put up with us, but he showed us an excellent time, helping to firmly cement a love for these types of trips in our collective conscience.

Chris not only conducts trips in the Crested Butte area, but all around the world, including Alaska and South America. Check out him, and his upcoming adventures, at MindfulMountaineering.com.  He has an Alaska Ski Plane trip this spring that should be amazing!!!

The Journey Begins: Ashcroft

Stunning views on the way to Lindley Hut

We began our 5-day adventure near Ashcroft, Colorado, at the Ashcroft Nordic Center, which provided a nice, well-groomed trail upon which to start our adventure.

After loading up on a few last-minute supplies, and double and triple checking our gear, we hit the Ashcroft Nordic Ski trails, leaving the winter end of Castle Creek Road, just outside of Aspen, behind.

A quick avalanche beacon check, and we we were off.

The area, and the weather, was absolutely beautiful and, despite the very heavy backpacks, spirits were high for the 4 plus mile skin to Lindley Hut, which would be our accommodation for the first 2 nights.

The Huts

Nestled in the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the Lindley Hut and the Friends Hut are not just shelters; they’re gateways to some of the most exhilarating backcountry skiing and splitboarding experiences. Both huts offer unique adventures and challenges, making them must-visit destinations for winter sports enthusiasts.

Don’t miss the turn! An almost-buried sign post.

Both huts were amazing, especially if you’ve never stayed in a winter backcountry hut.  Rustic is the word, with no electricity, no running water and heated only by a wood-burning stove. That said, they were super cozy (even only half full), very well thought out, and their old-world ambiance added a lot to our trip.  Whether it was melting snow for water, or having a sing-a-long with the guitar someone left in the corner, both huts had enough personality that they became like the 6th member of our team.

Here’s a bit of information about our first backcountry accommodation:

Lindley Hut: A Hidden Gem at 10,480 Feet

Lindley Hut covered in snow!

History and Charm 
The Lindley Hut, part of the Braun and Friends Hut System, is a testament to the region’s rich skiing heritage and a favorite among backcountry aficionados.

Getting There 
To reach the Lindley Hut, you’ll embark on a moderately challenging 4.5-mile journey starting from the Ashcroft ghost town, near Aspen. The route, marked by stunning views and occasional wildlife sightings, typically takes 4-6 hours, depending on conditions and your pace.

Booking Your Stay 
Reservations can be made through the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association website. It’s wise to book well in advance, especially for weekends and holidays, as the hut’s popularity soars during peak season.

Amenities and Must-Haves
 At an elevation of 10,480 feet, the Lindley Hut sleeps 14 and offers cozy comforts like a wood stove, solar-powered lights, and a well-equipped kitchen. You’ll need to bring your sleeping bag, food, and personal gear. Don’t forget essential safety equipment like avalanche beacons, probes, and shovels.

Onward and Upward

After two nights at Lindley, we headed out, with slightly lighter backpacks, up and over 12,700’ Pearl Pass, to Friends’ Hut.  The route, falling on day 3 of our trip, was tough, but doable.  From Lindley to the top of the pass was about 4.5 miles, almost all of it uphill.

Lots of ups and downs. This one, just out of Lindley Hut, required “skiing” my splitboard.

I say, and want to stress for my splitboarder friends out there, “almost” all of it was uphill.

Especially during the first half of the route, it was much more uphill and downhill, which taught me that I really needed to learn to “ski” my splitboard while in walking mode.

Luckily, I had switched to a hardboot setup (check out my ultimate splitboard setup here), earlier in the season, which made me a lot more efficient and in control, especially while side hilling, but, more importantly, my Phantom Snow setup allowed me to lock my heel down for short ski efforts.

Transitioning to ride mode was just not an option as the downhill/uphill switches came way too often, but the downhill portions, mostly in the trees, was too tricky to try to do with my heels loose.  I’m not a skier and, even more so, I’m definitely not a telemark skier!

The ability to quickly shift to a locked-heel, ski-like mode was essential and something that I now actually practice quite a bit when uphill splitboarding at my local ski areas.

If you are a splitboarder, getting ready for a backcountry ski and splitboard hut trip, I definitely recommend that you get a set up that allows for your heel to be locked, while set up for walk mode, and that you practice “skiing” your splitboard.  In fact, do yourself a favor, and go to a hardboot setup. You’ll thank me for it later!

One other thing to think about, and maybe practice, is skiing or riding downhill with a heavy pack.  Most of us are

The last bit of “steep” below Pearl Pass.

used to 10 – 25 pound packs for shorter trips into the backcountry.  For those 1-2 day trips, it took me a few turns to get used to the added weight of my avalanche gear, water, extra gloves and clothes and snacks.

However, skiing and riding down steeps (like the drop off of Pearl Pass heading to Friends Hut) with a 40 – 50 pound pack, loaded with more clothes and each person’s portion of 5 days of food, is another story altogether.

For a splitborder, like me, initiating the toeside turn was tough and took, for the first time since my earliest days, real conscious effort to roll the board over.  Conversely, going heelside was so easy that, unfortunately, it happened all by itself a couple times, resulting in exciting and  unplanned, and at least once, aerial, backside dismounts into the powder.

My skier buddies had the same learning curve and, for all of us, we were just getting used to the weight by the end ofthe trip (or maybe the packs were just getting that much lighter as we ate our way through our provisions?).

The view from Pearl Pass, looking back toward Lindley Hut. A close look shows our lonely trail up the valley.

Pearl Pass was absolutely stunning in every way!

Pearl Pass was a serious landmark in our epic backcountry ski and splitboard hut trip!
My buddy, Mike, poses for an obligatory photo atop Pearl Pass.

A steep, windswept and icy approach and a just-as-steep, powdery and exhilarating descent.

The views were unbelievable in just about every direction and, while a few mountain goats looked on, and while a very brisk wind started bringing on an uncomfortable chill, we spent some time at the pass taking pictures and celebrating one of the landmarks of our journey.

Our next stop was Friends Hut, one of the most remote huts in the 10th Mountain Division.

Friends Hut: Between Two Iconic Peaks

Friends Hut with a view of Pearl Pass in the background

A Tribute to Friendship and Wilderness 
Located at an elevation of 11,370 feet, the Friends Hut is a monument to camaraderie and alpine beauty. It was built in memory of ten friends who perished in a head-on plane crash (read more about it here).

Sitting between the towering peaks around Crested Butte and Aspen, it’s a serene, and totally cool, escape.

The Journey to Isolation
 Accessing the Friends Hut is an adventure in itself. The hut is one of the few in the 10th Mountain Division huts that is far from any access roads and is definitely one of the most remote huts to access.  Most people go in from the Crested Butte side, which is still, at its shortest, over 10 miles, but we came in from the Pearl Pass/Aspen side.  While a direct, one-day ski from the Aspen side is doable (start early and spend a LOT of time looking at avalanche conditions), stopping over at another hut along the way, like we did, is a more prudent, and more fun, choice.

Securing Your Spot
 Like the Lindley Hut, reservations for the Friends Hut are made via the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. Due to its remote location and smaller size (it accommodates eight people), booking early is crucial.

What the Hut Offers and What You Should Bring 
The Friends Hut provides basic amenities like a wood stove, propane cooktop, and utensils. Just like Lindley, you’ll need to pack in your sleeping bag, food, and personal items. Remember, this hut is more rustic and remote, so prepare accordingly with extra food, warm clothing, and safety gear.  It’s possible, and not even unlikely, that you could get stuck here an extra day or more depending on conditions.  Plan accordingly!

The route back home

From Friends Hut, after a couple days of skiing the amazing local terrain, it’s a 10 plus mile skin and ski out to Crested Butte.  Again, lots of flat, but rolling, trail on the way out, with a couple fun downhill portions, so learning to “ski” your splitboard will pay dividends here, too.

The end of the trail: Brush Creek Road a few miles from Crested Butte.

The trail mostly follows Death Pass and Brush Creek Trails and Brush Creek Road, but, depending on avy conditions, you might need to alter the route as it does often travel under avalanche terrain.

In our case, it was warm on the way out and we were constantly assessing the possibility of wet, loose avalanches.  We got an early start, to do our best to beat the “heat”  and were able to take the shortest route, which was still quite long.  Had we started later, we most likely would have added distance by avoiding passing under avalanche terrain.

On these longer traverses, it is very important to assess your planned route the evening before, and the morning of, your ski day.  Conditions are constantly changing and, even if it’s a bluebird day, considerations like the warming, and possibility of wet, loose slides, or wind loading of slopes, is something you need to be thinking about.

Final Thoughts

First, the huts:  The Lindley Hut and the Friends Hut are more than just places to stay; they’re portals to some of the most breathtaking backcountry experiences in the Rockies. Whether you’re a seasoned skier or a splitboarding enthusiast, these huts offer a unique blend of adventure, camaraderie, and solitude.

And, the traverse:  I’ve long loved traveling from one place to another under my own power. The slow pace allows for the absorption of more memories and they seem to last longer because of the effort you put into earning them.  This was my first winter traverse and was a truly memorable experience full of fun turns and great times with friends.  The sense of accomplishment was there, too, and never gets old even after years and years of adding great trips to the memory bank.

If you’re considering the Aspen to Crestted Butte, or Crested Butte to Aspen, winter trip, feel free to put your questions in the comments section below.  I’d love to provide whatever help I can to assist as you plan your next backcountry ski and splitboard hut trip!  Remember to respect the wilderness, leave the huts cleaner than how you found them, and cherish these natural wonders.

Happy trails!

About the Author

Avid backcountry splitboarder, camper, overlander, traveler, foodie, trained sommelier, and lover of tech and gadgets!

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