LOCAL SKIERS ARE embracing a quieter, more relaxing, European form of ski vacationing. Loosely termed "hut skiing" and related both to Nordic (cross-country) and randon饠skiing (a.k.a. alpine touring), it basically involves getting to a remote locale where you can ski in splendid isolation but not have to prepare as if for an Everest expedition.
Here in Washington, hut skiing is steadily growing in popularity, following the Continental model already thriving up north in Canada. Facilities range from bare-bones to downright homey, with huts offering heat, bunks, and kitchens.
What does hut skiing involve? It can be as simple or as complicated as your favorite mode of snow locomotion. Nordic skiers can easily travel to hut locations on their skinny skis. Alpine types will either need a ride or convertible free-heel bindings (hence alpine touring), along with climbing/ascension "skins"—no longer made from actual fur, PETA take note!--also used by telemarkers. Snowboarders will also have to thumb a ride or take along extra snowshoes.
It's a winter sport, so you'll also need the full assortment of clothing, always bearing in mind that our Northwestern snows tend to be more wet than cold—meaning more fleece layers than down. Bring your own sleeping bag. When traveling under your own power, you'll need a large-volume internal-frame backpack. If transported by Sno-Cats or the like, a duffel bag and daypack will be fine. (All of the aforementioned items can be rented at REI, Marmot, and other local shops.)
YOUR VACATION PAD will be cozy and warm inside, so pack slippers and paperbacks for the long winter nights. Cooking elaborate meals is part of the appeal (and definitely bring your own booze). This is where hut skiing's advantages become abundantly clear: No fumbling over a sputtering camp stove with numb fingers; no freezing in your too-thin sleeping bag; no waking up in the middle of the night to clear the foot of fallen snow off your tent. And most huts have indoor plumbing—the supreme luxury of all winter getaways!
In no particular order, here are the details on three notable Northwest hut skiing outfits.
* Mt. Tahoma Trails Association: The cheapest, sparsest, most no-frills operation, run by a nonprofit organization, with Nordic emphasis. Three huts, one yurt, nestled just west of Rainier. (Views? You bet!) Some groomed trails; bring your own topos if you want to climb for your turns (as elsewhere). Remember a Sno-Park pass for the trailhead. $25 per weekend night, $10 midweek, plus handling and deposits; you can also join the MTTA itself. First come, first served, with reservations accepted beginning December 18. For information, mail a SASE to PO Box 206, Ashford, WA 98304; visit their office at Rainier Overland Restaurant (31811 SR 706 E); call 360-569-2451 (after December 10); or go to www.mashell.com/~mtta/.
* Rendezvous Huts: Located in the Methow Valley, where the snow is always lighter and dryer than here. Five huts reached by groomed trails, under leg power, or on their Sno-Cats. Lots of backcountry terrain for experienced, mountain-savvy skiers. Twenty-five dollars per person, or an entire 8-10 person bunk hut for $150; $75 to haul a reasonable amount of gear (weekend rates). Season typically begins by mid-December, with the snow. Mail PO Box 728, Winthrop, WA 98862; call 509-996-8100, 800-257-2452, or 800-422-3048; or try: www.methow.com/huts and email@example.com/huts.
* Scottish Lakes High Camp: Located just over Stevens Pass in the Chiwaukum range (again, better snow on the east side), with eight huts. Weekend rates up to $50 (cheaper for groups), and $45 for hauling gear. Huts are clustered in one main area, around a central lodge—with a hot tub! Season begins with the snow. Mail PO Box 2023, Snohomish, WA 98291-2023; call 425-844-2000 or 888-9HI-CAMP for reservations and information; or visit: www.scottishlakes.com.