The first time we experience something new in life is not always what we want that experience to be. It may be characterized as difficult, awkward, even painful. Possibly the reasons just given are why some religious persons use prayer, not guilt after committing a sin. The first hut trip does not have to be a sufferfest. Hopefully, with planning and the following suggestions, your first hut trip can be a wonderful experience. The winter hut season is just about upon us. The 10th Mountain Huts and the Braun Huts open on Thanksgiving Day. Many other huts around the state open at the same time, and some are already open.Your first step should be to go to http://www.huts.org to learn as much as possible about the various hut systems. While there, you can check on hut availability to match space with your time off. To actually reserve hut space you have to call the 10th Mountain Reservation line, you cannot reserve hut space online. They like to talk to you, and they are full of helpful suggestions.At this point we may be getting ahead of ourselves. I would strongly suggest going on your first hut trip with experienced hut users, possibly even contacting a local guide service. If you have a lot of outdoor experience which includes backcountry camping, strong navigation skills, and good winter traveling abilities, you should be OK.From home, pick a the hut that is within your fitness level, then choose how many nights you plan to stay, and the gear and food to carry. You should also let someone back home know all of your plans in case of an emergency. For your first hut trip just one night and a short travel distance would be wise. It never ceases to amaze me how physical a winter hut trip can be. You will be carrying everything on your back while possibly breaking trail and, depending on the hut you’re going to, you may be traveling six or more miles with an elevation gain of more than 2,500 feet. For your first hut trip, don’t do that! Go to one of the closer huts, let someone else break trail and keep your pack weight down. Sometimes locals are completely clueless when it comes to taking new people to the huts, especially people who have just moved to the valley. They underestimate the difficulties for new hut users.The huts (www.huts.org) website has a checklist detailing all of the gear and clothing you will need. It will be easier to tell you what not to take. When you take a monster expedition pack, you tend to fill it. For most hut trips a 5,000-cubic-inch pack will suffice, but try an even smaller one. Remember it all adds up and you are carrying it. Don’t take a change of cotton clothing for the hut. You don’t need a lot of extra sweaters for the trip. No deodorant, shampoo, extra large books, or even games – the huts are stocked with games. To get to some huts, you should take avalanche gear, while you don’t need it for trips to others. If you plan on touring and making backcountry turns on steeper terrain, then avalanche gear – and the necessary knowledge of how to use it – is mandatory. A good first aid kit should be taken.Most hut users, including the old pros, take too much food. I’ve personally never heard of anyone starving at the huts or encountered any evidence of a modern-day Alfred Packer. Just take the food you need for your trip and repackage the food to save weight. Also, all extra food and trash has to be removed from the huts.When leaving for the hut, start early. A lot of locals are notorious for getting late starts. As the manager for the Braun Huts likes to say: The later you leave the trailhead, the more likely it will be dark when you get to the hut. It gets dark almost every night. Huts are harder to find in the dark. The closer you get to the hut, the more tired you will be. It’s harder to hurry to get to the hut when you’re tired. This is only a primer for your first hut trip. Do as much research as possible. Be as fit as your schedule allows for and travel as light as you can while still having a margin of safety. Go easy on yourself, and hopefully your first hut experience will be a pleasurable one. Ron Rash is a senior instructor with the National Outdoor Leadership School. His new outdoors column, “Keys to the Kingdom,” appears Saturdays in The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.