Dec. 14, 2015
By Afton Aikens
If you want to step outside the comfort zone of a hotel but aren’t keen on winter camping, an Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) backcountry hut may be an ideal choice—and a great base for skiing or snowshoeing. The huts vary from century-old log cabins in meadows to bunker-looking dwellings above treeline.
“The Alpine Club has put a lot of resources into them, so they’re well kept,” says the ACC’s Keith Haberl. “The great thing about (staying at a hut) is you don’t have to carry a tent or a stove, and the sleeping pads are there; just bring a sleeping bag and food,” he adds. “Huts open the door to a lot more terrain for a lot more people.”
Hut accommodation is dormitory-style; sleeping quarters, common areas and kitchens are shared with other guests. Huts can be booked up to 30 days in advance (or six months in advance for ACC members—and anyone can become a member). “There’s a high likelihood of meeting like-minded people who have some recreational objective that’s similar,” Haberl says.
Popular huts in winter include:
- Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Park, BC: This is the ACC’s closest hut to Calgary, accessed from
Peter Lougheed Park in Kananaskis. The trailhead is 62 km south of Hwy 1 on Hwy 40, and it’s
a 9-km (three to four hours) cross-country ski to the hut; the trail is track set in Peter Lougheed
Park. Elk Lakes Cabin is a family favourite, with ski touring ranging from easy to advanced.
- Elizabeth Parker Hut, Yoho National Park: The trailhead is 12 km west of Lake Louise in the Lake
O’Hara region, renowned for its beauty. The log cabin is accessed via a 12-km cross-country ski up
a fire road (three to four hours; not track set). “The route is well travelled, so you can pull a sled,
toboggan or pulk and load it up with your kids’ gear, or wine!” Haberl says. “There are wonderful
lakes to visit from the hut.” Editor’s note: I’ve stayed here and it’s fantastic; try to snag the smaller
cabin when you arrive.
- Bow Hut, Banff National Park: The trailhead is 40 km north of Lake Louise on the Icefields
Parkway, accessible to those based in the Banff or Jasper areas. Ski tour 8 km (four to six hours)
to this hut above treeline on the Wapta Icefield. “You can ski to the hut without travelling on
glacier, but it’s a step up from (the former huts). There are hazards,” Haberl says. Bow Hut is a
popular choice for ski mountaineers. Editor’s note: I’ve stayed here in summer and can only
imagine how breathtaking it would be in winter, situated amid the peaks.
- Sydney Vallance (Fryatt) Hut, Jasper National Park: The trailhead is 32 km south of the Jasper
townsite on a gravel road off Hwy 93A, with a full day approach to the cabin on touring skis (11.5
km can be cut off the 23-km route if the Athabasca River is frozen enough to cross; use your
judgment). This hut was fully renovated in 2012.
All huts offer fantastic backcountry skiing terrain. Elk Lakes Cabin boasts a dozen or more high quality waterfall ice climbing routes. There are some ice climbing opportunities at Elizabeth Parker and Fryatt huts as well.
All images courtesy of the Alpine Club of Canada.
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