Cascade Huts (Oregon) Operational Profile

Cascade Huts Operational Profile, hut2hut

Photo Courtesy Cascade Huts

Operational Profile — Cascade Huts

Hood River, OR

Sections:

  1. Overview: (mission, purpose, programs, etc.)
  2. Huts and shelters
  3. Trails
  4. Data, policies and practices relating to environmental impact of hikers and of huts?
  5. Governance, Staff and Management
  6. Reservations, Marketing, Memberships
  7. Transportation
  8. Safety
  9. Insurance
  10. Use of hut system: capacity, demographics, survey data, trends over time, etc.
  11. Economics
  12. Partnerships and educational programs
  13. Founding/origin stories
  14. Some important lessons learned by the managers of the system
  15. Observations by Sam
  16. Challenges and opportunities
  17. Additional Resources
  18. Document written by

  1. Overview: (mission, purpose, programs, etc.)

Cascade Huts offers self-guided hut-to-hut skiing/snowshoeing, biking, and hiking on the slopes of Mount Hood. Skiing/snowshoeing and biking are the most popular ways to travel hut-to-hut in the Cascade Huts. The huts are located in the Hood National Forest, about 60 miles from Portland, OR. Most bike trips start and end in the town of Hood River.

This system of five huts was inspired by a visit to the San Juan Huts. Founders James Koski and Don Bain of Portland experienced one of the San Juan’s hut-to-hut cycling routes in Colorado and Utah in 2004. They returned home inspired to design and operate a similar hut system in Oregon. It took three years to get their Special Use Permits from the US Forest Service and to design and build the system. Opened in 2007, the for-profit business quickly attracted visitors and press notices. It was sold in 2014 to Derek DeBorde and Jason Taylor of Hood River, OR. They run Cascade Huts along with another property they own in the area, Long Lake Resort. Cara Yasui was hired in 2014 as the manager of the Cascade Huts.

This hut-to-hut program traverses beautiful National Forest lands and many of the routes offer spectacular views of Mt Hood and surrounding peaks. The hut system uses a mix of both purpose-built bike trails and existing logging roads. The system is advertised as family-friendly and offers a range of options of varying difficulty. The terrain is rugged and the distances and ascents are formidable for some of the biking routes. As their web site says:

The adventures we have mapped out should not be taken lightly. However, with preparation most physically active people will have a challenging but enjoyable trip. Every mountain biker should spend several hours “in the saddle” in the months leading up to a trip on the Mt. Hood Loop or Grand Tour – preferably with some hilly training routes. The Surveyors Package can be handled with much less preparation. In the winter, skiers and snowshowers should be in good physical condition and prepared to deal with the demands Mother Nature can impose. 

They offer 3, 4, and 6-day tours and will work with customers to develop customized itineraries. The huts are simple structures with beds, propane stove and lantern, cooking utensils, and outhouse. In summer huts are stocked with food and water, in winter visitors bring their own food.

  1. Huts and shelters:
    • Description, location, capacity

The five huts are clad in green metal and have wood paneled interiors. See photos. The US Forest Service permit requires that all but one of the huts be moved at the end of each season to allow for regrowth of the site. The White River Hut remains in place year-round as its location makes it too difficult to remove. In winter this hut is re-named the Barlow Hut.

Three huts are operated in winter and five in summer. The seasonal configuration of the huts is different in order to offer differing terrain and distances for summer and winter use. See trail maps on website.

Three of the huts are double-wide, comprising 256 square feet and measuring 16 feet by 16 feet and sleep eight people in bunk beds. These three huts are broken down into two pieces to be moved by truck for the season. The other two huts are constructed and moved in one piece These two huts are 160 square feet and sleep five people.

  • Amenities

The huts are simple but contain what is needed for a comfortable night. All huts provide propane heaters, stoves and lamps. Also provided are kitchen utensils/supplies, mattress pads and sleeping bags, and an outhouse. The Cascade Huts are not allowed by Oregon Liquor Control to stock beer and wine. People can bring their own alcohol if they wish.

  • Policies and hut ethics

Operators state that their policies are encapsulated in the standard Leave No Trace publications. Dogs are allowed in the huts, but not on the beds. Guests are asked to clean up after themselves. There is no smoking allowed in the huts.

  • Water 

In winter customers bring water for use on the trail, then boil water from a creek or melt snow for drinking water at the hut. Some may choose to bring water filters rather than boil water on the propane stove. In summer the huts are stocked with drinking water, which is replenished every 2-3 days.

  • Waste management

Management of outhouses is sub-contracted to a local sanitation company. Their performance is monitored by the Forest Service and by the operators. Toilets are removed by staff following safety protocols, and brought to be serviced by a local sanitation company.

The toilet tanks are removed by staff and brought down a centrally located spot easily accessible by the sanitation district pump tankers, which come and clean the tanks on site disposing waste at the local sewage treatment plant. 

Not clear how gray-water disposal is handled; seemingly by dispersal outside the huts.

  • Heat 

Instructions are provided at the hut for use of a wall mounted propane heater and a stove. In winter customers must bring 16.4 oz. propane canisters for heating; two canisters per night are recommended. Customer information packet includes instruction for ventilation via windows to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning when using propane heater and lantern.

  • Electricity/lights

No electricity is provided. Lighting is by propane lamp, which is connected to a propane tank in the hut.

  • Cooking and eating

Each hut has a kitchen counter. A propane stoves is connected to propane tanks stored in each hut. Kitchen utensils for cooking and eating are provided at each hut. In summer the huts are stocked with food that customers cook themselves.

  • Sleeping

Huts sleep either 5 or 8 people in bunk beds equipped with sleeping pads and sleeping bags. In winter sleeping bags are rated to 0 degrees F. Guests bring their own sleep sheets. Dogs are not allowed on the beds.

  • Maintenance and repairs

Maintenance and repairs are conducted in the summer by staff from Lost Lake Resort. There is a maintenance checklist.

  • Capital projects – Not discussed.
  • Hut design 

Huts are clad in green metal to blend in with the environment. Pine clad interiors. Pine bunks. Huts are not insulated. Metal roofs allow snow to slide off the roof.

  • Permitting process 

The owners are in the process of applying for a second ten-year renewal of their Special Use Permit from the Mt. Hood National Forest. The operators report very good relations with the US Forest Service district personnel. Their requests to expand the number of huts have been denied thus far.

  • Hut supplies provided:

Also stocked in the huts are first aid kit, fire extinguisher, games, matches, a snow shovel in season, and toilet paper.

  • Hut supply: how do you get supplies in and waste out? 

In summer the huts are re-supplied every few days by four wheel drive vehicles on forest logging roads. In winter huts are checked and resupplied every few weeks by ski or snowmobile.

  1. Trails:
    • Distances and elevation changes

See web site for details. The routes vary and the website provides detailed data on daily and aggregate distance and ascent/descent/elevation change for each route. The operators will work with customers to design customized trips suited to needs. Some examples of the range for bike trips:

  • The Three Day Velo Road Trip: 129 miles total, all on roads. First day is 64 miles. Total ascent is 11,892 feet. Starts and ends in town of Hood River.
  • The Three Day Off Road Surveyors Package: Offers several options, some of which are family friendly, ranging from 26 to 60 miles total, with ascents of 2,800 feet and 5,900 feet respectively. This is a single track trip.
  • The Six Day (five nights) Grand Tour Overview: covers 160 miles total with 19,200 feet of ascent. The first day is 27 miles with 6,100 feet ascent. The longest day is 43 miles and the shortest is 11 miles.

While hiking is not a major activity, it is possible in summer to hike from 7.5 miles from Lost Lake Resort along the Pacific Crest Trail to a Cascade Hut.

The winter ski routes vary from 2 to 12 miles per day. One can select a route appropriate to skill level. The ski routes can start from any of three Oregon SnoParks (for which permits are required). Mileages and elevation are provided on the web site.

  • Navigation and connectivity among huts

Cascade Huts trails are marked with blue diamonds. Customers are advised to carry topographic maps, compass, and a GPS unit that will operate without telephone cell service. Customers receive in advance a packet of materials with instructions on navigation, including:

  • A photocopied section of a topo map with the route highlighted;
  • Navigational instructions for the selected trail(s);
  • A list of recommended maps and local options for purchasing them;
  • Information on GPS options;
  • GPS coordinates, elevations, and mileages for key locations along the trail;
  • List of relevant SnoParks and instructions on securing parking permits;

Many of the routes are circular, but some are linear and involve some backtracking, depending on the route selected.

  • Trail building and maintenance

I believe most of the trails were pre-existing and the operators did not need to do much trail-building, except to connect the hut to the existing trail. Trail maintenance is done by USFS for forest roads and trails around Mt. Hood, and by a group of volunteers called Trails Alliance for the mountain biking trails. Cascade Huts does not engage in trail maintenance.

The forest roads that lead by the huts are gated and cannot be used for vehicular traffic without USFS permission.

  1. Data, policies and practices relating to environmental impact of hikers and of huts?

Leave No Trace policies are practiced. No data provided on environmental impact.

  1. Governance, Staff and Management: 
    • Governance 

As a private business (LLC) there is no Governing Board. Management is by Hut Operations Manager, Cara Yasui, who she works closely with employees of a sister property Lost Lake Resort.

  • Staff 

Cara Yasui works year-round as Operations Manager. Cara’s work is supplemented with staff from Lost Lake Resort; they resupply the huts, do maintenance, and help out as needed. Jason, the owner, says that they are lucky to have Lost Lake staff who like skiing, biking, and the hut work, and that shifting help back and forth from the Resort to the huts works well. The owner estimates that the total staff input in operating the huts, including Cara, is 2 full-time equivalent year-round.

  • Volunteers – no volunteers used.
  • Summer interns – no summer interns used.
  1. Reservations, Marketing, Memberships:
    • Reservations – Guests must make reservations in advance, which can be done via the web site or telephone. The website has a calendar showing availability and an online registration form and liability waiver (see appendix). Talking by phone with Cara, the Operations Manager, one can get questions answered and discuss options available to suit the group’s needs and skill level.
    • Information packet – Upon registration guest receives an information packet which includes:
      • Navigation details as mentioned in 3.2 above
      • Welcome letter with information about:
        • Travel information to the area
        • Tips on preparing for visit
        • Packing list and tips for clothing, gear, etc.
        • Information on use of propane heaters, lamps and stoves, and about carbon monoxide poisoning.
      • Policy on use of huts:
        • Keep food and supplies closed up when not in use
        • Clean dishes
        • Pack out what you packed in
        • Clean the but before leaving
        • No campfires permitted
        • No smoking in huts; dispose of butts if smoking outside.
        • Clean the hut on day of departure, vacate by noon, and make it ready for the next group.
        • A list of resources (links) on snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
      • Waivers – see text of waiver in appendix
      • Rates – See website for most recent information.
      • Marketing – Marketing is by:
        • Word of mouth
        • Clymb.com, through which they do promotions
        • Travel Oregon, which featured Cascade Huts in its promotion of Mt Hood area in its “7 Wonders of Oregon” campaign, and sends out tweets about the huts.
        • Facebook site
        • Sponsored advertising (not sure where/how much)
        • Features in magazines by travel writers
        • Outdoor Project, a Portland outfit, has promoted Cascade Huts
      • Membership – not a membership organization
  1. Transportation: 
    • To the trailheads – customers are responsible for getting themselves to the trailheads; no rides are provided by Cascade Huts.
    • Catered trips – not provided
      • Guiding services – not provided and not allowed by USFS
      • Snowmobiles – not allowed on the trails
    • Horses and pack animals – not allowed on the trails
    • Car access to huts – none allowed
  1. Safety: Emergency help is available by calling 911 if phone service is available. Local search and rescue is by the all-volunteer organization Crag Rats, which operates out of Hood River. Established in 1926, they claim to be the oldest mountain search and rescue organization in the USA. Cascade Hut operators report few incidents requiring help: a few people getting lost, and a biker breaking a collar bone requiring ambulance service. The owner emphasized the importance of intimate knowledge of the local trails and terrain by the hut operators so they can help people when they get lost.
  1. Insurance: Owner states that it was not that hard to find insurance using a good broker. Jason will supply details on insurance.
  1. Use of hut system: capacity, demographics, survey data, trends over time, etc.:

No hard data available to me, but observations by the Operations Manager and Owner include:

In Winter three huts with a combined capacity of 18 beds are operated. It is hoped this will increase to 24 or 36 beds next winter. Winter cross-country skiing/snowshoeing is reported to be the heaviest use season in terms of the number of people using the huts. Every weekend is fully booked. The Operations Manager estimates a 45% overall occupancy rate in Winter, with weekends completely full. In winter folks most commonly book a three-day, two night trip (Friday – Monday), but some folks go out for only one night. The winter crowd tends to be predominantly younger people in their twenties, but they get all ages. There are more repeat visitors in winter.

In summer five huts with a combined capacity of 34 beds are operated. Operations Manager estimates 90% occupancy in summer, with weekends generally all booked. Virtually all the summer cycling trips are multi-day. People are a bit more flexible in summer about their start dates so its easier to keep the huts filled. The largest demographic group among summer users is thought to be groups of men in their 40’s. Occasionally men’s groups book the huts for a summer cycling vacations. Have experienced significant increases in summer bookings in recent years.

There is very little hiking from hut to hut, and from Lost Lake Resort to the huts.

They estimate that about 40% of visitors are from Oregon, 40% from California and Washington, and the rest from around the USA (Texas and N.C. well-represented due to some targeted articles written about Cascade Huts) and the world.

  1. Economics: The business is profitable, but not data were offered. The owner states that the cost of running the operation is high and that there is “room for growth” in profitability. As a developer the owner sees Cascade Huts as a labor of love and certainly one “will never get rich” operating them.
  1. Partnerships and educational programs: While there is some use of the huts by Boy Scouts and church groups, there are not any ongoing or formalized partnerships or educational programs in connection with the huts.
  1. Founding/origin stories:

This system of five huts was inspired by a visit to the San Juan Huts. Founders James Koski (at that time Chief of Staff of Oregon US Congressman Earl Blumenauer) and Don Bain of Portland experienced one of the San Juan’s hut-to-hut cycling routes from Durango, CO to Moab, UT in 2004. They has such a good time they wanted to do it again, and wondered why it couldn’t be done in Oregon. They returned home inspired to design and operate a hut system in Oregon based on the model of the San Juan Huts. It took about three years to get their Special Use Permits from the US Forest Service and to design and build the hut system. Opened in 2007, the for-profit business quickly attracted visitors and press notices. It was sold in 2014 to Derek DeBorde and Jason Taylor of Hood River, OR. They run Cascade Huts along with another property they own in the area, Long Lake Resort. Cara Yasui was hired in 2014 as the Operations Manager of the Cascade Huts.

  1. Some important lessons learned by the managers of the system:
  • Owner Jason says that intimate knowledge of the terrain is essential in order to help people who might get lost.
  1. Observations by Sam: 

Due to poor weather and a ski partner with limited backcountry skiing skills, I did not visit the huts. My impression is of a hut system that operates effectively and has the potential to grow. The operation is not as “hands on” and intensive in its management requirements as the Three Sisters Backcountry Huts near Bend, which I did ski on the same trip.

  1. Challenges and opportunities: (these include some of Sam’s observations as well as topics nominated by operators)
  • Challenges:
    • Customers would like to have alcohol stocked at the huts, but the OR Liquor Control does not allow this. If guests purchase beer CH can deliver it to the huts for them.
    • Customers would like to make campfires, which are not permitted by the Forest Service.
    • Customers would like to be able to travel in larger groups (not a good idea in my opinion! – Sam).
    • CH would like to include more huts in its network, but this depends on permission from the forest Service.
    • Filling more weekdays would boost occupancy rate and revenues.
  • Opportunities:
    • Expansion to contiguous areas, which would depend on USFS decision on Special Use Permit.
    • Lost Lake Resort has group facilities, which might be used for educational and other group activities in connection with hut trips.
    • Travel Oregon has embarked on a cycling trail that will extend from the CA/OR border to the WA/OR border. There is discussion about this initiative incorporating the existing Cascade Huts, and it could offer potential for expansion of Cascade Huts and/or linking CH to other future hut systems.
    • Increased focus on raising awareness of the CH in Hood River and in the Mt Hood area generally. Many locals are unaware of the hut system.
    • Links to Lost Lake Resort could provide users with increased opportunity to begin and/or end their hut to hut adventure with a stay in the Resort and enjoy higher-end amenities.
    • Thousands of Pacific Crest Trail through hikers pass by/near the CH system. It would be interesting to explore how to make them aware of the system for general information purposes, if not for some to stay in a hut for a treat.
  1. Additional Resources:
  1. Document written by: Sam Demas March 2017, based on conversations with Cara Yasui and Jason Taylor.
APPENDIX: CASCADE HUTS LIABILITY WAIVER

In consideration of the services of Cascade Huts LLC, their agents, owners, volunteers, participants, employees, and all other persons or entities acting in any capacity on their behalf (collectively “Cascade Huts”), the undersigned, for himself or herself, and his or her personal representatives, heirs, spouse, parents, siblings, and children, hereby acknowledges and agrees to the following:

1.     I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT BIKING, HIKING, BACKPACKING, SNOWSHOEING, AND BACKCOUNTRY SKIING ENTAILS KNOWN AND UNANTICIPATED RISKS that could result in physical or emotional injury, paralysis, disease, death, or damage to myself, to property, or to third parties. I understand that such risks simply cannot be eliminated without jeopardizing the essential qualities of the activity.

§  Risks include, but are not limited to those caused by terrain, temperature exposure (including hypothermia, frostbite, frostnip, sunburn), weather conditions (including electrical storms, avalanches, and unfavorable snow conditions), my physical condition, collision, unsafe speed of travel for conditions or experience, vehicular traffic, equipment failure, failure to wear protective clothing, and actions of other people including participants.

§  Furthermore, Cascade Huts employees have difficult jobs to perform. They seek safety, but they are not infallible. They might be unaware of a participant’s fitness level or abilities. They might misjudge the weather or other environmental conditions. They may give inadequate warnings or instructions, and the equipment being used might malfunction.

2.     I KNOWINGLY AND FREELY ACCEPT AND ASSUME ALL OF THE RISKS EXISTING IN THIS ACTIVITY, whether known or unknown. My participation in this activity is purely voluntary, and I elect to participate in spite of the risks.

3.     I, for myself and on behalf of my heirs, assigns, and legal representatives, voluntarily release, forever discharge, and agree to indemnify and hold harmless Cascade Huts from any and all liability, claims, demands, or causes of action, which are in any way connected with my participation in this activity or my use of Cascade Huts’ equipment or facilities. I AGREE AND UNDERSTAND THAT THIS RELEASE OF LIABILITY AND ASSUMPTION OF RISK AGREEMENT WILL EXTEND TO ALL CLAIMED WRONGFUL ACTS OF CASCADE HUTS TO THE GREATEST EXTENT ALLOWED UNDER THE LAWS OF THE STATE OF OREGON, INCLUDING ANY SUCH CLAIMS WHICH ALLEGE NEGLIGENT ACTS OR OMISSIONS OF CASCADE HUTS.

4.     I hereby represent that I am physically capable of participating in this activity, that my bicycle and any other equipment I may use to participate is in good working condition, and generally conduct myself in a safe and prudent manner while participating.

5.     Should Cascade Huts or anyone acting on their behalf, be required to incur attorney’s fees and costs to enforce this agreement, I agree to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs.

6.     I certify that I have adequate insurance to cover any injury or damage I may cause or suffer while participating, or else I agree to bear the costs of such injury or damage myself. I further certify that I am willing to assume the risk of any medical or physical condition I may have.

7.     In the event that I file a lawsuit against Cascade Huts, I agree to do so solely in the state of Oregon, and I further agree that the substantive law of that state shall apply in that action without regard to the conflict of law rules of that state. If any part of this release of liability and assumption of risk agreement is determined to be unenforceable for any reason or under any circumstance, it is intended that all other terms will be enforced in all other circumstances.

8.     I HAVE READ THIS RELEASE OF LIABILITY AND ASSUMPTION OF RISK AGREEMENT, FULLY UNDERSTAND ITS TERMS, UNDERSTAND THAT I HAVE GIVEN UP SUBSTANTIAL RIGHTS BY SIGNING IT, AND SIGN IT FREELY AND VOLUNTARILY WITHOUT ANY INDUCEMENT, ASSURANCE, OR GUARANTEE BEING MADE TO ME, AND I INTEND MY SIGNATURE TO CONSTITUTE A COMPLETE AND UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF LIABILITY TO THE GREATEST EXTENT ALLOWED BY THE LAWS OF THE STATE OF OREGON.

 I agree to the above terms and conditions