Rendezvous Huts Operational Profile
by Ben Nelson, Owner
Rendezvous Huts is a Nordic linked system of five huts located in the Methow Valley, Washington. Established in the early 1980s on private land, the huts were moved onto the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest over time and now remain year-round. The Rendezvous Huts work closely with Methow Trails, the largest Nordic ski area in North America. Guests purchase trail passes to help maintain the trails and ensure spectacular grooming.
The business has been owned by Ben and Virginia Nelson since 2013 and is operated in a hands-on fashion, employing part-time freight haul staff in the winter. They operate under a 10-year Special Use Permit for the USFS.
For a history of this hut system see Sam Demas’ piece Brief history of the Rendezvous Huts, Oldest in the West, and for the broader context of the region see Demas’s How the Methow Valley Became a Lodging and Trails Hub. See also a photo gallery of the hut system.
- Huts and shelters:
- Description, location, capacity
There are 5 huts: Gardner, Rendezvous, Heifer, Cassal and Grizzly. All are stick-frame buildings on concrete piers. All five are similar in size and have 5 double beds. They are located in the ‘Rendezvous’ area above the valley floor and the huts are located on their own loop trails, between a half mile and mile off the main trails.
The huts are not all inclusive but are stocked with all things needed to enjoy a comfortable stay. Guests only need to bring food and sleeping gear.
- Policies and hut ethics
The huts are open for day use with a request to be invited in by guests. Guests are expected to clean and wash dishes before departure. Rates stay low when guests help keep things clean!
5 gallons of waters is provided with freight hauls during the winter season and with every reservation during the summer.
Guests are expected to melt snow via woodstove in the winter for additional water.
- Waste management
Each hut has a 250 gallon (Gardner Hut has a double hole) concrete vault outhouses that are pumped each summer.
Grey water is dispersed by guests, with signs keeping guests away from ‘Water Melt Areas’.
Woodstoves provide heat, cut and split lodge pole pine or Douglas fir is provided, with an ax for further splitting. The whole system uses approximately 10 cords per winter, each huts demands are different due to stove design and hut insulation.
There is no electricity. New solar light systems were installed in 2016 which has a USB port for emergency cell phone charging.
- Cooking and eating
There are four burner propane stove tops with propane ovens in each hut. The huts are stocked with cookware, dishes and silverware. Eating is done at a table that seats 8, with bench seating around.
There is a set of bunks in each downstairs, with 3 beds on the floor upstairs. There is a fitted sheet on each mattress which is changed as needed. Guests bring their own sleeping bags.
Continuous, with most work in the summer months.
- Capital projects and repairs
Woodsheds at 4 huts have been updated, new flooring has been completed at one hut with 2 more huts needing flooring. Permission has been asked of the FS to re-clad 2 huts in metal to fix a persistent woodpecker and allow better roof-shed snow protection. The ultimate goal is to add a sixth hut.
- Hut design
All huts are stick-framed. Three huts have gable style roofs with the other two having shed roofs. Ample windows allow lots of light and provide great views.
- Permitting process
The 10-year Special Use Permit has been a long time coming for the hut system. The huts were removed from the forest for the summers until the early 90s and operated under a shorter permit. The permit is expiring at the end of 2017 and changes are desired to allow for summer season growth.
- Connectivity among huts
The trail system is comprised of nearly 50K of skate and classic groomed track. Grooming is done 6 days a week, on average, providing the best Nordic ski conditions. Access is from 2 trailheads, given guests options for getting to their huts. Trails are extremely well marked, with full maps at all intersections. The average skier takes 2.5-3 hours to make it up.
- Trail building and maintenance
All trail maintenance is performed by Methow Trails, a non-profit trails organization.
- Governance, Staff and Management:
Rendezvous Huts is owned by Methow Adventures LLC, which has just two members.
During the winter season 3 part time employees are hired to help with freight hauling and cleaning.
The Rendezvous Huts has had volunteer help from a Boy Scouts of America troop but has no current need.
- Summer interns
- Reservations, Marketing, Memberships:
A local company, Central Reservations, handles the calendar and processes all payment for a commission.
All huts are rented exclusively.
$200/night during holiday periods
$85 for freight hauls, each way
Not available, but there is list of approximately 20 parties that have been coming for at least 15 years that get first crack at reserving.
- To the trailheads
Ski to all huts,
Ski or Fatbike to Grizzly Hut,
Ski or snowshoe to Heifer Hut,
Snowmobile access for owners/employees.
- Catered trips
Self-Guided only, though rides are given to guests with good reasons.
- Guiding services
For hut personnel only.
- Horses and pack animals
Allowed during the summer season.
- Car access to huts
Allowed during the summer season.
Contact numbers are provided at all huts, cell phone coverage is decent at all the huts but not between.
There are fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and CO2 detectors in all huts.
Liability insurance is purchased through the National Nordic Ski School Program.
- Use of hut system: capacity, demographics, etc.:
Somewhere around 70% of guests are from the Seattle area (4.5hrs away), 10% from other Pacific Northwest locales, and 10% local. Guests tend to be Caucasian professionals, anywhere from 22-75 years old. We do get kids (and babies hauled via pulk) but they make a small number of guests. Roughly 40% of guests return year after year with many groups well into 30 consecutive years.
Each season ends up being 70-80% booked with most of those bookings made a year in advance. February tends to be the busiest month with some huts booked everyday.
We have always needed other jobs in addition to our hut operation. Part of that need is our continuous investment in equipment and improvements, which ideally come back to us in the future. We could likely raise rates but are very hesitant to do so because we want the experience to be affordable for most. We worry about the future impact of climate change on our business and continue to think of other revenue opportunities for the huts.
- Partnerships and educational programs:
Rendezvous Huts is a unique system because it is located on a world-class ski area run by a non-profit organization. Our guests purchase trail passes that pay for nearly daily grooming. We work with Methow Trails and try to do what we can to benefit their organization. Without the trail conditions, the huts experience would end up being more expensive and a different experience.
- Founding/origin stories:
The Rendezvous Huts started on private land adjacent to USFS land, with a separate, privately maintained trail system. Over the past 30 years, the trail systems in the valley have consolidated under one organization and the huts have become permanent structures on USFS land.
- Some important lessons learned by the managers of the system:
Maintenance is difficult with remote buildings so preparation is key. Always have backup materials and equipment (i.e. snowmobiles). Never predict the weather for guests, you’ll always be wrong.
- Observations by Sam:
- Challenges and opportunities:
Honestly the only challenge is dealing with the Forest Service. The Ranger District is understaffed with great people, but in order to make substantial improvements to our business the hoops to get through are a major hindrance. I could better navigate this side of the business if I weren’t managing the day to day operation.
There is established need for more huts, and an established summer season.
- Additional Resources:
- Web site: www.rendezvoushuts.com
- Contacts: Ben Nelson, email@example.com
- Document written by: Ben Nelson, Owner, April 2017