10th Mountain Division Operational Profile

Operational Profile: 10th Mountain Division Hut Association (Aspen, Colorado)


  • Overview
  • Huts and Shelters
  • Trails
  • Governance, Staff, and Management
  • Reservations, Marketing, and Memberships
  • Transportation
  • Safety
  • Insurance
  • Use of Hut System
  • Economics
  • Partnerships and Educational Programs
  • Founding and Origin Stories
  • Lessons Learned From Operations
  • Observations by Sam
  • Challenges and Opportunities
  • Additional Resources


10th Mountain Division Hut Association (abbreviated here as 10MD) has a very informative web site at http://www.huts.org. Their FAQ is a particularly useful source of policy guidance on a wide range of topics. See 10MD Photo Gallery on this site for pictures of some of the huts and trails. 

“The purpose of the 10MD is to plan, finance, build and manage, for public use, a mountain hut system that promotes understanding and appreciation of the natural mountain environment while developing individual self reliance.” 10 MD is a 501(C)3 non-profit organization that operates in partnership with several other privately owned hut systems. 

10MD is the largest winter-use connected hut system in the U.S and the nation’s premier ski hut system. Founded in 1980 to develop a system of connecting huts to provide shelter to backcountry skiers, the system (including partners) currently comprises 34 huts connected by over 300 miles of Forest Service trails. The huts were designed for winter use, and were opened for summer use in 1993. On average, huts are 6-8 miles apart. Fourteen of these huts are owned and operated by 10MD. The other 20 huts in the system are in the same region, but separately owned and operated by partner organizations. 10MD and its partners share a common marketing and reservations system. The hut system is built roughly in a circle around the Mountain of the Holy Cross and operates both a summer and a winter season. Twenty-one huts are available in summer season (July 1 – September 30) and all are available in winter season (Thanksgiving – April 30). The trails roughly connect the ski communities of Aspen, Leadville and Vail. While the system was designed for backcountry Nordic skiing, it is open to other non-motorized uses, including snowshoeing, hiking, biking, llama trekking, and horseback riding. 

The huts and trails are mostly located on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land and the huts operate on USFS permits. Stewardship of surrounding lands and maintaining good relations with the USFS and the surrounding communities are key values of 10MD. 

10 MD has a rich history, and honors the men of the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. The hut system has benefitted from the remarkable vision of its founder, Frederick Benedict and the hard work and dedication of many highly competent individuals. It is modest about its accomplishments and highly collaborative in approach, and is highly successful in fulfilling its mission and maintaining a clear focus on its core mission. It has carefully thought through its policies and refined its services and programs to a very high level of professionalism. 10MD is perhaps unique in that it benefits greatly from the generous support of individuals and organizations in Colorado and around the country who place a high value on access to exceptional back-country Nordic skiing and are accustomed to and capable of funding and operating first class community services and facilities.

Huts and shelters:

Description, location, capacity

The 10MD system comprises 34 connected huts in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado. All but one are located above 10,500 ft altitude. Of these 34 booked by the 10MD, 9 are privately owned. Five of the hut locations have more than one hut close to each other (5 at Shrine Mountain Inn, 2 at Continental Divide Cabins, 2 at Polar Star Inn, 2 at Section House, and 2 at Benedict Huts). Most of the huts accommodate 16 people. Eleven of these 34 huts locations are closed in summer and all are open in winter. Most huts are accessible by off road vehicles (mostly by Forest Service roads) in summer for maintenance purposes. The 10 MD web site contains a description of each hut with photographs. 


The web site contains a grid showing the amenities offered at each site: http://www.huts.org/Reservations/Hut_Amenities.php. Four of the huts have indoor toilets (3 are composting), but most have outhouses. Five have running water, most often through outside pumps; of these several have water in summer only. Two huts provide refrigeration. Twelve of the huts have an outside fire ring. Two have saunas and four provide propane grills.  Lighting is by means of photo voltaic systems at each hut.  Candles and flashlights are supplied as well. 

Policies and hut ethics

The huts are not staffed and those who use them are responsible for maintaining order and a clean, safe environment. The policy of 10MD is that upon leaving, cabins are to be as clean or cleaner than they were found for the next group. For example, the checklist provided for hut users at Shrine Mountain Inn (which has by far the most amenities) includes:

  • Pack out all trash
  • Wipe down cooking stove and counters
  • Return kitchen utensils and cookware to correct cabins if shared between cabins
  • Wipe down sinks, tub, toilet, and bathroom floors
  • Brush off beds and couches. Straighten pillows, Return furniture to original position
  • Sweep entire cabin from top to bottom
  • Shovel or sweep entire deck

Cleaning supplies, brooms and shovels are provided. Fire extinguishers are provided. Use of candles is restricted to emergencies. Hut turnover time is 1:00 PM. No dogs are allowed in the huts. The huts are intended for non-motorized use. 

The huts are used communally. The hut ethos is for groups renting the huts to operate as teams, taking group responsibility for adhering to the hut policies. Each group is asked to designate a group organizer who makes the reservation and is responsible for ensuring that the group has a plan for organizing its work in maintaining the hut and for day-to-day decision-making and in case of emergencies. When separate groups share a huts it is expected that the groups will share the space cordially while respecting each others privacy. 


Except for the five huts with running water from wells, people get potable water from snow melt and filtering in winter, and by filtering stream water or carrying their water in summer. Summer water sources may be as far away as ¼ mile to 2 miles, or, in severe drought conditions may not be available at all. Many of the huts have cisterns for non-potable water uses that are recharged during the summer with rain collected from hut roofs. 

Newer huts are designed with rooftop water catchment systems to fill cisterns. Cisterns are generally 2,000 gallons capacity and located under the huts. Hand pumps are used to extract water from cisterns. Where snow is melted on a stovetop, a water filtering protocol is promulgated to ensure that people filtering snow melt do not contaminate the common pool of stovetop snow melt with their filtering equipment. Some huts have propane stoves for melting snow. 

Waste management

All the Shrine Mountain Inns have indoor flush toilets, running water, and showers. Janet’s, Francie’s, and the Broome Hut have composting toilets. All other huts have pit vault toilets (outhouses). All the huts have some sort of septic systems to handle grey water that goes down the sink from washing dishes and cooking. 


A few huts have propane gas heaters, but most are heated by wood. Each hut is provided with a wood stove and a wood supply. 10MD cuts, splits and stacks about 100 cords of wood annually, mostly to supply the heat, but also for water melting needs of their 14 huts. 


Most huts have photovoltaic (solar) lighting operating low wattage light bulbs. Shrine Mountain Inn has 110 volt lighting provided by a generator. All but a few do not include electrical outlets for plugging in appliances. Photovoltaic systems are designed to contain sufficient energy storage to operate lights for at least five days of cloudy weather. Recent technological improvements such as LED bulbs, more efficient control modules, and more efficient batteries provide more consistency, efficiency and less waste. Some huts operate lights showing the way to the outhouse on timers.

Cooking and eating

Huts provide either a propane burner or wood stove for cooking. Skiers and hikers bring their own food, but huts provide cooking and eating utensils and basic kitchen supplies.  Propane stoves are operated with timers to ensure that people don’t walk away from a cooking pot with the burner on.  


Mattresses and pillows are provided, and hikers and skiers bring their own sleeping bags. Most of the huts have 16 beds (some are smaller), usually with a combination of bunks in communal sleeping areas and a smaller number of private rooms. Sleeping quarters are generally co-ed, but school groups are accommodated in huts that can provide separate sleeping areas for boys and girls. One private hut also has a tipi nearby. 


Hut maintenance takes place in summer and is usually completed by the end of September, after which roads are often impassable. Repairs, restocking, and deep-cleaning is accomplished by staff with the assistance of volunteers who gather for “volunteer weekends” at each hut each summer. In addition, 10th Mountain staff visit each hut every 7 – 10 days during the seasons to inspect the huts, clean and repair as necessary. 

Capital projects and repairs

Construction and major repairs are contracted by 10MD to qualified local contractors. Building of new huts is now rare, but follows a pattern established during the growth of the hut system: in return for naming rights, donors provide the construction costs and an equivalent sum for endowment to ensure the long-term care of the hut. The huts are all named for individuals (many were member of the 10th Mountain Division military unit). Contributions to the endowment typically go into a single fund used for all huts in the system and are not designated for use for maintenance a particular hut, but there are exceptions. The 10MD Board requests an annual draw (typically 3—4%) from the endowment to be used for a list of maintenance projects submitted by the Executive Director. The endowment is held by a separate 501(c)3 to insulate it from potential liabilities. 

The Fowler/Hilliard Hut burned in Sept. 2009, possibly due to lightning strikes in the area at the time. As a temporary measure a 30’ diameter yurt (accommodating 16 guests) was quickly constructed to fulfill the many reservations for the hut in 2009/10. The yurt proved to be a comfortable and cost-effective alternative. A new hut was built in time to open up for 2010/11 season.

Hut design 

Most of the huts were built between 1982 and 1998. The most recent hut was designed and built in 2010 to replace the hut destroyed by fire. The huts were designed for winter use. Summer use of huts began in 1993. Winter is hard on huts and requires rugged design and lightning rods. In some huts sleeping areas double as sitting areas. Most huts are of wood (log) construction, but some are made of stone. 

10MD has found it to be very useful to include the architect, owner, and general contractor in all design phases because details matter when building in remote, challenging environments with extraordinarily high mobilization costs. Of course, this approach is not new, but it is surprising how infrequently it is utilized.

Permitting process

All 14 of the huts owned/operated by 10th Mountain are located on USFS land and are authorized by a Term Special Use Permit. 10MD must apply for USFS permits (and apply for permit renewal at 10 year intervals) for any new hut construction. This process includes an environmental review under the National Environmental Protection Act, which entails assessment of impact on soils, water, wildlife, archaeological remains, etc. This process can be very costly, but by handling much of the coordinating work itself rather than hiring a consulting firm to conduct the entire process, one can reduce costs considerably. Since USFS does not commonly grant permits for construction on public land, it does not have building codes. After a USFS permit is approved, 10MD must submit plans to the relevant County government for approval under local building codes. Counties vary in their receptivity to hut proposals. Public input is an important part of the permitting and building code processes. 

10MD understands and strongly supports the purposes of these review processes. It is deeply committed to working closely with USFS, county officials, civic groups and the public to ensure that 10MD needs and plans are understood, and that the public interest is served. 10MD has gladly withdrawn applications when possible adverse affects are found. For example, in 2008 10MD withdrew an application for a new hut near Leadville when it became clear that there were unknown factors regarding Canada Lynx in the area and it would not be possible to modify the plan to eliminate all possible negative impacts to lynx.

Some say that opportunities for growth in the hut system are limited. There is a perception that enhanced sensitivity to environmental issues in Aspen and Pitkin County– which 10MD has proudly contributed to cultivating — would make it impossible today to secure approval for a proposal to build a hut system like the one that exists. Real and perceived conflicts among differing user groups of the national forests would make it very difficult to do today what was done in the 1980’s and 1990’s.


Connectivity among huts

The 34 huts of the 10MD are connected by over 300 miles of Forest Service trails. Huts are about 6-8 miles apart. The rule of thumb on for travelling between huts on skis is one-mile per-hour on average, with an additional hour for each 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The 10MD huts are connected to the huts of their partners the Summit Huts association, but there is no trail connecting the 10MD huts to the eight huts of its partner the Braun Hut System. 

Winter trails are intermittently marked with Blue Diamonds and (and with tree blazes in designated wilderness areas) and tend to follow the shortest way to the hut. Winter trails are not groomed. Summer trails are not marked and generally follow forest roads and trails, avoiding wet and overgrown areas that can be traversed on skis. 10MD emphasizes the importance of having map and compass skills for route finding experience.

The Blue Diamond trail markers are meant to provide the traveler with reassurance that they are on the right path, rather than as navigation aids.  I.e. it 10MD generally minimizes the number of trail markers, using them mainly at key intersections or decision points, rather than leaving a marker every x yards or y minutes of travel.  Markers are used more heavily on private land to help ensure that folks don’t wander off the trail on private land.

It seems that most winter hut use is not for skiing hut to hut to stay at multiple huts, but rather skiing into a hut by the shortest route and stay there for a few days. As a result the skiing the trails between huts usually require breaking trail. 

Trail building and maintenance

The existing trails were built in partnership between USFS and 10MD to USFS standards. There is very little ongoing trail building. Trail maintenance is done by staff and volunteers in close collaboration with the USFS. 

Governance, Staff and Management: 

Governance – 10MD has a Board of Directors comprised of 19 individuals. Ben Dodge writes: “Effective governance is key, as well, and 10th Mountain has benefited greatly with its excellent board of directors that has retained institutional knowledge, focused on long range and strategic planning, is aware and informed of hut affairs, activities, and variances, and remains focused on 10th Mountain’s mission. There has been very little “mission drift” over the past 33 years at 10th Mountain, and this adherence to its very simple mission is one of the reasons the organization has done well. Business practices continue to evolve, of course, and it seems to make sense to always look for ways to improve how one does business, but the job at hand really doesn’t change much. It’s all about providing warm, comfortable shelter in the backcountry. Simplicity of mission is a beautiful thing”. Staff – Consists of 9 FTE year round, plus seasonal help. Fulltime staff include:

  • Executive Director
  • Administrative assistant
  • 3 Reservations and office specialists
  • 4 Field operations staff 
  • Volunteers

Nine volunteer weekends are held each summer for volunteers to assist staff with maintenance tasks such as cleaning, re-stocking, re-vegetation, painting, cutting firewood, etc. Volunteers are rewarded with a free night stay in a hut for each day worked.

Summer interns:

Since 1993 10MD has hired several paid interns for about 8 weeks each summer. These young people assist with a range of activities, typically including hut and trail maintenance, reservations, and assisting with educational workshops and special programs. A portion of the endowment fund is restricted specifically to support this program.

The headquarters building was designed and built by Fritz Benedict, and donated to Tenth Mountain Division.  the building is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio buildings at Taliesen.

Reservations, Marketing, Memberships:


10MD moved to an online booking service in 2015. Reservations procedures are outlined on the web site and include relevant policies, helpful information sheets, a page for determining availability, rates, capacities, equipment lists, tips on how to plan a hut trip (including family and kids trips), amenities, transportation options, guide services, and information on places to stay locally before or after a hut trip. Each person is required to complete a waiver form releasing 10MD of liability for risks, hazards and dangers accompanying backcountry activities. Registrants receive a registration confirmation with a door lock combination. Fees are normally paid by credit card. 

There is a “User Forum” on the website that can be used to buy and sell reservations that are in play.

Patrick Essig is innovating in the reservations system by: automating lottery processing, and tying the wait list to cancellations so it spits out an email to people waiting for an opening.

An annual lottery (limited to members) is held each spring. Details are available on the web site. 

10MD handles bookings for partners including the 4 Summit Huts, the 7 Braun Huts, 1 of the Grand Huts, the Friends Hut, and a number of others (see web site for details). 10MD receives a 20% fee for handling reservations and marketing responsibilities for their partners. 


Nightly fees range from $25 to $43 per person per night. The Braun and several other huts reserved though 10MD require a single group to rent an entire hut (these tend to be less expensive per person). Renting to a single group ensures that the people already know each other, which reduces the potential for conflict and misunderstanding among random groups or individuals sharing a space that was designed for use by a single group. Kids under 12 pay half-price at most huts. 


The web site is a major marketing tool for the 10MD system and its partners, and 10MD does minimal advertising. In addition, 10MD puts out two new brochures annually that provide a great overview of the hut system, its services, rates, and basic registration and trip planning information. 10MD has a “store” on its web site and brochure for the t-shirts, hats, socks, note cards, 1:24,000 topographic maps, books etc. it sells. 


Membership is not required for use of the huts, but qualifies one for participation in the registration lottery, receipt of the semi-annual newsletter. There are several levels of membership, including life membership. Over the years membership has been remarkably stable at approximately 2,000 members.


To the trailheads:

Parking space is provided at trailheads. 10MD web site provides a list of companies offering transportation services for those who are not driving. 

Catered trips:

Guiding services:

Only guide services with permits from the USFS are allowed to operate on USFS land. There are currently four such services permitted to offer guide services in winter and five in summer. They typically offer services such as trip planning, transportation, food, gear rental, and instruction. Supported ski and bike trips seem to be the most popular. A very small percentage of all 10MD trips are supported by a guide service. 


USFS regulates snowmobile use on public land. Each hut is surrounded by a non-motorized envelope, which makes it impossible to bring equipment directly to the huts by snowmobile (i.e. some carrying is always necessary, distance varying from hut to hut. 10MD “strongly discourages use of snow mobiles for access to the huts”. See their policy in the FAQ: http://www.huts.org/Reservations/FAQ.php#snowmobiles. The Braun Hut System prohibits snowmobile use. 

Horses and pack animals:

The web site provides guidelines on use of horses and pack animals: http://www.huts.org/Reservations/Horse_info.php, and adheres to “Leave No Trace” principles.

Car access to huts:

“10th Mountain strongly discourages the use of motorized vehicles for access to the huts, except as group support vehicles for hikers or bikers. The hut system was created for non-motorized travel and we encourage everyone to reach the hut under their own power.” That policy notwithstanding, many of the huts are accessible by 4 wheel drive vehicle in summer and the FAQ provides caveats for those who insist on driving: http://www.huts.org/Reservations/FAQ.php#summer_drive


Safety is addressed in a variety of ways, including:

  • See FAQ on web site: What to do in emergency? Essentially each group is warned that they are on their own and should be well prepared. 
  • Maps – 10MD produces and sells 1:24,000 topo maps covering different parts of the system.
  • Avalanche – The web site provides useful information and links on avalanche safety: http://www.huts.org/In_The_Field/avi_info.php
  • Weather – Hut-specific weather forecast links are provided on the web site. 
  • Colorado Outdoor Search and Rescue cards: can be purchased very inexpensively by users of the system and cover the cost of emergency rescue should it be necessary. (i.e. by making a donation to the rescue squad). See http://www.coloradosarboard.org/csrb-documents/CORSARCardFactSheet.pdf for information on this statewide program. Colorado hunting and fishing licenses also provide for making a contribution to the rescue squad on behalf of the holder. 
  • Cell phones can be helpful in emergency situations (however annoying they may be in the backcountry)
  • Huts are equipped with Carbon Monoxide and Propane Gas monitors.
  • Each hut has a detailed fire evacuation and safety plan in the hut library.


10th Mountain carries commercial property insurance to cover replacement of all its properties including huts, office, employee housing, and other facilities. This includes costs incurred due to code changes. Liability insurance includes General Liability, Director’s and Officers, and an umbrella to augment coverage. An inland marine policy covers tools, equipment, and off-highway vehicles such as ATV’s and snowmobiles. A standard auto policy covers maintenance trucks.

Use of hut system: capacity, demographics, etc.: (this section not yet written)

These are the notes I have on this section:

  • Annual usage went from 15,000 user nights in in the early 1980’s to 50,000 in 2001; today it is approximately 56,000 user nights per year. 
  • January – March the huts are almost always full, and in summer there is often surplus capacity. 
  • Approximately 75% of hut use is in winter season. 
  • Occupancy as a percentage of occupancy has remained remarkably stable and the economic recession did not appreciably affect use. 
  • Over 50,000 people mostly from Colorado and surrounding states used the system in 2007. 
  • Need to summarize the data from two formal surveys.
  • The summer demographic includes more families than in winter and has a greater age range.


10MD’s goal is provide warm and comfortable shelter at affordable prices. Their “balanced operating budget and endowment allow for proper maintenance, affordability, and donor confidence”. 

Sources of revenue: Hut user fees, membership, donations, and retail. 

Primary expense categories: hut repairs and maintenance, vehicles, wages, marketing, administrative costs such as accounting, credit card fees, insurance, and capital repairs/replacements. 

Financial health: 10th Mountain strives for economic sustainability by offering a first-rate experience at affordable rates, effective protocols and practices, minimizing exposure, and controlling costs. 

Budget trends: costs tend to increase approximately 2 to 2.5 % per year, depending on the economy. Revenue is keeping up.

Add total operating budget and total endowment (Guidestar). 

Partnerships and educational programs:

10MD handles reservations for and works in partnership with private hut owners and other nonprofits (The Summit Huts, Grand Huts, Braun Huts, and Friends Hut) “who share their commitment for a first-rate backcountry experience”. Any proposal for a new hut should meet this standard, meaning it should show (see Newsletter Winter 2013): 

  • public and agency involvement in planning
  • strong purpose and need
  • environmental/social/economic sustainability
  • design
  • hiking
  • quiet recreation,
  • great skiing and great views. 

As part of its mission to “promote understanding and appreciation of the natural mountain environment while developing individual self reliance”, and its commitment to community partnerships, 10MD co-sponsors a range of activities and educational programs, such as:

  • Back Country Exploration Program (a 10MD program) encourages use of the hut system by non-profit groups for educational purposes. 10MD offers discounted rates to qualified groups (half price for mid-week reservations), and provides advice in planning and help with logistics. Groups using the huts usually perform some service work. Shrine Mountain Inn, with 3 separate huts and five separate booking quarters, is particularly popular with school groups because with multiple structures it allows for dividing students by age, gender, or other helpful categories.  See website and brochure for more detail on these great programs. 
  • Alpine Resource Center (at Sangree’s hut) – a 600 sq ft seminar and study area for use by non-profit groups for educational programs, retreats, etc. Includes a collection of books on relevant topics. 
  • Huts for Vets (http://hutsforvets.org/) – An Aspen non-profit that provides veterans with therapeutic wilderness experiences, often using the 10MD huts. 
  • Hosting local school groups for educational adventures in the huts.
  • Partnering with local guides and National Outdoor Leadership Program (NOLS) to offer courses in topics such as Avalanche Safety, Wilderness First Aid. 
  • Sponsoring annual community ski events such as the Benedict 100, skiing 100 miles over 6-7 days in celebration of the original vision of the organization, and Interconnect, a less strenuous hut-to-hut ski. 
  • Web site lists huts that are particularly suitable for kids and families, and kid-tested short hikes. 
  • Cooperates with the Colorado Mountain Club and its Backcountry Sports Initiative in promoting safe and responsible mountain recreation and protecting the interests of those interested in human-powered backcountry snow sports.

Founding/origin stories:

Louis Dawson has lived and studied the history of 10MD and their website includes valuable history of the hut system and a separate history of the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division (about which many books have been written). The following notes are intended to briefly supplement Mr. Dawson’s history. 

Frederick “Fritz” Allen Benedict, 1914 – 1995, Founder of 10MD Hut Association. Mr. Benedict served in the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army and trained at Camp Hale near Leadville. Like many soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division, he returned to Aspen after the war to pursue his love of skiing. He went on to become a highly influential planner and architect in the Aspen area, designing 200 buildings and contributing greatly to the tasteful development of some of Colorado’s premier ski communities and ski areas. In the 1980’s he turned his attention to the realization of his dream to develop a backcountry system of ski huts based on his experience of European hut systems and his love of the backcountry skiing he did while training in the area during the war. Born and raised in Wisconsin, he attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison for undergraduate and Masters (MLA) degrees. He then went to work for (head gardener at Spring Green) and then study with Frank Lloyd Wright for three years. 

As a graduate student in Landscape Architecture at Madison in 1938 his thesis “Hiking Trails in the Lower Wisconsin River Valley” develop a detailed plan and design principles for a 150 mile circular trail system encompassing 600 square miles of geologically rich land in the “driftless” region northwest of Madison, WI. The thesis includes a brief history of the hiking clubs and trail systems in the U.S. It discusses the “mushrooming” development of trails and clubs in the western and eastern in the U.S. and explores possible routes for a trial in the Midwest. Benedict clearly studied deeply the technical problems attendant to location and building of trails. His thesis provides detailed description of a route that begins and ends in Madison, travels north through Devils Lake State Park and the Baraboo range, then southeast to Spring Green, and turns east to end in Madison. He advocates making appreciation of the state’s geology a central feature of the trail and includes detailed descriptions of the geology (including hand-drawn stratigraphic maps). Based on a survey he conducted of numerous trail and outing clubs, Park and Forest Service offices, trail conferences, youth hostel groups, etc. he outlines the organization and administration of a trail system and suggests possible approaches to providing shelters at regular intervals. He identifies an abandoned hotel at Devils Lake which may be available for use as a youth hostel, and suggests building several connected experimental shelters to begin with. He states that a careful survey of the region would identify “….many vacant buildings such as school houses, cheese factories, and abandoned farm houses that could, perhaps, be converted into youth hostels or shelters”. His work was deeply influenced by the ongoing work of building the Appalachian Trail, the Long Trail, and trails in the Adirondacks. Interestingly he suggests that while it might be possible to use parts of this trail for cross country skiing, “in general this sport requires separate trails.” I did not note any awareness of hut to hut hiking in Europe (beyond a reference to 2,200 youth hostels in Germany). 

When Fritz finally got around to realizing his dream of a hut system it was in the Rocky Mountains. He and a group of the founders of the 10th Mountain Division Hut System traveled to Europe to ski the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt and gather ideas. When he proposed the first two huts the proposal was rejected by the USFS, which was skeptical of the viability of a hut system and concerned that it would be left with an unoccupied building on public land. Fritz appealed to his friends with deep pockets, including Robert McNamara, who put up a personal bond to guarantee the full removal of the huts if they failed to meet the concerns of the USFS after five years. The Forest Service agreed and the rest is history. Fritz designed the first two huts: the McNamara Hut and Margy’s hut (named for Robert McNamara’s wife). 

A more detailed historical sketch of Benedict, focusing on his extensive planning and architectural work is at: http://www.historycolorado.org/sites/default/files/files/OAHP/Guides/Architects_benedictF.pdf

Friends Hut was built in memory of 10 people from Aspen and Crested Butte, CO killed in a small plane crash in the area. Because those who died were from both towns, the hut was designed as a link between the communities of Aspen and Crested Butte. A book on the Friends Hut is available through the 10MD online store. 

Logbooks – The notes, ruminations, drawings and reminiscences of folks staying in the huts over the years are a repository of heartfelt expressions of why they love the hut life (along with the usual banalities and scribblings that hut logbooks seem to elicit). After a hut fire resulted in loss of some logbooks the others were gathered and photocopied and stored off-site for safekeeping. 

Newsletters – 10MD newsletters dating back to xxxx are a wonderful source of historical information. Someday they will be digitized and made publicly accessible.

Archives – The archives of 10MD Hut Association are located at the Denver Public Library and in the Aspen offices.

Some important lessons learned by the managers of the system:

Stay focused on core mission. 

The importance of working very closely with local communities and regulatory agencies early, often, and throughout any proposal involving the use of public lands.

The model of working collaboratively with other hut systems to expand the network of opportunities for skiers and hikers has been very successful. 

Need to run the hut system like a business to help ensure the best experience for users requires good business sense and experience. 

Importance of finding an insurance agent who is willing to take the time to understand the needs of the hut system, and to go out and find an underwriter that can meet those needs at an affordable rate. Importance of cultivating the relationship with the insurance agent. 

Observations by Sam: this section not yet written

Thoughts on how location of huts in relation to roads affects patterns of use. It seems that if people can drive close to the huts they will use the roads to get in most conveniently and say in them for multiple days, rather than travel hut-to-hut. This has serious implications for design of the system, especially if one is trying to encourage long distance walking. 

The hut system was designed for hut-to-hut traverses, but this is a less popular mode of travel these days.  It was designed for intermediate skiers.

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies helped with the compilation of hut libraries.

Challenges and opportunities:


Key challenges:

  • Keeping rates affordable
  • Meeting the winter demand
  • Increased difficulty in securing permits for new huts?
  • Maintaining relevance and value of the experience
  • Comprehensive strategic planning to enhance the hut system

Minor challenges:

  • Dogs – some people ignore the no dogs policy
  • Day use – winter and summer day visitors use the huts to rest while training, which is occasionally bothersome.
  • Hut etiquette – there can be problems with noisy groups and failure to keep the hut clean. 
  • Snowmobiles – some people ignore the policy prohibiting direct snowmobile access to huts and the USFS requirement that guides and catering services hold USFS permits.
  • Abuse of log books – occasionally people tear out pages or let their kids use pages for pictures only a parent could like. 


  • Colorado Hut and Yurt Alliance 
  • 10MD is providing initial leadership in coordinating and promoting hut and yurt systems statewide. The Alliance is on the verge of putting up a joint web site and has begun to discuss how this growing tourism sector might cooperate in joint marketing schemes, group rates on insurance, and generally improving the hut and yurt experience. 
  • Connecting 10MD huts with Braun Huts (already possible through Aspen).
  • New Operations Center in Leadville scheduled to open March 2018.

Additional Resources:

Web site: huts.org

A well maintained, full service web site includes: information on all the huts, registration and trip planning information, links to hut-specific weather and avalanche sites, historical information, information on each hut system operating in partnership with 10MD, and a “store” selling books, & maps.

The web site links to a series of user forums covering:

General topics (asking questions and exchanging information; the most heavily used):

  • Buying and selling reserved hut space 
  • Trail and road condition reports
  • Trip reports 
  • Ride/room share 

Contacts: Ben Dodge, Executive Director, ben@huts.org

Document written by:

Sam Demas with generous advice and assistance from Ben Dodge, November 24, 2014.  

Revisions: Slightly updated December 2017 after visiting with 10MD staff.