Dispatches: A Backcountry Ski Hut, Hidden in the Sierra

The gradual uphill skin from the trailhead to Peter Grubb Hut is only 3 miles and 800 feet of gain.

The tour takes an hour and a half, from car door to hut door. Compared to most backcountry huts, this is relatively short. It’s a short period of time to transition from the chaos of I-80 – one of the busiest highways in the country – to full seclusion from the outside world in a rustic wood cabin.

The hut is well constructed. It has a large sleeping space upstairs, with space to accommodate 15 pads and bags. It has a communal cooking and recreating area downstairs, complete with two tables, basic amenities, and a large wood stove. Peter Grubb sits adjacent to a meadow, with news of nearby Castle and Basin Peak. (There is a two-story outhouse a dozen yards from the hut, too.)

The best part of a backcountry ski trip is the simplicity. No cell service, few signs of other humans, and simple routines. Wake up, melt snow into water, make coffee, and scour topo maps for a new area to ski tour. Return to the hut for lunch, then repeat.

While we didn’t get a big storm with deep powder, we did have warm weather and very with little wind, making the touring safe and predictable (at any elevation and any aspect). By late afternoon the snow would become slush, and we’d retreat to the hut for a game of wiffle ball or to build a kicker off the roof.

With stable conditions, we were able to ski bigger objectives with steep lines. The options were endless: search the horizon for a peak that looked appetizing, and head toward it. The group, a collection of friends from San Francisco, Seattle, and Atlanta, traveled and skied together the entire time, often party skiing down big open glades and through old growth forests. Sometimes when the skiing was really good, we’d boot pack up, and go again.

Compared to other huts, Peter Grubb is simple. No bunks to sleep in, nor stove provided to cook on. But that’s what makes it special – you have to lug in all your sleeping, cooking, and skiing gear. Shedding this heavy pack at the hut, you feel like you’ve earned your turns.

Most of the runs in this area are 1,000-2,000 feet long, making them perfect for lapping a few times each day. We spent our nights making hearty meals, playing cards, and telling riddles (some of which I have yet to solve).

At night we would dry out wet gloves, boot liners, and skins near the large wood stove. On bigger days with longer missions, half of the room would fill with sweaty base layers, damp socks, and coats soaked in snow. But when you get the perfect turn, it’s always worth it.

Living in a small bowl, surrounded by great skiing, getting a refill took just an hour and a little sweat. Some days we would lose track of time and ski until dusk, soaking in this temporal sense of freedom.

All Photos by Andy Cochrane.

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