Our STYLE ALTITUDE Ski Editor, 'Backcountry' Bing promised his wife, Tracy, he was whisking her away from it all to one of the most romantic place on earth, a secluded mountain hut in the middle of nowhere. The only trouble was it meant sleeping fully-clothed in a freezing dorm shared with at least a couple of dozen other less-than-fragrant ski tourers and a loo outside in the icy cold. Tracy survived to share her 10 tips including the essential gear for a staying in a mountain hut...
When I first started ski touring I was broken in gently, obviously my husband, Bing (STYLE ALTITUDE Ski Editor) wanted me to enjoy the experience so the first few huts I stayed in were gorgeous, like mini hotels in remote parts of the mountain. I have since learnt these are few and far between; real mountain huts are somewhat less fancy. So these are my top 10 survival tips:
It you are feeling stiff after a day of ski touring then stretches are a must as they will not only help to avoid sore muscles but they will also help you to stay supple and hover, while trying to angle a head torch in the squat pan/ hole over the side of the basic mountain toilet, trying to ensure you don't touch anything you don't want to.
2) Leave your ice axe (and style) in the basket
Always leave your ice axe in the basket that you'll find in the entrance room where you leave your ski boots*. Ice axes and ski boots are forbidden in the huts (potential weapons after too much red wine and heated discussions, which by the way, is usually the only 'heated' aspect of the hut away from the main wood burner). And they will give you a nice selection of Crocs to choose from to wear while in the hut. Yes that's right I said Crocs!
3) Surviving without running water
No one tells you this until you arrive at the hut. Many of them despite having full plumbing won't have running water. Just a question of science really, all the pipes are frozen, what else do you expect if you go and stay in a remote hut half way up a mountain in the dead of winter?
4) Wet wipes
Not much to say here really, stands to reason if there is no running water, wet wipes come in handy and hardly add any extra weight in your backpack (remember you have to carry every 'extra' up around 1000m when hut touring).
5) Dealing with the cold
Some people love the cold, some people do not feel the cold at all, I am not one of those people. So if like me you wear more layers than an onion, then be prepared for the cold. The last hut I stayed in was at 2410m altitude and had only been dug out of three metres of snow the week before. Lulled into a false sense of security the main bar and eating area had a huge log fire and was warm and toasty, the rest of the hut, however, had snow on the inside of the windowsills and doors.
I slept in almost all my clothes, beanie included, stole blankets off other beds and when I woke up in the middle of the night I remember thinking to myself just keep your eyes closed so the cold can't get in. On the plus side no need to get dressed in the morning, I was ready to go.
*Another tip, if the hut allows, grab a space in front of the log fire or wood burner to dry and warm up your boots and boot liners along with boiling pans of hot water for washing and defrosting the red wine.
6) Silk liners
Super lightweight, so no problem to squeeze into your backpack, silk sleeping bag liners provide a layer of protection between you and the sheets/blankets provided. With no running water, who knows when they last got washed (or the people who slept in them)?
7) Sharing your room with the masses.
Be prepared it is highly likely you will be sharing your sleeping quarters with your hut mates, who you only met that evening. Could be anything from four to 40 people in a dorm. If you are a light sleeper I would definitely recommend ear plugs. In one hut I stayed in the bunk beds were three beds tall.
Drink enough alcohol that you can sleep among the masses of people in the dorm, but not too much so you need a wee in the middle of the night. It's cold out there, the toilet is probably a long way away from the sleeping area, it will be pitch black and it is just too much of an effort.
9) Head torch
It is very unlikely there will be electricity and even if they have a generator if will only be on in certain parts of the hut and for limited hours, so a head torch comes in very handy when you are trying to negotiate the hut toilet. It saves you having to use the torch on your phone and save your battery. Also you won't be completely lost in the dark if your phone battery actually does run out.
And while we are on the topic of phones, as soon as you know when the generator comes on, get the phone charger ready. It will be a bun fight for a plug once the word gets out among your fellow hut guests.
10) Take a spare vest or T-shirt
Most huts will have a drying room, wood burner or a roaring log fire, to enable you to dry your kit off after a sweaty day of climbing mountains, so a spare vest or shirt saves you the embarrassing scenario of sitting in your underwear among your new hut mates while your other stuff dries.
Last word: Be brave and prepare for the huts because if you do I guarantee you will explore areas of the mountains not many people manage to get to. You will see breathtaking scenery, get to ski untracked slopes and experience nature's beauty at its finest.