Guest Blogger Dave Heads for the Huts, Tests Gear and Quads

Post by blogger | February 28, 2008      

By David Downing

Dawson Myth #1:“Folks in your group will usually volunteer to pull your sled for you. Just for the novelty of it.”

Colorado backcountry skiing.
The reality of sledging. At least the Fowler/Hilliard Hut looks nice.

Those were the words of His Blogness as I left WildSnow HQ Friday afternoon. I just hoped he wasn’t sandbagging me.

With a borrowed Mountainsmith sled in tow, strapped to the back of my bike, I figured I’d be enjoying an effortless hut trip on a snowy weekend. The plan was to meet Sunday morning at Camp Hale and make our way up to the Fowler/Hilliard Hut.

Right away the plan began to take on a more difficult nature. The Pando Trailhead we had hoped to use was not plowed out (most likely due to the epic winter we’re having), so we had to start a mile farther out. Then I see that one of my two sled-towing companions has everything packed in her pack already (except a bottle of wine for the sled)…implying there will be two of us sharing the big load. No worries, it’s a nice day, and the trail looks pretty flat on the map.

About 3 miles in and no one is lining up to help pull the sled, and my wife finds out that she doesn’t have the mass to pull it up any significant inclines…all this as we reach the switchbacks that the map failed to accurately represent in it’s dotted-line glory. Anyway, long story short, 6 miles and 7 hours later, I get to the hut…whew. Celebratory shot of whiskey and it’s dinner time.

As seems customary this year, another hut trip brings in another multi-foot storm. So we spend the first day lapping nicely spaced, safe (read: low angled) trees and take a quick lap up Resolution Mountain only 1/4 mile away. It’s snowing hard all day with low visibility, so we can only guess what other terrain lies beyond the clouds.

10th Mountain Huts backcountry skiing.
The shoulder of Resolution Mountain has room for low angled turns.

On this trip I borrowed a BCA ALP40 Pack. Overall I was torn on this pack. Initially I had issues with an external shovel pocket that barely fit my shovel blade and a pair of glove shells. I do have a large shovel, but would still like to see a bit more room. Also, over just a few days use I had 2 of 5 zipper pulls tear off, a small detail, but frustrating nonetheless. (In fairness BCA does make their larger ALP55, which is perhaps more appropriate for hutting.)

For lap skiing and a slightly below capacity (2850 cu in) load, the ALP40 performed superbly. I never had issues with awkward swing weight, and the back felt tucked nicely into my back while skiing. This despite the fact that the lower waist belt compression straps had too much slack and could only be tightened a small amount. The insulated hydration tube in the shoulder strap and metal side compression retention straps are great additions. Plus the external probe pocket on the side easily held my 3 meter probe, keeping it available, yet out of sight for three days. The final plus was the external side access zipper for those times you don’t want to dig through the top of the pack for the roll of tape at the bottom.

If you have a smaller shovel and don’t mind replacing your zipper pulls, ALP40 is a very enjoyable day pack. As for me, I’d indeed like to check out their ALP55 for a little larger volume (3900 cu in), but mainly for what looks to be an external shovel pocket that accordions out (instead of in) to hold a larger shovel blade.

Colorado hut skiing.
Upper area of Resolution Bowl.

Come day three, our final day, the clouds opened up and the what came into view was perhaps one of the most expansive tree skiing areas I have ever seen. All around the Fowler/Hilliard Hut you’ll find everything from low angled trees to steeper openings with plenty of rocks and cliff bands to play on. High alpine ridges can be reached with what looks to be an hour long tour. Then simply ski to valley floor and use one of the many snowmobile or existing skin tracks to the hut. Simply an amazing area. Unfortunately, day 3 brought me a flair up of an existing back injury, so my focus was getting the stupid sled back to the car. So a quick lap off Resolution Mountain again and I started hauling. Up and through a small saddle and then the best bobsled run of my life (the one positive aspect of pulling a sled in my opinion). Hit the flats to the highway though, and again, not a volunteer to pull the sled around.

I hope to get back up to the Fowler/Hilliard Hut soon. And a word of advice, if visiting this hut, pack light, because the skiing options on the way out look amazing, on all aspects, so you don’t want to be bogged down by a sled or large pack. With the option to ski perfect glades 1,500 to valley floor (and the track out), this could be the most perfect skiing hut I’ve seen yet in Colorado.


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6 Responses to “Guest Blogger Dave Heads for the Huts, Tests Gear and Quads”

  1. Doug February 28th, 2008 12:33 pm

    Heading into the Goodwin-Greene middle of March. Any tips for skiing and perhaps finding the elusive springs would be greatly appreciated. If it’s half as good as the Fowler/Hilliard looks it should be epic. Thanks in advance.

  2. Pierce February 28th, 2008 12:03 pm

    Good TR! It’s always been hard to find out which huts have the best skiing around them, so it sounds like Fowler is a great option for an extended stay. I have the Alp55 and love it for hut trips. I took the aluminum stays out of it and cut off about a quarter pound of superflous straps and do-dads, and it’s even better now. I haven’t noticed any real difference in it’s load handling abilities w/out the stays. It’s great for shorter backpacking trips in the summer, too. The only problem is the top compartment hangs down too low unless fully loaded. I’m going to fix it with a custom sew job. As far as sleds go, we’ve used them successfully on many hut trips. You can’t really fit a keg in a backpack :>) The real secret is to hook the poles to the hip belt of your pack, forgoing the provided waist band, and daisy chain to the other members of your party with parachute cord to their hip belts. It makes a huge difference in pulling, kind of like a rented-mule team!

  3. Andy (not McLean) February 28th, 2008 1:36 pm

    I love Fowler-Hilliard, but it’s a mean ski in. Keeps the crowds away, I guess. Jackal is practically the same hut with an easier in, although I think the skiing’s a little better at F-H.

  4. powderjunky February 29th, 2008 9:20 am

    Dave don’t worry, we won’t make you pull any sleds up here in Jackson, See ya soon!

  5. Jim Jones March 1st, 2008 10:08 am

    I thought the sled was called a Pulk?

  6. Carver March 4th, 2008 5:33 pm

    Yes, Pulking.

    Unless you are 23 years old, 6’5″, and 210 lbs (like my son), I’ve decided the Pulk is best used for relatively light but bulky items like sleeping bags and down booties!

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