Colorado Gets A New Hut — Sisters Cabin


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | February 17, 2019      
Approaching Sisters Cabin, Colorado.

Approaching Sisters Cabin, Colorado. Six thumbs up.

Colorado’s newest backcountry skiing hut, Sisters Cabin, opened for business this winter. I visited a few days ago on a media trip. The architecture and location blew me away.

In Colorado, we lack lower angled, somewhat avalanche safe backcountry skiing, so hut sites for the typical backcountry skier are hard to find. But after working through 21 options for sites, Summit Huts received approval for a location on public land, just below timberline on the north side of a blunt hump known as Bald Mountain (near the resort town of Breckenridge, Colorado). A locals favorite for backcountry laps, Bald has a variety of ski options, from low angled to steep, timbered or alpine. Access to higher, steeper mountains is limited, though the summit of Bald is 13,638 feet — a worthy objective if you’re looking to tag a peak instead of lapping powder (or doing both if you’re strong).

Seeming as most hut customers in Colorado are seeking moderate terrain and easily reached huts, the place is perfect (the approach is a short four miles of low angled trail). Sisters is booked solid for the entire winter, proving the point. The $50/night per person fee seemed high to me as you’re not getting running water or meal service, but I found out $10 of each fee is put towards an endowment. That’s important, as these high altitude huts are expensive to maintain.

In all, I’m happy to report another fine addition to the astounding preponderance of more than seventy Colorado backcountry huts and yurts. Reservations. Check out a few photos, many more on the Summit Huts website.

While the exterior architecture is too busy for my taste, it works, the interior layout is nearly flawless.

While the exterior architecture is too busy for my taste, it works, and the interior layout is nearly flawless. Only mystery is why they located two bathrooms downstairs instead of having an upstairs toilet. If you need a few nighttime visits to the facilities, navigating a flight of stairs while you’re half asleep at 11,445 feet elevation is not fun.

Great room is, well, great.

Great room is, well, great.

The kitchen nicely featured, though it does not have running water.

The kitchen nicely featured (only lack being running water). Our media media trip was catered, the kitchen functioned for the cook though she found the propane oven needs tuning.

Bob and Ruth volunteered to cook breakfast.

Bob and Ruth volunteered to cook breakfast. I had no idea that involved hauling a steel griddle and fresh eggs.

Dinning area is adjacent to kitchen, boasting an enormous table.

Dinning area is adjacent to kitchen, boasting an enormous table. Maximum capacity of the hut is fourteen, the table easily seats that.

ADA room.

I found this interesting. Due to Americans With Disabilities Act, they had to provide a first floor sleeping location with doors. I slept in there after the party died down. Premium accommodations.

The cabin honors groups of women who enjoy the backcountry.

The cabin honors groups of women who enjoy the backcountry. Specifically, it cost about a million dollars to build, with funding coming from Sue Sturm and her husband. Sturm had in 1998 experienced her first hut trip, with a group of inexperienced “mothers.” Apparently the trip was life changing, now we get a new cabin! Wonderful how the backcountry changes people, isn’t it?

Post and beam construction.

Post and beam construction along with super-insulation result in an old world texture but incredible efficiency. Burning the wood stove is nearly unnecessary.

Several bedrooms.

Several bedrooms. A lager with both stacked and continuous bunk takes the beds up to the fourteen person limit. As with any lager in the world, bring your ear plugs.

In all, Summit Huts has succeeded in setting the bar to heights I found unimaginable just a few decades ago. Next frontiers are probably smaller huts on private land, and easily reached cabins with affordable meal service. I suspect both are coming. More, I’m excited to see who tries to exceed the design, finish, and amenities of Sisters — that’ll be fascinating. WildSnow six thumbs up!

A happy couple at Sisters.

A happy couple at Sisters. Why are they happy? Instead of joining the poor souls at the Breckenridge resort skiing you can see in the distance, they will ski fresh powder under their own power, then retire to their own million dollar home.



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Comments

28 Responses to “Colorado Gets A New Hut — Sisters Cabin”

  1. Jon Canuck February 18th, 2019 10:01 am

    love the denim-pine interior (wood with blue tints). Milled from beetle-killed lodgepole pine. Lodge is so spacious.
    In BC, we have backcountry hut so large that some consider it a chateau. (Kokanee Glacier Park cabin).
    Nice to hear that $10 per person per night goes to maintenance/repairs etc – smart thinking there!

  2. Crazy Horse February 18th, 2019 11:21 am
  3. Neonorchid February 18th, 2019 12:04 pm

    I’m ok with eco waterless toilets but would love to see them upgrade to a self-sustaining water system for sinks and showers, then that beautiful place would be the bomb for multi-day bookings!

  4. Lou Dawson 2 February 18th, 2019 12:18 pm

    Neon, it’s interesting how culture takes hold. The tradition with Colorado huts, beginning with Braun Huts and the 10th Mountain huts, has been for folks to melt snow for water, despite the inconvenience of doing so, and possible health risks. It’s possible many of the huts could add a well, storage tank, and more PV capacity to run a well pump, but that’s not been the trend. Another solution is to add enough storage to cover an entire winter of user nights, then truck water in during summer. That’s a lot of gallons for some huts, but not impossible. Yet another solution is to catch and store water off the roof (several huts do this), but that’s still loaded with airborne pollutants. Perhaps the stored water could be metered somehow. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sisters upgrades to some kind of water system, it is a high end hut with high end financing. I’ll bet they could do a well that would at least trickle supply. Lou

  5. Jim Milstein February 18th, 2019 3:41 pm

    It would be worth a year’s worth of monitoring the sky water for pollutants. I’d guess it would not be bad in the high mountains far from big cities or coal fired(!) power plants. Not zero. Nowhere is zero anymore. The roofs could easily supply a grey-water system with conservative use and sufficient storage. I live with such a system in a semi-arid region. Of course, it’s better to design the structure with that in mind.

  6. Shane February 19th, 2019 1:22 pm

    Worrying about non-biotic pollutants in rain/snow water is akin to worrying about indoor air pollutants from off-gassing carpets, hydrocarbons from an attached garage, and radon seeping out of granite counter tops. Sure, it all adds up, but at what cost of money, time, and hand-wringing does the law of diminished returns kick in? How many of you with attached garages park your car and lawn mower outdoors to mitigate that risk?

    The more realistic risk is due to bacterial or viral contaminants in water. Without some sort of (energy intensive) disinfectant system before the tap, a large tank of stored water would be a liability.

    In many states, the “pay to stay lodging” scenario would fall into a regulatory program requiring monthly water sampling, analysis, and reporting – even for a groundwater well.

    Melting snow is fun and cheap by comparison. How pampered does one need to be? Does “earn your turns” only extend to the use of chairlifts?

  7. Jim Milstein February 19th, 2019 1:59 pm

    A sky water system need not have an energy intensive disinfection gizmo. Every so often I add sufficient household bleach to get to the recommended ppm. That yields a barely perceptible odor of chlorine for a few days. Heating the water or letting it stand for a few hours eliminates the odor.

    However, Shane, your point about commercial lodging is a good one, where an informal system would not be acceptable.

    But, is melting snow really analogous to climbing snow? I think the two are perpendicular. Still, it is recommended not to melt yellow snow. And by the way, my countertop glows in the dark. Should I worry?

  8. Shane February 19th, 2019 4:43 pm

    @Jim “Every so often I add sufficient household bleach to get to the recommended ppm”.

    Are you also skinning 8 miles round trip to do that? How much bleach would you need to haul / store in order to treat the volume of water that would be stored to supply the cabin for the winter?

    I applaud you for having the domestic water system you have but I question whether that’s feasible for a remote BC hut without introducing a considerable bit of cost and complication into the operation.

    Of course, here in Montana our BC lodging options are MUCH more rustic than Sisters (with one exception that I’m aware of and too frugal to consider). Shoot, Sisters looks nicer than my house, honestly. Do other CO huts have running water?

  9. Jim Milstein February 19th, 2019 7:52 pm

    Shane, when you only need, say (from memory), 1.5 oz/1000 gal, a gallon of bleach goes a long, long way. I suppose you could have a simple device that meters the right concentration into the incoming flow. It need not require any power source at all other than the incoming flow. You will require an electric pump to supply the hut’s plumbing. Typically, that uses very little power. My pump averages 8W, same as a single LED lamp, all grey water use. Actual electric consumption depends on many factors. Sky water is free and does not need to be hauled. Screening and filtering it is advised.

  10. Lou Dawson 2 February 20th, 2019 8:39 am

    We have a 450 gallon water tank at our WildSnow field HQ, we truck the water. Every year or so I treat the tank with bleach, and it is clear and clean, nonetheless I prefer boiling the water before drinking. Doing so isn’t a big deal for us, as in winter nearly all our drinking is tea and soup, and in summer we bring a jug of tap water for drinking, and use the tank water for everything else. Managing these sorts of things is no big deal, but it’s important to stay on top of all aspects.

    It is common across the globe to have water sources labeled “do not drink.”

    At sisters, they have warnings posted advising that the snow melt is not drinkable until being boiled or treated. That seems wise, as even one small mouse “pellet” can wreck your life, and mice are everywhere.

  11. Jim Milstein February 20th, 2019 9:09 am

    I think the greatest reason bc huts do not have running water is the problem of preventing the plumbing from freezing. Proper design can give you a structure which never freezes inside, but that is rare. In fact, proper design can give you a structure in the Colorado Rockies that seldom, if ever, goes below 59ºF (15ºC) using only the sun shining through windows as heat source. I know this is possible because I built and lived in one for fourteen years. It is not hard to do.

  12. XXX_er February 20th, 2019 12:44 pm

    If you have a big enough line and enough gradient you can also get hydro power, but the line has to be buried and if it gets really cold early season before any exposed pipe gets buried by insulating snow the whole thing can freeze up, otherwise running water is way better than walking water,

  13. Jim Milstein February 20th, 2019 3:07 pm

    For domestic water supply without flush toilets, sky water with ample storage is adequate when conservatively used, especially in ski country. Snow is water.

    Solar PV is much easier to do than hydro. No moving parts, no freezing. No so great where sun is scarce, though. Li-ion batteries will soon be the choice for power storage, if they are not already. Their price has been in steep decline, and they have few drawbacks compared to lead-acid batteries.

  14. Geewilligers February 20th, 2019 3:17 pm

    Jim,

    Is there anything accessible detailing the design concepts that can give you a structure in the Colorado Rockies that seldom, if ever, goes below 59ºF (15ºC) using only the sun shining through windows as heat source?

    This is all very interesting!

  15. Jim Milstein February 20th, 2019 4:27 pm

    In three words, Gee: passive solar design. In short, you need solar gain, thermal mass to store that gain, and adequate insulation for thermal efficiency. Many ways to accomplish this, some cheap, some expensive. Lots to be found on the web.

    For my specific design, its website, archived on archive.org (the WayBackMachine), was called http://www.SixWayCrossing.com. Only the archived version exists.

  16. XXX_er February 20th, 2019 5:32 pm

    I imagine every app is different, the setup I helped put into a lodge collected water from a mtn spring into a dam so there was a lot of water thru a 2″ line for showers, the kitchen sink and hydro power to charge the batteries along with solar panels

  17. Frame February 21st, 2019 6:00 am

    Jim, the thing that gets me scratching my chin with passive solar (concept,no actual experience) is not getting too hot. A roof overhang can be built to stop midday summer sun entering the house, but what about the sun angles at 4pm in summer, whilst allowing sun in winter?

  18. Jim Milstein February 21st, 2019 8:28 am

    South-facing windows, Frame, are tuned for max solar gain. Eastern and western windows are tuned for minimum solar gain. Northern too. This is standard best practice now. All windows should have a high R-factor, since most heat will be lost through them. For windows or skylights where transparency is not required, ærogel-filled window units can’t be beat –– very pricey though.

    In the old days, you had to rely on insulating shades or the like. Not any more. Science marches on!

  19. Frame February 21st, 2019 9:02 am

    And experience gives insight to learn from. Again, I don’t have any actual experience, but have been reading a few articles on this lately and an argument for more insulation, less south facing glass and air-tightness is being made to counter the imperfections of passive solar and thermal mass.

    Your house was consistent in temperature all year round, or there were spikes in heat?

  20. Mike Zobbe February 21st, 2019 9:40 am

    Lou,
    Thanks for your review of the Sisters Cabin. I’m glad you enjoyed the hut and hope you guys got a chance to sample the skiing around the hut. As you can imagine, we’re very proud of it! It was 10+ years of twists, turns, meetings, comments, design reviews, and brain damage, all of which culminated in a less than 6 month building season from ground breaking to opening. (Normally I really like early season storms but the early snow this year made a difficult project more difficult). I didn’t have grey hair when this started
    A little more information: There is no full size vehicle access to the hut. All the heavy building materials like the timber frame, SIP panels and concrete for Sisters where ferried in via four days worth of helicopter time (~15% of the construction budget was heli time). Everything else, windows, floor, roofing, lumber, and more hauled in overland using an AT towing a trailer on a 1.1 mile 50″ wide trail we constructed for the project. Going forward, all propane, firewood, and other consumables will be hauled in with an ATV. As you can imagine, the logistics of all this were very complicated. Our GC, Turner Mountain Construction of Breckenridge went WAY above and beyond building this hut in very difficult conditions.
    There is an interesting conversation going on here regarding hut amenities like running water and where the future of the “hut experience” is going that I’d like to join in on, but unfortunately don’t have the time at the moment. It’s a fun conversation to have.

    Cheers!

    Mike Zobbe
    Executive Director
    Summit Huts

  21. Jim Milstein February 21st, 2019 9:56 am

    Seasonal variation, Frame, not much daily or hourly. Thermal mass is the reason. You are reading dated materials, it seems. With modern window technology you can have windows wherever you want, as large as you want, even north facing. For a more detailed discussion check the archived web site for Asterisk, my passive solar house. Info in comment above for the search term at archive.org.

    I used the book Residential Windows from the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, available on Amazon. It is now twelve years old. Principles discussed have not changed, but products and technology have. It is easier than ever to design and build for passive solar. Of course, sunlight is required. No sun, no solar.

  22. Lou Dawson 2 February 21st, 2019 10:13 am

    Thanks Mike, good job on Sisters. Yeah, lots of ongoing discussion about where we’re going with the huts. Personally, I’d like to see two things:
    1. A variety of smaller, rustic huts that were rented by only one party at a time. In advanced as well as novice locations.
    2. Any number of full service huts, with meal service, close to roads but with only human powered access.

    Personally, I don’t understand the debate about running water, or not. If it’s doable, it should be done, IMHO. Melting snow to achieve the same thing is silly unless necessary, and of course precludes summer use.

    Lou

  23. Michael R Zobbe February 21st, 2019 1:19 pm

    Lou,

    With most current huts, running water vs running to get your water is a case of 1) tradition. The huts are supposed to be a somewhat primitive, rustic experience. Even though most of the TMA, Summit, and even Braun huts are very comfortable and well maintained, you still have to work to get there, carry your own stuff, go outside to use the toilets, no electric outlets for gadgets, etc. 2) Cost and feasibility. The plumbing associated with running water, flush toilets, etc adds a LOT of expense, both to construct and maintain. Also, many of the remote locations with rugged 4WD roads or no roads at all prohibit getting a drill rig in for a well and to make a roof collection/cistern system potable requires some complex filters, all of which requires a fair amount of energy to pump, keep from freezing, etc.

    As to what the future holds, at least in Summit County and probably the WRNF, I think we’re running out of places that you can put a hut like Sisters; There are too many regulatory and political obstacles ranging from Wildlife, to parking, to not in my favorite stash. Personally, I don’t think this is always a bad thing – we have a LOT of huts to choose from. (Of course if you look at the reservation data from huts all over the state you can make an argument that there is a lot of unmet demand).
    For Summit Huts, I’m not sure we have the appetite for another 10 year process to build another hut like Sisters or Janet’s and Francie’s, but I think there is potential in being some sort of resource for managing some of the historic mining cabins that the FS has no ability to maintain and are in danger of falling down, There are a lot of challenges to this, namely creating a revenue stream where people may have used these cabins for free for many years. I think we shold have that sort of experience available and if an organization like SHA takes over, then all of a sudden we have to meet certain minimum health and safety standards and that ain’t cheap. None the less, I’d like to see a strategy to keep those cabins (after all, they were the original huts in CO).
    I also think there is a place for Yurts. Pass Creek Yurt near Wolf Creek is one of my favorite places to go and there are others that offer a lot for the backcountry skier. Being a “tent” is probably a more palatable alternative to a large, permanent hut in a lot of places.
    Then there is the full service hut on private land model which has gained a lot of momentum the last few years. While I don’t know what kind of living Bob makes with Opus or any of the other folks on the same model, but there is certainly a demand for what they offer. Not having to carry a lot of stuff, having your meals prepared, and having a guide in sketchy terrain can be pretty appealing, even to crusty old BC skiers like you and me.
    Anyway, it’s a fun conversation to have. Lots of ideas to float around.

    Cheers

  24. Jim Milstein February 21st, 2019 3:55 pm

    Design, design, design! A hut should not be able to freeze, ever, unless doors and windows are left open for extended periods in the winter. Not all water in a hut needs to be potable, only in sinks. Flush toilets are ridiculous in the backcountry. I designed and built a waterless or virtually waterless toilet which is genuinely odor-free and easier to keep clean and maintain than a standard flush toilet.

    Yes, if you take an urban design and put it in the backcountry, to make it comfortable and legal will cost a fortune, and it will be inefficient. But, it will be familiar. Sisters is an example of a basically standard design that cost a fortune and still does not have running water or indoor toilets. It is possible to do better. Not having running water or indoor toilets does signal virtue, but I’d rather have the water and not have to go out in all weathers at night for a toilet.

  25. Jim Milstein February 21st, 2019 4:00 pm

    Sorry, my mistake. Sisters apparently does have indoor toilets.

  26. Crazy Horse February 21st, 2019 7:16 pm

    Hi Jim
    This is a link to a Bible for inexpensive and sustainable designs for the high Rockies. The featured home has a 20 year history at it’s 11,000 foot site. And no, it doesn’t have to look the same or be flown in by helicopter to incorporate the same principles.

    https://www.thenaturalhome.com/passivesolar/

  27. Jim Milstein February 21st, 2019 7:39 pm

    Thanks, Crazy, I just skimmed the book you linked. Its advice looks generally good. I especially agree that you cannot have too much thermal mass to modulate and store heat for later release. They seem (at a glance) to be more into shades and separate window treatments rather than low-e coatings on the window glass itself. Shades are often cheaper than fancy coatings, but they require daily manipulation. The design process is one of trade-offs.

  28. Kevin Woolley February 22nd, 2019 7:51 pm

    Michael, my wife and I just stayed a night at Sisters, what an amazing facility and location, thanks to you and your organization for the hard work. It’s a shame that the regulatory situation and other political factors are limiting the construction of new huts, Colorado is not going to stop growing, and there are more people in the backcountry every year. I’d love to see 3 times as many options. The hut situation in Colorado is unique in the West, there aren’t one tenth as many similar options in adjacent states, the hut system is a tremendous amenity for those of us who live and recreate here.





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