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Outside: Colorado backcountry hut trips are still happening, but with pandemic precautions

The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association closed its huts last March and cancelled remaining reservations for the winter during the original spate of coronavirus lockdowns. They reopened to the public this summer, and have been taking reservations for the current winter season, albeit with new restrictions in accordance with local health protocols.
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Uncle Bud’s Hut, near Leadville, within the 10th Mountain Division Hut system. The huts have reopened since shutting down in March, with new restrictions in place reflecting local public health orders. (Aspen Public Radio)

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by Aspen Public Radio and was shared via AP StoryShare.

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The entire outdoor industry has been impacted by the pandemic, and the regional backcountry hut system is no exception. The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association closed its huts last March and cancelled remaining reservations for the winter during the original spate of coronavirus lockdowns. They reopened to the public this summer, and have been taking reservations for the current winter season, albeit with new restrictions in accordance with local health protocols.

“It was the right thing to do,” said 10th Mountain Division Hut Association Executive Director Ben Dodge of the March closures. “We learned a few things between then and when we decided to open the huts for summer.”

Reservations are now limited to single parties from no more than two households, and cutting overall group size down from the previous maximum of 16. The organization saw a 20% dip in usership this summer compared to the year before, and Dodge said that some people haven’t been making reservations because of the missing social component of a pandemic-era hut trip — when guests often stay under the same roof as several other groups, cooking and sharing living and sleeping spaces during their stay.

Dodge said that’s just one piece of the experience, though, and those that have booked trips since the pandemic have been receptive to the changes.

“It’s enjoying the people you’re with, it’s making a connection with them in a different way than you would on the valley floor, but there’s more to it than that,” he said. “There’s connecting with the surrounding environment and just having an adventure.”

Other changes to the reservation system include more time between guest check-ins and check-outs. New COVID-era policies include more stringent cleaning guidelines, too, such as disinfecting the hut upon arrival and departure, and regularly throughout a trip.

Anyone traveling to a backcountry hut within Pitkin County also will have to fill out the county’s traveler affidavit, which requires a negative COVID test if they’re coming from outside the area. Guests are advised to check the current local health guidelines where the hut is located — and to think small when it comes to group size.

“It’s so good to get out into the backcountry and connect with the people you want to be with,” Dodge said. “Having said that, this winter, the hut experience is best enjoyed in the company of fewer people.”

Reservations and current booking policies can be found at the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association’s website.