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Aspen meeting will explore history, future of backcountry ski hut system

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Established and aspiring backcountry hut enthusiasts in the Aspen area are being urged to attend a meeting Wednesday to learn about the history and the future of the regional system.

The Alfred A. Braun Hut System and Mountain Rescue Aspen are hosting a panel discussion Wednesday to explore issues revolving around the three awesome hut systems in the area. The meeting is free and open to the public. It will be held at the C.B. Cameron Rescue Center near the Aspen Airport Business Center. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The discussion starts at 6 p.m.

"A main theme will be the beauty of the mountains and the camaraderie of going to the huts," said Craig Ward, president of the board of directors of the Alfred Braun Hut System.

A panel of hut experts will be moderated by backcountry skiing icon Lou Dawson, who operates the Wild Snow blog. Panel participants will be Ward, 10th Mountain Hut Association executive director Ben Dodge, Graeme Means of the Friends Hut and Morgan Boyles, manager of the Braun huts.

They will give strangers to the hut system the flavor of the experience, talk about the evolution of the hut systems, the surging popularity and anticipated issues in the future, according to David Swersky, a longtime member of Mountain Rescue Aspen who helps with public outreach for the organization.

The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association manages 34 backcountry huts connected by 350 miles of suggested routes. In addition to huts it has built or private cabins under its umbrella, the hut association handles the reservations for the seven huts in the Braun system and the independent Friends Hut. The Braun system has been part of Aspen's fabric since the 1950s.

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There's a huge demand for experiencing the backcountry in a different way — getting a good workout, enjoying powder and avoiding the chairlift crowds.

The huts have experienced significant growth system-wide over the last 15 years. In June 2003, the system had hosted 46,424 user nights over the prior year, according to Dodge. In June 2018, the huts had hosted about 67,000 users nights over the prior year. That's a jump of 44 percent. A lottery is held for reservations on the busiest days.

Some of the growth is due to an expanded system, but most of it is simply greater awareness and demand.

"Every time we bring a new hut into the system, it books up," Dodge said.

Fridays and Saturdays have always been in high demand. Now, Sunday through Thursday nights are becoming more popular, particularly for the more accessible huts.

"People are filling in the gaps," Dodge said.

With increased use comes increased concern that people know what they're doing. Ward said Wednesday's meeting will include information on preparedness. The meeting is part of Mountain Rescue Aspen's expanded Mountain Education Safety program for 2018-19.

scondon@aspentimes.com

IF YOU GO

What: “History and Future of the 3 Local Hut Systems”

When: Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.

Where: CB Cameron Rescue Center, Aspen

Cost: free and open to the public