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A Winter Wonderland: Backcountry Skiing, Friends, and Fun at Fowler-Hilliard Hut

This year's pilgrimage into the Rocky Mountain backcountry was a success! The Fowler-Hilliard Hut, part of the 10th Mountain Hut Division, provided a perfect homebase for an amazing backcountry ski escape that included skiing, gourmet family style meals, intense card games, afternoon yoga, and an evening disco party! Getting away from the daily grind (and out of cell phone service) is my favorite way to spend a winter weekend in Colorado with friends.

Colorado Backcountry Ski Trip to Fowler Hilliard Hut

Backcountry Ski Prep & Packing Lists

Our annual hut trip started more than 15 years ago and is fearlessly led by my friend, Aaron. In the weeks leading up to each year's trip, endless emails are sent to remind us to sign our hut waivers, ensure proper packing, and get us up to date on avalanche dangers. Check out the 10th Mountain Hut suggested packing list here.

Emails may improve our chances of being gear prepared, but each one of us is responsible for being physically fit enough to get ourselves, and our provisions, safely to the hut. Each year's weather, snow pack, and terrain can vary significantly; one year was -17 at the trailhead! This year's weather was nearly perfect (20-30deg, minimal wind, partly cloudy) with moderately difficult terrain. Good gear can combat the weather, but there is no substitute for good fitness, strong cardio, and leg endurance for the traverse into the hut.

My physical prep for this hut trip included:

  • Running intervals at 12-15% incline on the treadmill

  • Rowing machine

  • Kettlebell strengthening: hip flexors, RDLs, goblet squats, swings, curtsey lunges

  • Barbell squats and deadlifts

  • BOSU balance exercises

  • Box jumps

Even with my running background and specific ski prep training, the repetitive nature of skinning up a mountain is hard! Next year I'll do more work on my hip flexors and calf muscles to feel stronger during the ski in and less sore in the days after.

The Trek In

Arrival at the trailhead outside of Leadville, CO required an early morning wake-up call of 5am (uugh!), a 2+ hour drive in ski traffic, and last minute provisioning for blister band-aids and AAA batteries. Getting organized at the trailhead took some time, but we eventually got going. After 5.2 miles, 2500 feet of elevation gain, a stop for lunch, a mini avalanche (more below!), and 5.5 hours of trekking, we finally made it to the Fowler-Hilliard Hut!

The Hut

The 10th Mountain Hut organization does a fantastic job with the Colorado hut system. Although there is no running water or central heat, all provisions are adequately supplied including firewood, propane, dishes, cleaning supplies, sleeping pads, and even a guitar!

A Day of Skiing, Yoga, Cards & Disco Fun

The Fowler-Hilliard Hut is a must-do if you love tree skiing right outside of where you are sleeping. The fresh snow and sunny skies set the stage for one of my favorite backcountry ski days ever! But all that skinning and skiing lead to some stiffness and soreness in my crew, so I led a few of them in a relaxing yoga practice in the hut living room.

No hut trip is complete without a theme! This year's theme was "Run DM Ski", an obvious combination for this group's love of 80's/90's hip I sthop and skiing. Many friends went with the obvious costume choice of Adidas tracksuits, but my statement pieces involved a RunDM-SKI custom hat and t-shirt. This set the stage for a fun evening of cards, laughs, and dancing in the disco lights.

Backcountry Safety

I strongly believe that everyone going into the backcountry should take an avalanche safety course and be prepared with, at minimum, a beacon, shovel, and probe. Most of the Colorado huts do not pose significant avalanche danger, but this month included intense weather and new snowpack on weak, early winter snow layers. Due to this, and the terrain of one specific section of our trek, we took serious precautions due to the avalanche risk. Luckily our team was spread out in a lucky formation when a small avalanche broke free right above our trail. The entire team was able to ski away safely without any issues!

Check out Friends of Berthod Pass for more information on avalanche safety.

Avalanche Danger Fowler Hilliard Hut

After a fun-filled weekend off the grid, we prepared to ski out of the hut. The mostly downhill trek out was much easier and faster than the 5.5 hour adventure into the hut a few days prior....Until we got to the river crossing. Warmer temperatures had weakened the snowbridge we had easily used a few days prior, which led to one of my team members falling into the river. With a little finesse, he was able to free himself without much issue, other than a cold and wet foot. Those of us behind him had to find a new strategy to get across the river which ultimately included throwing bags, using tow straps, and moving at a snail's pace to minimize the likelihood of breaking through the thick slush covering the river. Our extra time and caution paid off and no one else fell into the river!

Ski Safety in the Backcountry

A weekend ski trip in Colorado wouldn't be complete without a long, traffic filled commute back to Denver. Our extra time in stop-and-go traffic on I-70 gave us plenty of opportunity to rehash the great snow, what made us belly laugh the hardest, and start brainstorming for next year's theme!

Need help getting back on the slopes or improve your ski fitness with an appointment at Physio, Yoga & Wellness. Address functional mobility, strength, fitness, and technique to address areas of concern. Schedule an appointment today! Online scheduling is available for your convenience; access it here.

Dr Jessica Klain PT, DPT, COMT, CSCS, OCS, CNPT

Dr. Jessica Klain,Ski and Run Physical Therapist Denver Colorado

Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS)

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)

Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist (COMT)

Certified Nutritional Physical Therapist (CNPT)

Certified Vestibular Specialist

Certified Concussion Specialist

Trigger Point Dry Needling Certified, Level 1&2

Certified Yoga Teacher

University of Florida, Doctorate in Physical Therapy (2009)

The Ohio State University, Bachelor of Science in Biology (2006)

Call/text: 720-295-0060


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