Take a trip into the backcountry

Guides organizing hut trips in Routt National Forest

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Colorado's series of huts never fails to lure adventurous skiers and snowshoers out into the backcountry during winter months.

Huts let anyone from outdoor enthusiasts to the backcountry newcomers camp during the winter without having to sleep in the snow.

For the first time, such a hut trip could be constructed in the Routt National Forest. An outfitter is proposing to build huts in the Yampa District near Gore Pass, giving skiers and snowshoers use of the Muddy Slide trail, a popular summer mountain biking trail.

Tom Bowers and Jason Gilsinger, owners of Colorado's High Lonesome Outfitter and Guides, have a permit to organize such a hut trip and are hopeful that the trips will be offered this winter.

Although the U.S. Forest Service has yet to give a final OK, Bowers and Gilsinger are letting people know about the service and starting to take reservations.

"You want to get back to a warm place," Gilsinger said about coming in after a day of backcountry skiing or snowshoeing. "There's nothing worse then coming back to a dome tent in freezing weather with a cold sleeping bag on the ground."

The hut trip being proposed would let people "spend more time skiing, and less time working," Gilsinger said.

The pair has proposed a loop trail with two huts in mind: One hut would be near the Forest Service's Lynx Pass Guard Station, just a few miles away from Forest Service Road 134, and the second would be six miles from the first hut.

A narrow groomed trail would link the huts, giving easy access to areas good for skiers and snowboards to get nice turns down about 1,000 vertical feet, Gilsinger said.

Traveling another 15 or so miles from the second hut, the skiers would loop back to the first hut.

The trails follow a ridgeline that provides expansive views of the Gore Mountains to the South, and stunning views of the Flat Tops, Gilsinger said.

The trails would be appropriate for various skill levels, from experienced skiers to families with children, Bowers said.

"We want to provide a high quality service, and we want to accommodate ... any skill level," he said.

The huts are proposed to be large wall tents with wood floors, carpeting and cots, as well as a large wood stove for heat and small propane stoves for cooking. Each would hold between four and six people.

"It's going to be very, very comfortable," Bowers said. "We're going to make it so they really want to stay there."

Bowers and Gilsinger bought the permit three years ago, figuring that there would be a need for such trips in the future.

"Timing is everything, and we think the timing is now," Bowers said.

A unique aspect of their proposal is that they want to shuttle people's gear from hut to hut, so those skiing would not need to carry big loads with food and clothing. There will be a radio system to ensure safety, and all hut users will get an orientation talk from Bowers and Gilsinger before hitting the trails.

They said they would like to see the hut system get larger each year.

"The sky is the limit with this thing," Bowers said. "There's so much area up there."

Bowers and Gilsinger are experienced guides and offer elk, deer and mountain lion hunting, as well as pack trips, horseback rides and photography trips throughout the year.

Through those trips, the men said, they give people opportunities to experience nature in ways they often have never imagined they could.

"You fulfill a lot of people's dreams," Gilsinger said.

Reservations already are being taken for hut trips beginning Jan. 1, and lasting through the end of March.

Colorado's High Lonesome Outfitter and Guides, license number 1107, is a Routt National Forest and Bureau of Land Management permittee.

For more information or to make reservations, go to www.cohighlonesome.com, or call 638-4239, 846-1449 or 846-0372. Pricing for the trips is yet to be determined, but should be similar to other hut trips across the state.

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