Picking up the snow packed camera he cleaned
it out as well as possible and stowed it in his pack. Luckily
it was a cold storm, so the snow was moisture free. Later, Jim
hung the open camera out on a ski pole for the afternoon hoping
that the dry Colorado air would sublimate the snow out of the
camera body. Unbelievably, it worked, and Jim used his camera
to successfully photograph the rest of the trip.
Jim was lucky. He also fared better than my
brother on another one of our winter ski tours. We'd skied to
a wilderness hot spring, and were making a home movie with a
recently purchased pro-quality camera. He was pulling clothing
out of his pack -- out shot the camera on a direct trajectory
to the pool. Splash. Total write-off..
Getting good pictures in the winter wilderness
is hard. You must manipulate your equipment in the constant cold
-- while maneuvering on skis or snowshoes. Add fatigue and the
awkwardness of a heavy pack, and carrying the extra weight of
a full-on SLR set-up may seem next to impossible.
In fact, most winter mountaineers find that
one body and lens, or even a miniature point-and-shoot or small
digital rig, is all they can pack.
Yet you can get terrific photos in the winter
wilderness, so carrying enough camera gear is worth the effort.
Imagine a powder muffled spruce forest. You stop for a break,
and an ermine peaks out from a tree well then makes his way towards
a pristine patch of light. Above you, crisp ridgetops skirted
with frosted trees await your eye. Unique and simulating photo
opportunities come as fast as you can turn your head, while the
human involvement of a party making its way through the snowscape
adds personality that roadside photography could never have.
Additionally, the photographer participating in a wilderness
ski trip can add a whole new dimension to his craft by participatory
documentation of the adventure. All this is available if you
can manage a camera at the same time you manage your self!
The problem really boils down to one word:
shelter. Trying to snowcamp and be a productive photographer
is difficult at the least, and nearly impossible without incredibly
expensive camping gear, lots of motivation, and pricey professional
camera equipment that stands up to inevitable moisture. Eliminate
snow camping. Your pack is lighter, equipment maintenance easier,
and you have more energy to devote to your camera. But day trips
get old -- you want to get out there and stay out there!
In Colorado, and in many other mountain areas
of North America, there is a solution to the shelter problem:
mountain huts. In my travels, one of the best system of huts
I have seen are those in the Aspen/Vail area of Colorado.
Each hut is equipped with beds, a wood burning
stove, and a roomy kitchen area complete with utensils; you only
need to carry a sleeping bag, your basic ski touring equipment,
and food. These huts make about 500 square miles of wilderness
accessible to the backcountry skier without having to snow camp.
The opportunities for adventure photography are awesome.
The total system is comprised of about 15
huts and four or five private lodging vendors. The huts are owed
by three different non profit organizations. The oldest are the
Alfred Braun huts. This is a relatively tight grouping of five
cabins in the Elk Mountains between the ski towns of Aspen and
Crested Butte. The Braun Huts are located within one days travel
of each other in fairly rough terrain, but paradoxically two
of the huts are only several hours of skiing from the roads.
Traveling between the Braun huts can be an undertaking for only
the experienced ski mountaineer, while skiing to several of the
huts from the road is possible for those with little experience.
Though the Tenth Mountain Trail Huts are larger
and more luxurious, the Braun Huts have more charisma and backwoods
feeling. All the Braun huts are equally as scenic, the one with
the most scenic variety is probably the Goodwin Green Hut --
by no coincidence this is the most difficult Braun Hut to reach.
The Tenth Mountain Hut Association huts have
the easiest ski routes and are the most luxurious. "Tenth
Mountain" is a nonprofit organization formed in 1980 to
build a trail and hut system between the ski towns of Aspen and
Vail. The idea for the trail came from several old time Aspenites
who skied the route every few winters and were struck with the
beauty of the perfect cross-country ski terrain in the 50 mile
long stretch of foothill topography between the two towns. The
name for the trail stems from the 10th Mountain Division of the
U.S. Army. The "Tenth Mountain", one of the most decorated
divisions in the war, used the mountains between Aspen and Vail
for maneuvers. Their base was at Camp Hale outside of Leadville,
just 35 miles as the crow flies from Aspen and about the same
distance from Vail.
The third hut "system" consists
of just one hut, but what a hut! Built by the Friends Hut Inc.,
the Friends Hut is located at timberline on the south side of
Pearl Pass between Aspen and Crested Butte. This is the traditional
ski route between the two towns and the Friends Hut is the perfect
lay over for parties traversing the route.
Friends Hut is a memorial to ten victims of
a plane crash on nearby East Maroon Pass in 1980. It was built
in 1984 and is considered by many to be the best Colorado hut
for serious ski mountaineering. It is definitely the most difficult
hut to get to, especially from the Aspen side. Travel from that
direction requires the ascent of 12,700 foot Pearl Pass (aptly
named for its stunning visuals). Because of the difficulty of
travel to the Friends Hut a professional guide is a necessity
for all but the most experienced parties.
In addition to the backcountry huts there
are several well located commercial lodges who cater to those
using the hut systems. These accommodations are used by visitors
as staging points for hut trips as well as a nice finale to a
few days in the wilderness. Information about private commercial
accommodations that mesh with the huts is available from the
reservation office of the hut systems.
guidebooks cover all the 10th Mountain Huts, the Braun Huts,
and Friends Hut. Reservations for the huts are required and can
be made by contacting 10th Mountain