Mountain huts can mean many things to many people. What we are looking at here is the incredible network of well-equipped huts which covers the European Alps, the greater ranges of North America and elsewhere besides. These huts are often run by national alpine clubs and membership of any national alpine club is generally recognized, yielding significant discounts!
The huts cater to a variety of needs. So the first thing in choosing an appropriate hut is to identify whether the hut is right for your specific adventure. Whether you’re doing long distance hut-to-hut hiking, biking, running or skiing or whether you are out for a day trip or perhaps a single night, answering these questions will put you on the right track:
Location, location, location! Is the hut in the right place?
The best hut in the world won’t be the right one for you if it’s in the wrong place! Maybe you want the mountain hut experience but without having to sweat to get there? There’s plenty out there that’s accessible either by ski lift or even snow cat taxi! You don’t even have to stay the night! Maybe this isn’t for you and you want to get a bit more rustic and remote. Look for the huts furthest from a road-head or ski lift and you’ll find the kind of stripped-down alpine experience you’re looking for.
Perhaps you’re on a hut-to-hut trip such as the famous Haute Route. In this case only so many huts will be on your route. Nevertheless there’s some choosing to be done. You might give yourself a maximum daily distance that you’re prepared to travel and therefore you only look at huts within that range. Maybe you like to warm up at the start of the day with a climb so huts perched high on ridgelines won’t be what you’re after.
What facilities are offered?
You’ll want to check in advance that the hut meets your needs. Are you on a total break and want to get as far as possible from the world of wi-fi? Or is this something you need to have? Maybe you have specific rules on personal space and sleeping shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of smelly strangers in a huge dorm is enough to put you off the mountain hut thing altogether? Don’t fret: there are plenty of huts which offer a range of room types. Or maybe hot showers are a make or break criteria for you? Again, look in the right places and you’ll find what you’re after.
Whatever your needs, you can find a great deal in advance and doing so may help avoid nasty surprises!
The internet is a mine of information. Not only do many huts have their own webpage but people blog about their experiences. Balancing a blog against an official website can give you both sides of the coin.
You can also phone ahead to many alpine huts. This gives the advantage of a human link. You can get answers to specific questions that may not be addressed on the website. Hut staff are also some of the best people to ask about local conditions. They will normally know not only about the local weather but conditions on the trails and routes. You can also make a reservation: great for peace of mind – you will be expected and there’s a bed with your name on it!
Does it have a Reputation?
This final question is probably best answered by word of mouth, though blogs can also be useful. In Europe, head for the Bureau de Haute Montagne (literally, Office of High Mountains) or equivalent; most alpine communities of any size have one. These tend to be well-staffed by folk with extensive local knowledge and the same love of the mountains as you. You’ll also find lots of like-minded types in these places so it’s a goldmine for info share. In North America alpine clubs and/or Tourist Information offer comparable info hubs.
Other places to think about for word of mouth info are local campsites, outdoor providers (though they may be partisan) and of course, bars and cafés. Simply being chatty, asking questions and following word of mouth recommendations can lead some great adventures and may aid in the discovery of mountain hut gems!
By Mark Brightwell