A sentimental ski to a special backcountry hut | SteamboatToday.com

A sentimental ski to a special backcountry hut

Nancy Kramer, left, and Deb Proper, of Steamboat Springs made their last trip to the Tenth Mountain Division Hut north of Leadville in January after 30 years of backcountry hut trips. The flag is symbolic of Kramer's father, Bill Robertson's, service in Italy in World War II as a medic in the Tenth Mountain Division.

— It's never easy to give up the traditions we've shared with friends for decades. But two Steamboat Springs women who have made annual treks into one of the remote log lodges in the Tenth Mountain Division Hut system, called it a hut trip career in January.

Nancy Kramer and Deb Proper made one last trip to the Tenth Mountain Division Hut itself, one of 34 large "huts" managed by the nonprofit of the same name and linked by 350 miles of recommended trails.

Proper recalled this week that her first hut trip was a 1984 expedition to the Fowler Hilliard hut, which is reached from the top of Tennessee Pass between Minturn and Leadville, as is the Tenth Mountain Hut. She poked fun at herself, describing how backcountry skiing equipment and clothing have changed significantly in the 33 years since her first expedition.

"I was wearing wool knickers with wool knee socks and skied on skinny Fischer (skis) with (climbing) skins on them," she said.

For Kramer, every rugged ski into a Tenth Mountain Division hut in the Colorado Rockies is a sentimental journey. Her father, Bill Robertson, served as a medic in the Tenth Mountain Division during World War II, and she has carried a white flag emblazoned with a red cross, symbolizing her father's service, to many huts in the system.

"When I realize how many trips I have done, and not all with the flag, it makes for such a memorable part of my life," Kramer said in an email. "It is such a sentimental experience, and then, to see the young folks enjoy their skiing and engage in and understand the legacy of the Tenth Mountain is so cool. What a hoot it is to be on a hut trip with Deb."

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Proper’s last trip was with her husband, Ken, and a gang of friends.

Hut trips are serous backcountry ski expeditions, calling for a seasoned leader with strong route finding and avalanche safety skills.

"You have to be prepared to sleep out (in the woods), because people do," she said. "It's fun, but it's serious fun."

Proper doesn't describe herself as an advanced backcountry skier, but she has determination on her side and made the slog to the hut last month without any physical training.

"I should say that I'm not an athlete, go shred it through the trees person," she acknowledged. "I just do it. I'm a mule. I can put up with quite a bit of pain. I coined the phrase, "hut potato."

She's happy spending much of a winter day in the high country, reading by a window in the hut.

One of the universal traditions of hut trips involves humping ridiculous amounts of fresh food and drink to the final destination, in excess of 11,000 feet. And one of the charms of the huts is the opportunity to prepare a fresh meal on a wood-burning stove.

This past trip, Kramer, a professional baker in another lifetime, baked fresh bread, and Proper has been known to prepare fresh lasagna and Caesar salad. Her other trademark is bringing along a tube of red lipstick to be shared with all the women on the trip so they can look elegant in their evening wear.

On the last trip, the sixty-somethings were joined by an energetic pack of young adults, making the occasion more sentimental.

"This year, the kids picked the hut with us in mind," Proper said. "I'm so glad we could pass this along to our children."

After all, isn't that why we live in the Colorado Rockies?

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

Try a starter hut trip

Routt County residents who are intrigued by the prospect of a Tenth Mountain hut trip, but would prefer a starter hut trip, closer to home, might consider reserving one of seven yurts and two huts in the Colorado Parks State Forest near Gould and Cameron Pass east of Steamboat Springs.

The ski-in distances and vertical climbs required to reach the yurts are much less taxing, with trails varying from .2 to 3 miles and from 120 feet to 670 feet in vertical gain.

Reservations are managed by neversumernordic.com.