A winter trip up Skinner Lane

Mark & Nicole just outside Skinner Hut
Mark & Nicole just outside Skinner Hut

Ahh Skinner. One of the 10th Mountain Division Huts, Skinner Hut sits atop a ridge line that mocks you mercilessly. Why we chose to do this hut every year still escapes me (oh wait, it’s because we’re too unorganized to book any other hut before they sell out).

This year was no exception. I chose to telemark this trip, even though I own no tele gear and have never made a tele turn in my whole entire life. Yet a brand new pair of boots from Larry the Boot Fitter (the BEST!) and donated fatty skis/skins later – I was tele’ing my way up that tortous route.

Our crew this year involved myself, my husband Mark Florence, Shannon Helton, Todd Duncan, Max Mackey, Daryl Braga, Eddie & Katie Konold. It’s a great group – every one of us have either guided at some time in our life or are very capable in the backcountry. And thanks to Daryl’s 200lb first aid kit (he’s a newly minted nurse, or shall I say murse), we knew we were in safe hands should something go awry.

Our trek in was spectacular, if not hot.  We got up on time, ate on time, left on time.  It was 50 degrees on our trek in, we were wearing nothing but long sleeve shirts and ski pants, and I honestly wish I had on shorts.  It hadn’t snowed in what felt like a season, so the ground was packed ice.  I’m always amazed at how well skins stick!  We skied the next day briefly, but the snow sucked so we cut it short.  However, never tempt grandpa winter – because it proceeded to start snowing that night and didn’t stop until we left almost 3 days later.  Our 3rd day there, everyone began to go a bit stir crazy and decided to tempt fate and check out the skiing.  Even though it was text book avalanche conditions, it was worth investigating.  And investigate we did, over and over and over again (well, they did.  I didn’t.  I chickened out because was on tele skis for the first time ever and hate tree skiing).  The snow was creamy and dreamy without a hint of avalanche danger.  That night I rewarded everyone with freshly sauted fajitas and we spent the night laughing and drinkin and talking.  We skied out on the 4th day, after having 2 nights of the hut to ourselves.  The storm was fizzling but was trapped in the mountains there, so the weather would turn from sunny, to windy, to snowing, back to sunny again.  We took a few more runs on our favorite spot, which was some of the most fun skiing I’ve EVER done.  3 days of snow without another soul up there made for fantastic turns!  And the ski out was glorious, I might even go so far as to say relaxing.

The FSS Crew
The FSS Crew

Anyway, I write this post less because I want to share my experiences with you (no cell phones, no TV, no showers, no flush toilets) and more because I want to make sure that those who follow us know how to tackle the mount with prepared, full force.


Definitely park near the damn at Turquoise Lake, and take the road that travels on the south side of the lake.  Do not take the northern route around the lake.  It’s farther, hillier, and less scenic.  You’ll skin up right from your car about 5 miles of mild incline to the high point in the road.  You’ll know it’s the high point because the road will fork – one way (not recommended unless you stupidly plan on dragging a sled) is up and to the left, and the other way is down and in front of you.  In my opinion, head down and straight.  Take your skins off, and ski the 2 miles down from the fork all the way to the Timberline trailhead. When you reach the trailhead, sit down, take a load off for about 15 minutes and refuel.  You’re over half way, but the rest of the time is pretty grueling.  When you feel sufficiently rejuvenated, put your skins on and begin the seige.  The first part of the trail will switchback across the mountain through a fairly dense forest.  Its the longest hill, but not the steepest.  When the trail starts to mellow out, you’ll find yourself in a lovely pine glades .  The terrain will slowly transform from glades to a pretty flat meadow, and eventually it will be so flat you’ll feel like you’re crossing a lake.  Take in the scenery, you’re surrounded by the continental divide.  At the other side of the flat meadow, you’ll start gently ascending again.  You’ll climb through the trees and encounter a couple of ultra-steep sections where my skins didn’t stick.  You’ll end up traversing underneath a cliff band, and here the trail will mellow out for a short period of time again.  This is one of my favorite parts of the trail.  You’ll cross one last meadow before heading straight up again.  You know you’re getting close to the end when you see the big avalanche shoot (and ski dreaminess) off to your right.  You’re protected in the trees, but still take caution as you cross.  When you reach the top of this last hill (my least favorite section because it’s straight up with very tight switchbacks – you’ll get practice making kick turns here), you have about 1/4 – 1/2 mile left to the hut.  Happily, its pretty much flat from here!

Checking out the cornices
Checking out the cornices

The trail is perfectly marked, so follow the yellow diamonds and you’re all set.  And if you find you need to bivouac, there are plenty of places to do so.

In my opinion, here are the necessities of what to bring:

  • fatty skis (snow shoes are not acceptable unless you want to trek for 12+ hours)
  • skins
  • poles
  • avalanche beacon, snow shovel, snow probe (and extra set of batteries for the avi beacon)
  • kick wax, the right temp for the snow of that weekend (you’ll want this for your trek out.  you’ll ski down to the road, skin up to the top of the road, then kick wax out.  Optimal amount of sking, skinning, and gliding!)
  • pillow case (unless you want lice or will be bringing your own pillow)
  • sleeping bag
  • If you have to bivouac overnight on the side of the mountain (many, MANY people have), these items will be your best friend and could ensure your survival:  stove, pot, lighter (for melting water), sleeping mat, extra set of batteries, and extra food
  • Map, compass (duh)
  • Headlamp with fresh batteries
  • Camera!  It’s georgous!
  • duct tape, and tons of it.
  • All your meals.  BOOZE!  Don’t skimp on this one!  It’s heavy but oh so worth it.  I recommend liquor with some kick that you can drink straight (tequila, burbon, etc)
  • water bottles or bladder
  • slippers with rubber sole to wear to the outhouse and walk around the cabin.  This is a must.
  • Also, you’ll be a hero if you bring desert.  Cookies, cinnamon roles, etc, anything sweet and hot after a day of skiing kicks ass!
  • ear plugs to block out the incessant snoring of the guy sleeping next to you
fresh tracks
fresh tracks

I’m sure I’m forgetting something but I can’t remember.  The hut is well stocked with cooking and eating utensils.  It has 2 wood burning stoves (one for heat, one for cooking).  You can melt snow for water.  As an aside, don’t turn the hut into a sauna!  Every time we’re there, some yayhoo has the wood burning stove blasting heat.  The wood is expensive to harvest, carry, and stock.  It’s unecessary to burn it that hot!  Put a sweater on for hell’s sake.

If you go, let me know how it turns out!  It’s a great trip.  You’ll push your limits while experiencing some of the greatest terrain that few will ever see in their lives.

Thanks Skinner!

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