A series of snow huts south of Mount Rainier near Ashford offer just such a place. The huts, which are maintained and managed by Mount Tahoma Trail Association volunteers and others, are an affordable way to stay in the backcountry in winter. The huts are also open during the day to anyone.
The Mount Tahoma trail and hut system has about 50 miles of trail, 20 of it groomed, three huts and a yurt. There are four different places to stay.
The trail system is divided by the Nisqually River, and this hut is the only one to the north of the river. It's four miles from the snowpark on a groomed and patrolled trail. Using the trail is free. This hut is the most popular and easily accessible. Families with small children often use this hut. Sleeps 14.
This, and the other two sites, are south of the Nisqually River. It's located on a high ridge with 360 degree views. To the north, you see Mount Rainier and to the south you look into the crater of Mount St. Helens. You can also see the Olympics and a glimpse of Mount Adams on a clear day.
"The sunsets are just world-class views from here," said Gene Glasunow, a volunteer ski patroller with the trail association since 1998. It's a 4-mile ski from the snow park. It's a good climb, with about 1,700 feet of elevation gain. Sleeps 8.
This is the newest hut, it was constructed just two years ago. This hut is also on a ridge. To one side there's a line of trees and to the other the view opens out to a valley. Glasunow says the stargazing is especially good at Snow Bowl. It also offers a stellar view of Mount Rainier. It's about a four mile ski from the snow park. Sleeps 14.
The Yurt is a two-story structure. There's a basement area and the main floor of the yurt is raised to stay above the snow. The snow slides off the sloped roof and is pushed away to keep the structure accessible. It sits in a bowl at the base of Griffin Mountain. While it doesn't offer expansive views, it is in a beautiful area and is the most remote of all of the structures. It's about 2 1/2 miles beyond Snow Bowl. Sleeps six.
How to stay
The huts and trails are open to anyone during the day (you'll need a Sno Park permit to park). After 7 p.m., you'll need a permit for the huts. Most weekend spots fill up far in advance, but there are plenty of spots during the week.
To get a permit, go to www.skimtta.com. Permits are $15 per person, per night. You can also call Whittaker Mountaineering in Ashford, 800-238-5756, to check availability. The MTTA trail office is staffed by volunteers from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays; call 360-569-2451.
The association is on Facebook, www.facebook.com/groups/MountTahomaTrails, and Twitter, https://twitter.com/skimtta. They post information on trail conditions and weekend openings.
Amenities: Each site has heat, an outhouse, a complete kitchen, including utensils, a table and chairs; lighting, pots to melt snow and a filter to treat the water. All you need is a sleeping bag, clothes, food and any emergency gear you want for the trip to and from the hut.
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