We in Salt Lake are blessed with countless options for ski and snowshoe outings that you can complete in a day and then return home for a nice hot meal (or, in my case, the nearest Mexican restaurant for mole and margaritas). But sometimes, multi-day outings are in order. The only thing better than a day in the snow is back-to-back days in it, uninterrupted by work, life problems, or the pull of the internet.
That’s where yurts come in. These cozy huts are available for rent within easy reach of Salt Lake, and if you plan your trip now for mid-winter, snow coverage should be solid enough for excellent ski touring, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. It’s the perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of a typical Wasatch weekend.
Yurts usually need to be rented weeks or months in advance if you have specific dates in mind. If you split the cost among a group of friends, it ends up being very inexpensive fun. Most yurts come stocked with firewood, bunkbeds, and cooking supplies, so all you need to do is pack in your food, drinks, and sleeping bags. With that in mind, it's easy to round up a gang of beloved buddies, pack some nutrient-dense foods, and pour your adult beverage of choice into a Nalgene. Then get outta town to these superb yurts.
1. Big Water Yurt, Millcreek Canyon
Many folks in Salt Lake have no idea there’s a lovely yurt available for overnight stays just a few minutes outside town. But if you drive five miles up Millcreek Canyon to the winter gate, then snowshoe, skin, or cross-country ski the remaining 4.5 miles to the top of the canyon, you’ll arrive at a 20-foot-diameter yurt that can comfortably sleep up to eight people. The area surrounding the yurt is prime terrain for ski touring and exploration. (Many backcountry skiers are deterred from touring in Millcreek Canyon because of the long approaches. But if you’re staying at the yurt, you’ve already covered a lot of the distance).
2. Bear River Outdoor Recreation Alliance (BRORA) Uinta Yurts
Many Salt Lakers stay out of the Uinta mountains after the Mirror Lake highway closes for the winter, but intrepid backcountry enthusiasts know you can still access the BRORA yurt system via the Evanston, Wyoming side of the mountain range. Within just a couple of hours of leaving home, you can reach the North Slope Trailhead. Five yurts lay in the hills ahead at varying distances, with a variety of skiable terrain types surrounding them. The one constant: stunning views of vast swaths of untouched snow.
3. Powder Ridge Ski Touring Yurts, Logan Canyon
Logan Canyon lies a couple hours north of Salt Lake, nestled between Cache Valley and Bear Lake. It’s home to Beaver Mountain Ski Area—and a couple of great backcountry huts. The Bunchgrass and Stream Mill yurts both can accommodate up to six people. Both huts are surrounded by friendly terrain filled with aspen groves and open glades. Keep things mellow and stay in the gentle terrain around the huts, or ascend to the higher ridgelines above for a little more adventure.
4. Tag-A-Long Adventures’ Huts, La Sal Mountains
Spend a little time in the La Sals and you just might be ordering a Ski Moab T-shirt, unexpected as it is. This high-elevation range towering over Southern Utah’s redrocks are a veritable powder haven. Tag-A-Long Adventures operates a few huts lying at varying distances from the road. For an extra charge, they’ll even give you a snowcat ride to the hut. Whether you hitch a ride or cover the mileage yourself, these huts offer primo ski and snowshoe terrain. Mount Tomasaki in particular offers a wide variety of terrain suitable for all skill levels, from beginner backcountry skiers to experts.
5. Sun Valley Trekking’s Sawtooth Hut System
The Sawtooth Mountains, located several hours north of Salt Lake, offer jaw-dropping views and near-endless skiable terrain that varies mostly from intermediate to advanced. The Bench Hut and Fishhook Hut in particular are fairly easy to access (although a guide is required for first-time visitors) and make an ideal basecamp for adventuring through these dramatic, aptly-named mountains. It’s best to drive up and spend the night in Stanley or Sun Valley the day before your trip starts, then meet your guide the next morning for the trek to the huts.
If it’s your first time yurting, you’ll probably have so much fun that it won’t be your last. Here are a few insider tips to make your stay smooth:
- Dragging heavy food on a sled can be a godsend to lighten your backpack
- No, it’s impossible to bring too much whiskey
- Yes, you’ll eat all that cheese
- If you spent eight hours exercising that day, yes, dehydrated soup mixes will taste deluxe
- Get up to speed on local avalanche conditions, either through the local Avalanche Center or with this guide
- Stay safe: bring a first aid kit, watch out for each other, don’t succumb to a herd mentality when it comes to avalanche safety, and do consider bringing a Spot locator beacon to summon help if anything goes seriously wrong
Hut trips provide an experience that brings friends together and keeps the collective group grounded peacefully in the present. Everyone pitches in on cooking, tidying, feeding the fire, and keeping a sharp eye on snow safety. The environment is conducive to board games, deep post-ski snoozes, whiskey snowball cocktails, contagious fits of laughter, and lifelong friendships. Proceed at risk of spending every future summer planning next winter’s yurt trips.