Are you looking for an unusual ski trip, or perhaps even just a departure from the normal for your next vacation? Have you been looking at wild escapes to central Asia or guided ski trips to Afghanistan in an effort to break the droning inside your head from endless traffic jams, office politics and vapid sports discussions around the water cooler? I bet you have been. “Adventure travel” is all the rage – and the more far out, the better. If its dangerous enough that your loved ones will beg you not to go – even better.
I see two problems with these kinds of trips. Speaking from personal experience, they are firstly, often kind of a pain in the ass as far as execution goes. Having to pay bribe money to a cop standing on the side of a (dirt) highway every thirty km or so in order to pass on the way to Karakol, Kyrgyzstan, and being withheld by the same at the airport for two days until I ponied up $500 are two particularly memorable examples. Additionally, the infrastructure sucks, sometimes it really isn’t that safe, and travel is often long, and uncomfortable. Secondly – despite the fact that on these adventure trips, (you are often roughing it in every sense of the word,) they tend to be really expensive. Your mileage my vary, but heli-trip expensive is not uncommon and even more. (I’m looking at you ice-axe expeditions.)
What if I told you, then, that there was a way to get truly away from it all, have a unique vacation experience with a deep connection to the land and the locals, and that it was inexpensive, cheap even, and that it was safe, clean, cozy, and – everything – from the travel to the wifi network – works and runs on-time? Plus – the skiing and the selfie-backdrops are second to none and there is zero chance of armed conflict – unless you consider billy goats to be weapons of mass destruction. (which I most certainly do)
You can have this in the Alpine Club Hut System in Central Europe. The Alps are famous the world over for their beauty and their skiing and ski-touring. In addition to the unbelievable (for North Americans) access, these mountains are figuratively lousy with alpine huts, both big and small, most public and many with personnel and service akin to a hotel or bed and breakfast in the United States.
These are a great resource – and its the reason multi-day ski tours in Europe can easily be done with a ten-liter pack. These huts have everything you need, beds, blankets and food, (lots of food) so you don’t have to carry a thing. This is no secret – but did you know that there are other options as well? Dozens of huts are also available to private parties, and you can book them for between four and twenty-five Euros a day! You read that right. Some of these huts, weather deep in the alpine, or just meters off the trail head – located in the middle of some of the best touring in the world – can be had for you and your friends for less than a night at Taco Tuesday.
The huts available run the gamut from spartan to cozy, and most all have blankets, cooking facilities and utensils, and heating, along with fuel for that heater. Some are small, with space for four people or fewer, and some with space for yourself and all your Fakebook friends. You must book them in advance, however, and you must pick up keys before going. Upon finding your way to your accommodation, you’ll need to open it, make beds and fire up the heater, and possibly dig a path to an outhouse – that’s it. Home sweet wilderness home. Wake up late – tour right out the door through the most beautiful mountains the world has to offer, and return to cook, and eat, all that great stuff you bought at the shops in the village in the valley on the way up.
It goes without saying that while you are welcome to make like a German and play animated rounds of Schafkopf while drinking pear or raspberry schnapps – you should leave the hut cleaner than you found it, in good repair, and buttoned up against the elements. Should anything have gone broken, be sure to report it to the club when you return the keys.
What follows are some recommendations of mine, plus a link to the German Alpine Club’s listing of huts for rent. Note: many of these huts are actually in Austria or Italy and there are other sites where you can easily rent huts in a similar fashion from the Swiss Mountain Club, The Austrian Alpine Club, or the Italian Alpine Club as well. I’ve also included a link which explains the process of booking….but it’s straightforward. Keep in mind also that to rent most of these huts – you’ll need to be an alpine club member – but this is about 100 Euros for a year (sometimes less) and the German and Austrian Alpine Clubs recognize each other’s memberships – so a member at one is (mostly) a member at the other and can book huts, get discounts on lodging and food at serviced huts, and can even take part in hundreds of guided tours and training courses that run the gamut from “Alpine Horticulture” to “Zen Meditation on Skis” – (as well as courses of a more serious nature, ala Avalanche Safety etc – many of which are offered in English too!) Your membership not only opens all that up to you – it pays for the maintenance of the huts, trails, and course offerings as well as supporting the DAV in its efforts to preserve and protect this beautiful range and the culture it has spawned.
If you have any questions about any of this, or would like some tips – just comment! I’ll help!
The huts available in the DAV (German Alpine Club) System, with the possibility to book. (In German, but Google can translate for you) https://www.davplus.de/selbstversorgerhuetten
A good overview of what membership in the DAV (German Alpine Club) gets you in English: http://www.bergfreunde-muenchen.de/dav/dav-alg_e.htm