It was just another day in the backcountry for Breckenridge resident Courtlandt Pennell and his wife Anne as they skinned their way up the Sallie Barber trail to the northern side of Baldy Mountain in Breckenridge. He’d been skiing in the area for the past six years, but this trip afforded a view of an addition to the terrain: the brand-new Sisters Cabin, the newest lodging option in the Summit Huts Association (SHA).
It’s easy to spot Baldy Mountain from town; it’s a popular location for backcountry skiers. Look to the north of the exposed face and there are some spotty trees that Pennell said are really good, steep tree skiing. Keep heading north and you’ll find Sisters Cabin, tucked away in Weber Gulch, not visible from town. The journey up winds through the woods, but the meadow in which it sits is sunnier than expected.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful cabin built into the hillside, in this basin clearing that has a lot of trees,” Pennell said. “There are some good ski lines up there…it’s a gorgeous spot.”
Sisters Cabin will officially welcome its first guests on Saturday, January 12 (reservations open on Monday, January 7, at 8 a.m.), but that hasn’t stopped a few curious folks from making the almost four-mile trek to 11,445 feet in Weber Gulch to take a gander. There are more than three dozen backcountry huts in Colorado (most of which are administered by the 10th Mountain Huts Association), but this is the SHA’s first new hut in 20 years, joining Francie’s Cabin, Janet’s Cabin, the Section House, and Ken’s Cabin.
A spacious 2,200 square feet, Sisters Cabin is a winter-only hut that sleeps 14 people with both single and bunk beds; there are couches for lounging and a kitchen equipped with sink, stove, and basics for cooking. Two indoor bathrooms make this a more luxurious stay than other backcountry huts in the SHA system, as does the wood-fired sauna; the views of the Ten Mile and Gore ranges aren’t too shabby, either.
“The cabin is more intimate than Janet’s or Francie’s,” says Mike Zobbe, executive director of SHA. “The way it’s built is with a more modern building style, as opposed to logs. Feels more modern, but it also a very warm and woodsy feel to it with all the beetle kill tongue-and-groove, high ceilings and exposed timbers.”
But even with the luxuries like inside toilets and a sauna, the fun parts of a winter hut trip are still necessary: boiling snow for water, packing in gear like sleeping bags and food, building a fire and making your own meals (plus clean-up).
“But yeah, we love our saunas,” Zobbe says. “There was no doubt that it was going to have a sauna.”
Building in the mountains is never a walk in national forestland, and the construction of Sisters Cabin had its share of challenges. Located in a remote area with no access roads for large vehicles, construction materials were either flown in by helicopter or towed in on an ATV with a 50-foot trailer. The early season snow that blanketed Breckenridge didn’t help, either. However, the crew from Turner Mountain Construction, along with the dedication of SHA staff and board members, completed the hut in six months, an incredible feat.
Though construction took six months, Sisters Cabin has been in the works for more than a decade. “It’s exciting—it’s the fruition of a dream that has been 12 years in the making,” Zobbe says. “It’s just this Herculean effort for a small nonprofit like Summit Huts.”
Zobbe is the only full-time SHA employee; part-time employee and managing director Hannah Taylor died in a trail-running accident this past summer. Breckenridge architect and former president of the board Robbie Dickson designed the hut; Turner Mountain Construction, owned by longtime SHA volunteers Jill and Merle Turner, was the general contractor. A $1 million donation from Don and Sue Sturm and their Denver-based Sturm Family Foundation also made the hut possible. The name, Sisters Cabin, celebrates the close bonds that backcountry skiing and adventure have played amongst Sue, her friends, and family. Zobbe also credits the members of the board of directors and “zillions” of volunteers.
“It’s been a grassroots effort,” Zobbe says. “It’s humbling and also makes you gratified that we have a community of people who pulled together to make this happen. There’s no way the staff could have done it alone.”
If you go: Guests can access Sisters Cabin from French Gulch via Sallie Barber Road. A new overnight parking lot was built to accommodate cabin visitors. Reaching the hut requires a 3.9-mile ascent on skis, split boards, or snowshoes, gaining 1,300 vertical feet. The per-person nightly rate for Sisters Cabin’s inaugural season is $50. To book a spot on or after January 7, go to olb.huts.org or call 970-925-5775.