Mountain Huts and the European Mountain Culture
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest pleasures of living in the European mountains is the huts. Anyone that follows this site, or our Twitter feed, has seen a trend; the use of huts and all the amazing experiences that they allow.
I am still not so sure Americans understand the concept. From people seeking info on the Dolomites, I am continually asked via email, “Do we need to bring sleeping bags, tents, food?”
The answer is an emphatic, “NO!”
The European huts are basically hotels in the mountains. Depending on just where they are located, they only vary from comfortable to extremely comfortable. In the higher alpine zones of Switzerland and France they are more basic, and food and water a bit more pricey thanks to having to be delivered via helicopter. But still, they are staffed to provide a four course dinner, beer & wine, breakfast and a bed complete with blankets. You need not carry anything unless you prefer your own silk sleeping sack. In other words, your backpack will be tiny and very light. You can purchase day food at the huts as well, typically chocolates, cookies, and occasionally a sandwich. You are very much in the “backcountry” but you are staying in staffed huts.
In the lower elevation mountains, like the Dolomites, most huts are literally hotels complete with power, espresso machines, full bars, restaurants, private rooms with baths, and so on. You should do a little research to see what the huts offer on your itinerary as not all are so complete, but most are. The private rooms being the one missing element of some huts.
More than being refuges for mountain excursions (backcountry skiing, hiking, climbing, etc…), they are a social element of the European mountain culture. It is entirely normal to hear of a party at a hut, or friends simply planning an overnight so as to enjoy a massive meal, or a dance party, or a fullmoon outing, or just a dinner out that requires an approach.
In the Alta Badia there is a hut that has Wednesday night dance parties all winter. A one hour ski tour gets you there, then change the clothes, eat a pizza and get on the dance floor in your F1’s. Ski out at 3 a.m. Fun. Or, in the summer, mountain bike all day in the Dolomites, watch the sun set from a hut deck while drinking a wheat beer, enjoy five courses of Italian goodness, then descend on out under headlamps on trails. For the winter version, replace mountain bike with skis.
Huts may not be for everybody, and of course they can be avoided altogether. Occasionally I do miss sleeping beneath the stars, but that option is always available.
Being an American I am still in awe of this system, it simply works, it brings people together, and it bonds the mountain culture that runs deep in the society. Perhaps the huts are what allow for such a rich culture of mountain people in Europe, such a vast base of people who visit the mountains. The huts make it easy to go to the mountains, and they allow for an entirely unique experience of socializing.
Would the mountain huts work in the US?
Or first, we Americans must ask ourselves if the huts would ever be allowed to exist in the US? Do you want huts in the mountains of America? Sound off with our Comments. Thanks.