Like most every American visiting the Alps for the first time, I simply could not believe the Swiss hut system.
“Let me get this straight… I don’t have to carry a tent, sleeping bag, stove, pots, food, etc…?”
“That doesn’t leave much to carry.”
This is usually followed by a slow transition into “day packs” for “multi-day” tours. After a trip or two it’s all sorted out, or, sorted and left behind. A 30 liter pack will be plenty big enough for a week long tour through the mountains.
But it’s not just about convenience. Behind the mountains themselves the huts are the very foundation of the Alps experience. Sure they are a place to sleep, to eat, to take shelter, to bivouac in, and to enjoy with friends. But they offer something more; opportunity and potential.
For the mountain sport enthusiast or hiker, they are going to offer you the ability to move light through the mountains, to not have to think about what you take, just what you’ll do. Camping and tents can be great, no doubt, but I have yet to see anyone bummed about not carrying a heavy pack up massive passes. And then there are the trail running opportunities… imagine what you could do in the mountains if you always had aid stations.
But now that I live in the Alps, another form of opportunity has come up in the form of what the huts mean to me. I remember when I first started visiting the huts and would often notice locals coming up to visit their friends at work. They’d bring a newspaper, something fresh to eat, and maybe some important delivery. But it was the scene in the kitchens that stayed with me. There the friends would gather in the realm of the hut keeper and share stories and laughs over a glass or three of the local schnapps. I envied this component of the Alp’s mountain culture and tried to imagine being so familiar with this place that I too could be a part of it, not just a visitor.
We use the Swiss hut system for spring ski tours, then all summer and fall, spending about 30 nights a year in them. Back before we lived in the Alps, we literally stayed in the huts all summer, it was cheaper than anything else, and we got to be in the mountains. They are open for everyone and are the key piece of any Alps tour, be it hiking, trail running, ski touring, biking, or alpine climbing trips. The Swiss Alpine Club manages most of the primary huts through Switzerland while the SwissTopo site shows all the huts on their maps.
Now, after 16 years in the Alps, I’ve been honored with more than a few schnapps in the kitchens. But better still, I have made some great friends at the huts, and even volunteered at the Lobhorn Hut. It all came together a couple of weeks ago as I skinned through deep snow through the forest, with a large print strapped on my back – destination… hut delivery, a gift for the wardens.
Swiss Hut System Tips & Etiquette
- Book reservations ahead of time
- Do not wear your shoes in the hut – look for the hut shoe rack and neatly put your own on the shelf.
- Listen to the hut keepers instructions – they will give you a tour of the hut.
- Do not make a mess, keep all your gear in your pack, or what needs to dry on the hooks in your room. Keep track of your gear, a lot of people may arrive and things get chaotic.
- Do not take any climbing or ski gear to your room.
- Do not snore! But do take earplugs in case someone else does.
- If you are a vegetarian, tell them when you call for reservations, or immediately upon arrival.
- Be neat, clean, quiet and respectful of others – all the things you have heard about Switzerland get magnified in the huts. Be warned…
- Carry hand sanitizer. Huts are probably not the cleanest places and there is no soap available.
- Do not crinkle plastic bags – especially if I’m at the hut, it’s my pet peeve!
- Pay with cash.
- Consider carrying an external battery to charge your devices, don’t rely on the huts to provide charging.
- If you have the chance – take the hut keeper a fresh piece of fruit. Or, after dinner, volunteer to help with the dishes (this is your chance for that schnapps).
By Dan Patitucci