The Birth of Vermont’s Hut Network
By Bart Beeson
Photos courtesy of Vermont Huts Association
Go exploring then relax in comfort
On a typical winter day at the Chittenden Brook Hut in the Green Mountain National Forest, you’ll find rows of skis and splitboards leaning up against the deck railing. Inside, the current guests will be enjoying the warmth from the propane stove after a long day of skiing in the nearby backcountry zones of Brandon Gap. The attention to detail in the cabin design is obvious: mountain profiles on the back of one of the benches, a poured concrete countertop for the cooking area with a slick mountain profile backsplash, and a cozy reading nook that doubles as a sleeping cove for two. With the babbling of the nearby brook, it’s hard to imagine a more idyllic location for a winter getaway.
Creating a Hut Network
The Chittenden Hut is the first completed project of the Vermont Huts Association, or VT Huts, which began in 2016 when a group of folks from various organizations got together to talk about creating a statewide hut network. Representatives from the Catamount Trail Organization, the Vermont Backcountry Alliance, the Green Mountain Club, and the Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance, as well as several other individuals, discussed whether existing organizations could take on the task of developing a network or if it should be run by a separate group. “We needed an organization that could be agile and operate in four seasons,” says VT Huts Executive Director R.J. Thompson. “So Devin Littlefield and I formed the nonprofit that year and pretty much hit the ground running.”
The central goal of VT Huts is to create an end-to-end style experience in Vermont for skiers, bikers, and hikers. To that end, they are also working closely with numerous mountain biking chapters to create the Velemont Trail, which would connect towns, villages, and trail systems across the state for a hut-to-hut riding and skiing experience.
Since forming in 2016, VT Huts has come a long way. They currently promote eight huts, including the Nulhegan Hut, the Crow’s Nest Yurt, the Triple Creek Cabin, and the Chittenden Brook Hut, all of which can be booked through their website. For the building of the Chittenden Brook Hut, they partnered with Yestermorrow, a Waitsfield-based building and designing school. Much of the work on the exterior deck and railing, as well as interior work, was done by volunteers. R.J. says that one of his favorite parts of the whole endeavor has been the volunteer response. “They’re super motivated and with minimal call to action on our end they tend to show up in good numbers.” He cites the winter of 2018 as an example, when volunteers showed up despite blizzards and made it up the two-mile access road to Chittenden Brook to finish the hut.
Rising to Meet Challenges
The effort has not been without its challenges, and even some intrigue. In 2017, the Trust for Public Land purchased a house that was to be the crown jewel of the hut system. Says R.J., “It was a beautiful log home and we were going to retrofit it with a few modifications to make it accessible according to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and turn it into a hut. Two nights before we were scheduled to do an overnight to feel out the situation and better understand what needed to be done there, I got a call that someone torched it.” No charges were ever filed for what was determined to be arson. According to R.J., they hope to rebuild something in the vicinity of the old cabin if the land is eventually transferred to the Green Mountain National Forest.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges as well. In response, the association has instituted various measures to ensure the health and safety of their guests. All reservations are for the entire hut, and guests are required to fill out a digital health survey on the day of their arrival to make sure no guests are symptomatic. Check-in and check-out times have been modified to allow more of a buffer between guest stays. VT Huts tries to adequately stock its huts with hand sanitizer, cleaning agents, and disposable gloves but encourages guests to bring their own supplies as well. Finally, full refunds are given for any reservation canceled due to COVID-19 illness, including those canceled by VT Huts due to future government or self-imposed shutdowns.
As for the future of VT Huts, R.J. says they hope that eventually the network will be statewide, stretching from the northern border with Canada to the Massachusetts border in the south. He adds that he’d like to have huts in most counties in the state, expanding to the east and west as well, so that it’s not just a linear network. “I would hope that we truly can offer a bikepacking experience with the huts, allowing that opportunity to tie into rural communities and provide the users of the trail with the huts experience in the backcountry and a taste of Vermont’s towns as they navigate through the network.”