Photo credit: Kevin Banker Cinefoto
Trip Up to The Polar Star Hut With Team VELA Apparel
About Polar Star Hut
Built in 1987 by John Seipel, The Polar Star Hut is a really beautiful cabin in the 10th Mountain Division Huts. The hut sits on the Northwest slope of New York Mountain, which can be seen above Edwards when you’re driving on I-70. A big group of 18 friends all made the trip up for a two night stay this past week. It was perfect conditions for skiing and gorgeous weather. Overall, the trip couldn’t have gone any better.
The Polar Star Hut is in a very interesting location geographically. New York Mountain marks the northwest end of the Sawatch Range. The Sawatch contains 15 of Colorado’s 53 “fourteener” mountains – mountains with peaks over 14,000ft in elevation. At the New York Mountain ridge, you can see how dramatically the mountains to the Southeast change to craggy peaks.
There’s a number of ways to get to this hut. We took a particular route as there were two snowmobiles. The road that was best tracked out for the sleds was up Nolan Creek Road or 418. This is definitely not the shortest route and the distance totals to about nine miles. From Nolan Creek Road there are a couple of shortcuts to the hut, like Nolan Lake Road and New York Mountain Road. But all the skinners in our group just stayed on Nolan Creek Road. The road was more clear and a little easier to navigate. Plus, if anything happened anyone, the snowmobiles could easily get to them.
The road is a pretty easy climb. From the parking lot, the road does long zigzags on a gradual incline. After about five miles, you pass by the town of Fulford. It’s mind-blowing that people live up there year around. Soon after Fulford, the road clears the last ridge before New York Mountain. From there, it’s another slog to the finish line. Polar Star Hut lies just below tree line on New York Mountain.
Other routes include Old Fulford Road and Lake Creek Road. However, the hut system warns against the Lake Creek trail as it is apparently not well marked and does not get used often. Distance-wise, these routes would have been a little easier to handle on skins or snowshoes. If you aren’t concerned with sticking with snowmobiles like we were, I would definitely not recommend taking 418/Nolan Creek Road the entire time like we did, as it’s the longest of all the routes.
Photos From Day 1
Polar Star Inn definitely ranks at the top of the huts in the 10th Mountain Hut system in terms of quality. First, it’s got a great kitchen, and open dining and social area. This makes it really easy to heat and to have big group meals. Second, there’s a sauna. Yes, you read correctly. There’s a sauna. It’s a separate building just a dozen meters from the back door of the hut. It’s a smallish room with a wood-burning. It takes about two hours to heat up and once it’s hot, it’s glorious after a day of hard skinning and skiing. Lastly, there’s really amazing backcountry skiing available right out the door. There’s very easy access to New York Mountain and lost of great tree skiing.
Of course, there’s plenty of other amazing amenities, but those really stood out for me. Some other very nice conveniences are bathrooms that are attached to the main building and running water. You’ll find other huts that require a short walk to an outhouse, and in the winter this can be no fun. Also, other huts (especially in the winter) have no running water or well water. Polar Star Inn has a spigot right by the front door, where 5 gallon jugs take about 1 minute to fill each. Finally, you get all the basics like an outdoor gas grill, propane range and oven, and plenty of cooking tools, pots and dishes. Overall, the Polar Star Hut is one of the better set ups that I’ve seen in the 10th Mountain Division hut system.
Photos from Day 2
Now to the important stuff. The backcountry skiing around Polar Star Hut is not too challenging, but exciting and gorgeous. You also won’t have to worry much about avalanches. (But always take caution!) The hut lies right near the New York Mountain Trail, which will take you from the hut to the New York Mountain ridge line. From the ridge line, looking East you can view the beginnings of the Sawatch Range. To the North and West, you can see down to Edwards all the way to Glenwood Canyon, which gives you a clear sense of place. The views up here lack nothing in beauty and awe.
Most of the skiing at or below the hut’s elevation is tree skiing. About a 250 ft climb from the hut is treeline however, with an open glade facing Northwest. This glade – just down from the New York Mountain summit – can be spectacular if there’s enough snow. Careful, as there is quite a bit of scree up there. Depending on the winds and snowpack, you might hit an unexposed rock or two. Also, be weary of the cornice that hangs above the east-facing slope. Don’t get too close to the edge and risk it collapsing.
Kevin Banker’s Short Film
And bravo to Kevin Banker Cinefoto for shooting an awesome short film of our trip. He’s our good friend who often photographs for VELA Apparel. If you ever want to know what it’s like to spend time in a hut, this will give you a good idea.