If skiing uphill two miles to a rustic lodge in the Green Mountains sounds like a good time to you, you’ll want to reserve a stay in Vermont’s newest backcountry hut. Chittenden Brook Hut, located in the Chittenden Brook Campground area of the Green Mountain National Forest in Rochester, is open for lodging from December 1, 2018 through August 2019. The Vermont Huts Association is accepting reservations online now.
The hut was intentionally located in a recreational hot zone on national forest land. It sits 1.8 miles east of a junction with the Long Trail and the Brandon Gap Zone, a set of forest glades for backcountry skiing that is managed by the Rochester Area Sports Trail Alliance and U.S. Forest Service. It provides an excellent base camp for backcountry skiers accessing this zone: simply ski up to the top of Brandon Gap, lap the glades all day, then make your way to the top of the Gap one last time for a final descent back to the hut, where you and your friends can enjoy dinner and a cozy evening. A small Nordic trail system nearby affords access to another kind of two-plank fun.
The hut is not just for skiers, though. Snowshoers will enjoy exploring the area, as will hikers in the snow-free months. The hut is also nearby to the route of the proposed Velomont Trail, a statewide long-distance mountain bike trail.
While it is rustic, the hut is not without a few creature comforts. It sleeps 10 guests in bunks with covered foam mattresses — just add a sleeping bag — and it’s heated with propane. A propane cooktop accompanies pots, pans, utensils, “everything you would need to prepare a meal,” says RJ Thompson, executive director of the Vermont Huts Association. There is a bunk room that sleeps eight, plus a main living area, a space to eat meals, and a reading nook in a sunny spot that converts to additional sleeping space for two more people. There will soon be a wrap-around deck and an ADA ramp to provide access into the hut for all abilities.
The design of the hut also doesn’t miss a detail, and its charm and craftsmanship match the character of its home state. Built by students at Yestermorrow, a design-build school located in Waitsfield, it is infused with the students’ own artistic talents. The bench includes a contour of the Green Mountain range, and a painted Vermont Huts Association logo adorns the wall in the bunk room. Thompson says the students added these touches of their own volition; “the students really had free range” on this project.
“It’s really cool, it reminds guests when they’re staying in that hut that they’re in Vermont” with the unique character woven into the hut, says Thompson. It matches the landscape, he adds.
The hut was a sort of “stars aligning” situation. The U.S. Forest Service began looking to add a cabin or yurt to this area of the Green Mountain National Forest. At Vermont Huts Association, a new nonprofit organizing aiming to add backcountry huts around the state, phase one of work has been to connect the Killington area to Stowe with backcountry huts that can accommodate skiers, mountain bikers, hikers, snowshoers and other outdoor recreators. Staff had already identified this area as a prime spot for a hut serving outdoor-recreation enthusiasts.
“We’re making good progress on that front,” says Thompson about phase one of work. In addition to this hut, another hut will be rebuilt in the town of Chittenden next summer, known as the South Pond Hut, on property that recently switched hands from private ownership to Trust for Public Land conserved land. An existing cabin on this property was destroyed by arson, so a new hut will be constructed in the vicinity and staffed with a full-time caretaker.
Vermont Huts Association is working with the planners of the Velomont Trail to identify other spots that would be ideal for huts between Killington and Stowe, by spending a lot of time bushwhacking in the woods and going on site visits. They’re looking for existing Forest Service roads and old logging roads that connect the locations, too. They’ve identified three more spots in this zone for new backcountry huts.
Vermont Huts Association also recently partnered with the Vermont River Conservancy on the recently completed Nulhegan Confluence Hut, a backcountry lodge that can sleep six people along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail in Bloomfield. The hut is available to be reserved on Vermont Huts Association’s website, utilizing their online booking platform. As a member of the hut system, Vermont River Conservancy also benefits from the marketing and promotion work of Vermont Huts Association.
Beyond these developments, phase two of work for Vermont Huts Association is to expand the hut system north to the border with Canada, south to the border with Massachusetts, and east and west across the state, “to create a statewide hut network that is connected by recreation,” says Thompson.
It’s a large undertaking, and Thompson acknowledges this with a laugh. The story of Chittenden Brook Hut’s own birth into being is filled with entertaining details. The hut was built in two modules on the Yestermorrow campus, and from there lifted by crane onto two trailers. The two oversized loads then traveled down windy Route 100, through Granville Gulf, then on to Brandon Gap Road and Chittenden Brook Road, a narrow U.S. Forest Service road that leads into the campground area. “At times, there were just inches of spare room on either side of the trucks,” said Thompson. “These truck drivers threaded the needle.” Field and Sons Transportation, from New Hampshire, were used to rural northern New England roads, and the modules arrived safely.
From there, the modules still had to be lifted into place. The trucks backed down one last road, to where the crane was waiting to lift each 20,000-pound module over the forest canopy, the into place. Goliath Tech, from Quebec, designed big metal screws that anchor the hut deep into the ground, while being less intrusive to the backcountry site than concrete piles. “That was a whole other feat of engineering,” said Thompson, as he recounted the whole ordeal.
On site, Red House Building, from Colchester, helped attach the modules together, while Kricket Fellows McCusker, an avid backcountry skier and engineer with TR Fellows Engineering in Rochester, served as project manager.
Now, thanks to all of this work and investment, backcountry skiers, snowshoers, Nordic skiers, mountain bikers, hikers, and many more can enjoy this beautiful remote spot in the mountains. Vermont Huts Association started taking reservations several weeks ago, and already every weekend through March is booked, plus Memorial Day weekend. Rates are $110-$135 per weeknight, depending on the season, and $155-$175 per weekend night. Members of Vermont Huts Association get 15 percent off reservations and are invited to make reservations one week before the general public, as a benefit to membership.
The funds collected for lodging help to pay for some remaining work needed on the hut and a caretaker for the site who comes in once a week to check on the condition of the hut, shovel the walkway to the privy toilet, and clean off two solar panels that power a few LED lights inside the hut. There are also fees to the U.S. Forest Service, as part of the permit required for the hut on national forest land, and Vermont Huts Association donates 10 percent of the money from reservations to groups maintaining the trails in that area, like RASTA and the Green Mountain Club. Money from reservations also helps to pay for the nonprofit’s bills, like staff salaries, rent and utilities.
“I’m super excited about the progress we’ve made,” said Thompson, reflecting back on the accomplishments to date. “It’s a testament to the state how quickly things can get done when you get a group of passionate, like-minded people working together.”
To learn more about the hut or make a reservation, visit https://vermonthuts.org.