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The gazebo at Snow Bowl. Photo by Angie Regensburg.

A Snowy Adventure

Ski or snowshoe to Tahoma huts for a wintery getaway | by Heath Jones, Mount Tahoma Trails Association volunteer

My first visit to the Mount Tahoma trail system was on a rainy Thanksgiving weekend several years ago. With my gear and snowshoes strapped to my back, I made the wet trek to Snow Bowl Hut. The 4-mile trail didn’t provide much protection from the rain, but the hut more than made up for the miserable hike.

Snow Bowl, one of four huts in the Mount Tahoma hut system, is at 4,250 feet and has a wraparound deck with spectacular views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. The next morning, I woke up to hot coffee made by ski patrollers — and more than a foot of fresh snow. I was hooked. I joined up as a ski patroller the next season.

Mount Rainier is a constant background for the trails around the huts. Photo by Rachel Sadri.

I feel more at home on these trails than in my own apartment. As a ski patroller, I have spent countless hours working on the huts and trails, while spreading my enthusiasm for the Mount Tahoma Trails Association (MTTA) to everyone I can. MTTA operates and manages a year-round, hut-to-hut trail system near Mount Rainier. The system offers activities including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking for a variety of skill levels.

The huts can be reserved for overnight stays, and day users can enjoy lunch and take in the views of the surrounding mountains. I have seen many families sledding and building snowmen and then relaxing inside and playing games. The four huts are spaced throughout the trail system near Ashford, and they provide a safe and warm place to relax.

High Hut

High Hut has sleeping capacity for eight visitors and four ski patrollers. Totaling 600 square feet, it offers a sleeping loft, a futon, two tables, a fireplace, a concrete outhouse, a stove, an oven and utensils. At 4,760 feet, High Hut is the loftiest of the MTTA huts. This also exposes it to high winds and snowfall. With its 360-degree view, this is my favorite spot to sit and have lunch. Looking north to Mount Rainier, the view through the window almost looks like a framed photograph. Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, the Olympics and Griffin Mountain all circle High Hut, providing spectacular views and making the 4-mile trek up 2,300 feet well worth it.

The Snow Bowl Hut. Photo by Brandon Hawn.

Snow Bowl

Snow Bowl is large and comfortable. The hut was rebuilt in 2012 after it was destroyed by fire. The new hut is beautiful and holds 14 guests (six more than the original) and a large, downstairs ski-patrol room. Late October brought a special addition to the Snow Bowl hilltop: a gazebo just a quick walk from the hut. The gazebo was funded by Judy Scavone, an influential member of MTTA and Nisqually Land Trust. Judy, who passed away in 2015, has been described as the “heart and soul” of the MTTA organization. Her persistence helped rebuild Snow Bowl after the fire.

Copper Creek

Located at 4,200 feet and 4.4 miles from the sno-park, Copper Creek is only accessible in the winter. The hut sleeps 14 people and has running water. It’s a 1,000-foot climb from the sno-park, and it is the easiest of the huts to access. Many families use a trip to Copper Creek to introduce their kids to outdoor adventures. Copper Creek is a great day trip, and it boasts many surrounding trails, including the challenging Puyallup Ridge Lookout.

The Yurt

The Yurt is the most secluded of the huts. It is at 4,100 feet and requires a 6.5-mile trek through dense forest. It sleeps six. On the way to the Yurt, look to the right and you can get a view of Snow Bowl sitting atop the hill to the west. The lower Yurt Trail is usually ungroomed— my first year as a patroller, I attempted to groom it and soon learned why. I spent several hours digging out the snowmobile. Now I figure that enjoying a healthy exhaustion and sense of serenity in a warm hut are the reward for breaking trail through untouched snow.

Map by Lisa Holmes.

How to Visit

Reservations

The huts are free to use from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but online reservations ($15 per person per night) are required for overnight stays. In-person reservations open Nov. 4 at the Seattle REI during MTTA’s fundraiser gala. Guests buy lottery tickets for the first chance to book nights. Most winter weekends are booked at the gala. However, weeknights are likely to be open and you can watch the online system for cancelled reservations. You can also visit during the summer, when reservations are much easier to get.

Hut amenities

Each hut provides a stovetop, water (or a way to melt snow and treat the water), bunk beds/mattresses, utensils, pots and pans, games, an outside pit toilet and a fireplace.

What you need

Always be prepared. Winter weather is unpredictable. Make sure you’re comfortable traveling in snow and carry the Ten Essentials. You will need a sno-park permit in the winter or a Discover Pass in the summer to park at the trailhead. Visit skimtta.com for directions to the trailheads.

Etiquette

Snowshoers, skiers and hikers all share the same trail. Snowshoers should stay to the side to preserve the groomed trails for the skiers. In the huts, there will be others around, so bring earplugs, keep tidy and have fun!

Get involved

Volunteer ski patrollers and adventurers alike demonstrate a passion for the area, which has kept MTTA going for 27 years. MTTA always welcomes capable volunteers who love the outdoors and want to help make this a great place for everyone to play. To learn more, email mtta@skimtta.com. Ski patroller trainings take place in the summer. Volunteers are also needed on work parties. All of the work on the hut system is accomplished through volunteer efforts and donations. 

Photo by Gene Glasunow.

The Story of the Huts

  • 1990: Bob Brown, current MTTA trail operations coordinator, helped spearhead an effort to create a hut-to-hut system near Mount Rainier.
  • 1990: Construction of High Hut began. Skiers began using the trails.
  • 1991: High Hut was completed, thanks to countless hours of volunteer labor.
  • 1991: Snow Bowl construction finished.
  • 1992: Copper Creek Hut was built on Champion Pacific timberlands. (Thanks to Judy Scavone, the land is now owned and managed by the Nisqually Land Trust.)
  • 1993: The Yurt was constructed, far north of the other huts. Due to its remote location, few guests visited.
  • 1995: The roof on The Yurt collapsed; it was reconstructed nearer the other huts.
  • 2006: A flood washed out the Nisqually Bridge, cutting off access to the southern area of the hut system.
  • 2007: Record snowfalls meant continuing difficulties accessing southern huts.
  • 2008: A volunteer discovered that Snow Bowl had been destroyed by the fire.
  • 2011: Ziggy Zlatkus was contracted to rebuild Snow Bowl.
  • 2012: Snow Bowl construction was completed. Current: MTTA manages a trail system that contains the largest, no-fee, hut-to-hut, cross-country ski trail system in North America. More than 600 volunteers contributed to the initial building of the huts, and now more than 80 ski patrollers help maintain and preserve the system.


Photo by Gene Glasunow.

This article originally appeared in the November+December 2017 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.