How To Plan A Yurt Trip
When it comes to unplugging from the grid, relaxing in glorious mountain ambience, and skiing your guts out with your favorite group of friends, you can’t top a yurt trip. If you’ve been on one, you already know. There’s nothing like waking up in a cozy sleeping bag near a crackling fire, eating a pile of pancakes with your best pals, then spending the day peacefully ski touring far from the hubbub of civilization.
Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to have a friend who tackles all the yurt trip planning logistics for you. And if you’re even luckier, they nail those logistics and everything goes off without a hitch. There’s a pressure to get the packing and planning just right, as you often won’t have cell reception and will surely be far from the trailhead by the time you realize you forgot matches to start the fire, syrup for the pancakes, or fresh beacon batteries.
The day may eventually come that you want to step up and plan your own yurt trip. There are countless benefits to planning the trip—you choose where to go, whom you want to bring, what dates, and how to structure meals and other logistics. But with great power comes great responsibility to make sure everyone has a safe time, will jive well with one another, and will stay happily well fed. And with those responsibilities come a few headaches.
The seasoned yurt trip planners among us have a few pro tips and process suggestions that can take the headaches and unknowns out of planning. By the time you get to your glorious yurt of choice, everything should be set to run smoothly so you can unwind and truly enjoy the trip.
You may already have a yurt or hut in mind that you want to visit, or you might be casting a wider internet search. Keep convenience in mind if you want to make sure your friends will come through and join you. It helps if a hut trailhead is within an easy driving distance for your group. For us here in Salt Lake, it’s easy to recruit friends for yurts around Utah and in southern Idaho and Wyoming—the drive is short enough that participants can work a full day, then hop in the car and get to the nearest town by bedtime, ready to rally to the trailhead in the morning. If the hut is a huge trek to get to, make sure the entire group is willing to take the extra time off to travel.
When choosing a yurt, especially in the winter, keep avalanche safety and snowpack considerations in mind. If you’re heading to a destination away from your usual stomping grounds, is there a reliable source of avy information locally? Is there moderate, low-angle terrain near the hut that you can stick to if avalanche danger is high? Is the destination known for a notoriously tricky snowpack? If so, you might consider paying the hut company for a local guide to join you, or at least skin to the hut with you and give you the latest lowdown.
Some yurts require that you book the entire hut and fill it with your group, while others allow you to just reserve a set number of bunks. We find it’s most fun to reserve an entire hut so you aren’t jostling with other parties for kitchen space during meal times, and you don’t have to worry about keeping another group up if you’re enjoying a rousing, whiskey-fueled game of Cards Against Humanity late into the evening.
Plan wayyyyy ahead.
The best-known yurts often book up several months ahead. If you wait until the fall to book for the winter, you’ll either miss the boat or be stuck with oddball midweek days. Which means if you are wanting to book a yurt trip for this ski season get going. The moment you know you want to visit a yurt, start looking at available dates, and make the commitment as far in advance as the company will let you. You can even call or email directly to commit to dates that aren’t even on their site calendar yet.
Make a plan to manage money.
Hopefully, you’ll fill an entire yurt with your favorite people. But, pretty much every yurt company requires you to pay (at least partially) upfront. This typically adds up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on the yurt pricing (typically either structured per person or per night). Typically, the trip leader ends up getting stuck playing Monopoly banker, ponying up the cash to make the reservation and then chasing everyone down for payback.If you can, get folks to commit and pay before you make the reservation. However, this is hard, because by the time you get everyone to pay you back, your hoped-for dates may be snapped up by someone else.
There’s no perfect solution, so we usually book a yurt, divide the cost by the number of interested people, chase them down for payment, and give a caveat that the cost may go up or down a bit depending on how many people ultimately commit (or flake).
Consider skills and dynamics among the crew.
As trip leader, there’s a bit of pressure to fill the hut up and recoup your investment in booking it. But don’t rush to invite everyone you know who likes ski/splitboard touring. Group dynamics are incredibly important and should be thoughtfully considered ahead. Focus on inviting people who collaborate well with others and who will go with the flow. Things get uncomfortable and even unsafe in a backcountry environment if one hardheaded individual decides to go rogue on snow safety, food planning, polite hut-sharing protocol, or any number of things.
It’s also crucial to think about the level of skill and experience each individual brings to the table. It’s great to invite beginners along, but if a trip comprises a large number of beginners, you can end up in a situation where the blind are leading the blind—or the more experienced minority gets stuck watching out for the beginners.
Plan on breaking out into smaller touring groups each day, as an entire yurt-full of people isn’t a safe touring group size. As you think about the invite list, consider who would be a good fit to break off with whom. Ideally, people can align on goals, risk tolerance, and skiing/riding ability. And there will be enough experienced people to take the one or two beginners under their wings.
In the Summer and Fall while you won't be focused on ski touring skill the other tips above apply. What are the skill levels and interests for the activities that the group will be doing? In close quarters group dynamics can either make or break a trip.
Make planning and communication as easy as possible.
There’s a time and place for large email threads, but don’t let the most important details get buried. We like creating one shared Google Doc with every necessary detail—where the group is staying the night before, where the trailhead meet-up is, what the packing list is, and what the meal assignments are. That one document can serve as the central messaging-board, as it can be updated anytime a detail is added or changed.That way, you can send a group email alerting everyone that something new has been added—say, food assignments—and they can click over to the Doc to check out the latest. It spares you writing ten-paragraph emails no one will fully read.
Speaking of food assignments…
Great food makes or breaks a hut experience. You burn a heap of calories ski touring, chopping firewood, hauling buckets of water, and tending to all the tasks or yurt life. And there’s nothing more comforting than a big, warm meal and tons of snacks during a yurt trip. So don’t leave anything to chance. It’s sheer folly to let people “just bring whatever they want to cook.”Our favorite approach is to look at the total number of meals that will be consumed during a trip—breakfasts, lunches, and dinners—and assign each attendee to cook one meal (or more, if the trip is long) for the entire group. If it makes the numbers line up more easily, you can make “apres” count as a meal, because obviously, it’s one of the best meals of the day. Suggest hot meals for breakfast and dinner, and it’s fun to have folks with lunch assignments bring all the ingredients for people to assemble sandwiches to pack along for the day. Note that most huts do not come stocked with pantry staples like olive oil, hot sauce, or seasonings. So tell everyone to bring everything they’ll need to cook a recipe for the group, including those easily-overlooked items.
This meal assignment system makes the experience particularly relaxing, as each person has one chef-duty session cooking for everyone, and then gets to kick back and be cooked for during the rest of the trip. Don’t overlook dishwashing assignments, though. Establish in advance who is assigned to wash for each meal so it’s divided evenly. Otherwise, the same one or two helpful people end up volunteering to do the dishes over and over. Fun for everyone … except them.
More about food assignments!
Sorry, we really like talking about food. But menu-planning is important! Encourage everyone to plan backpacking-style meals that rely on mostly dehydrated or lightweight ingredients but are nourishing, hearty, and calorie dense. You’ll also need to gather anyone’s dietary requirements to make sure everyone will have something to eat. Even if it feels overwhelming to accommodate your gluten-free, vegan, or shellfish-avoidant friends, you have time on your side and can figure out an excellent solution.We typically tell everyone to bring whatever alcohol they want to drink, with a little extra to share with pals. It goes without saying that, while beer is our favorite nectar of the mountain gods, it is bulky and heavy to carry in. We have fun with simple cocktails, relying on snowballs to serve as ice. Boxed wine (taken out of the box) is always great, too.
Get a jump on planning your tours.
Obviously, factors like weather and snowpack will affect what you can ski on a given day, but you can do tons of research in advance to wrap your head around your options. Order a paper map of the area, play around on CalTopo and Google Earth, and get as many planning resources from the hut company as they’re willing to share. If you know in advance which zones will be safe for low-angle skiing on higher-danger days, and where any steep overhead hazard may lie, and where you want to go get radical if conditions permit, you’ll arrive at the hut with a great menu of options all ready. It’s wonderful to arrive ready to roll, rather than unpacking, looking at one another, and saying, “Now what?”
That’s our not-so-quick-and-dirty guide to yurt trip planning. We’d love to hear what additional ideas you have—send them our way! And tag us when you take your UnNew gear in the wilds. We love seeing it.
Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.
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