Ski Hut to Hut in the Methow Valley

The five rustic Rendezvous Huts outside Winthrop give Nordic skiers a taste of Europe in the gloriou
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I don’t mind sleeping in a damp tent or camping on snow if it means getting to enjoy a night in the woods in the quiet of winter. But every year when the snow begins to fall, the Rendezvous Huts in the Methow Valley beckon, offering a wilderness experience with as many cozy comforts of home as you’re willing to haul in.

The five rustic cabins, spaced about five miles apart near Winthrop on U.S. Forest Service land, are accessible in the winter only by cross-country ski trails. Getting there is half the fun, and since I first wrote about Rendezvous Huts five years ago in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the owners have added a new hut and remodeled two others. You can ski from one to the next, in the European tradition of hut-to-hut skiing, or park yourself at one hut for as long as you like (provided you’ve made reservations).

The Methow Valley boasts some of the finest cross-country ski trails in the country, a roughly 125-mile network that crisscrosses farms, rolling hills and the forested slopes on the eastern flank of the North Cascades. The huts sit in a part of the trail system where the terrain is steep enough to ensure that fewer people venture there but not steep enough for avalanche exposure if you stay on the groomed trails. It doesn’t take long to find solitude amid snow-laden pines.

“How many people get to experience staying out overnight in winter?” says Jay Lucas, a co-owner of Rendezvous Huts and executive director of the nonprofit Methow Valley Sports Trails Association (MVSTA), which maintains the ski trails. “Being in the huts, with those views and at that elevation, it really is magical.”

Eighty-five percent of those who use the huts are repeat visitors, including my friends and me. We have returned each year for the past five years, but we’re newbies compared to some families, Boy Scout troops and groups of friends that have been kicking and gliding their way to the huts for 20 years.

My husband and I made our most recent trip to the huts with four friends, a golden retriever and our 4-month-old son. We took turns pulling our son in a sled up the 1,400 feet of elevation gain from the Cub Creek parking area, which is about nine miles north of Winthrop, to Rendezvous Pass, and then on to Grizzly Hut. The gliding motion rocked him to sleep.

You can book all the huts for exclusive use, or reserve one spot and ski the trails from there. Paying for a freight haul via snow machine is worth the $85 splurge. On some trips, we’ve hauled in provisions sufficient to feed an army: steaks, pork tenderloin, bread pudding, chocolate chip cookies, bottles of wine.

The huts are charmingly rustic, but well designed and comfortable. Each is equipped with a propane stove and oven, a wood-burning stove and enough cut wood to cook a pot of chili during the day and keep toes toasty at night (pots, pans and utensils are provided). There’s an upstairs loft with thick foam sleeping pads. The downstairs portion usually features a set of bunk beds and the kitchen/dining area, plus an assortment of board games left behind over the years. There’s no running water, so visitors must haul in drinking water or melt snow in stockpots. The toilet is in a small outhouse.

In terms of effort expended, the easiest to reach is probably Heifer Hut, a good choice for beginners or anyone trying out the hut system for the first time. Gardner Hut is the most spacious—and most popular—offering spectacular mountain views. Its central location within the trail network also makes it social central, so expect visitors from other huts or day-trippers looking to warm up. Grizzly Hut is the latest addition to the collection, and our favorite because it is a bit more removed from the main trailhead.

“It’s definitely not Sun Mountain Lodge,” says Rendezvous Huts co-owner Cathy Upper, referring to the Methow Valley’s famous high-end resort. “You go up, you’re in the weather, you have to have a little resourcefulness. The coyotes are yipping, the stars are out. Who knows what’s out there? But you can go out and ski with headlamps in the dark and return to your cozy cabin.”

Upper has a point. One night not long ago, when we had devoured a steak dinner by propane lamp after a long day of skiing, we relaxed in our private little resort, knowing the Sno-Cat would be by soon to groom fresh ski tracks right outside our hut. Until then, we had the woods to ourselves.

If You Go
Rendezvous Huts Inc. now takes online reservations at rendezvoushuts.com. You can also book at Central Reservations: 800.422.3048 or 509.996.2148. Make reservations well in advance; popular weekends fill up fast.
The Winthroop-area huts sleep eight to 10 people. Exclusive use of the huts per night during winter ranges from $150 for midweek stays to $200 for peak weekends. Per-person use is $35. Freight hauling is available for $85 each way. Dogs are allowed in three of the huts (Grizzly, Heifer and Rendezvous).
Skiing the hut system requires an MVSTA trail pass. An adult one-day pass costs $20, a three-day pass, $51. Information: mvsta.com/winter.
The huts are also available in spring and fall for hikers and mountain bikers.

Dig Deep Into Wine at the Northwest Wine Encounter

Dig Deep Into Wine at the Northwest Wine Encounter

An intimate affair for wine lovers who get their geek on over things like the impact of soil, weather, terroir and altitude
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A flight of wine awaiting tasting at one of the educational panels

If you love good wine—really good wine—you’ll want to put Northwest Wine Encounter on your radar.

Haven’t heard of it before? That’s not surprising. The inaugural event, which I attended last spring, was an intimate affair with space for just a few dozen wine lovers who got their geek on over things like the impact of soil, weather, terroir and altitude on winemaking, learning about these during educational panels led by some of the region’s finest winemakers. And, of course, it helped to taste through flights of really fine wine as the winemakers offered insights and perspective.

The return engagement, on the weekend of April 28-30 (from $485/person including lodging, events and gala dinner), will follow a similar format and will once again be held at Semiahmoo Resort, a lovely spot overlooking Semiahmoo Bay, with the U.S./Canadian border and Peace Arch in view across the water. This year, there will be room for around 100 wine lovers (sign up for Northwest Wine Encounter here).


Winemakers and guests enjoying Friday night’s bonfire at Semiahmoo 

This quintessential Northwest location was chosen to complement the local wines that are the focus of the weekend. At Semiahmoo, Mount Baker frames the view in one direction, the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound in another. At one time in its history, Semiahmoo was also the site of a salmon cannery. Hard to get more Northwest than that.

The 2017 winemaker lineup includes a few superstars from Oregon and Washington: Chris Figgins of Leonetti Cellars, Walla Walla’s oldest winery; David Merfeld of Northstar Winery, Chris Upchurch of DeLille Cellars; Tony Rynders of Panther Creek and wine grower Mike Sauer of Red Willow Vineyards. New this year is the addition of a British Columbia winemaker, Walter Gehriner of Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery.

 

At last year’s events, the panel discussions were interesting, but the Friday night kick-off event was almost worth the price of admission alone. It had the air of an informal party where everyone was enjoying each other’s company. All the winemakers were in attendance, pouring and chatting about what they love most: making wine. The party eventually spilled out onto the beach where a bonfire warmed the crowd. Marshmallows optional, wine required.