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Outside » Outside Features

Connecting the Dots

A second hut-to-hut system opens this winter

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Although backcountry skiing is a common enough activity in Central Oregon, until Shane Fox and a couple of his buddies—"ski bums who build stuff," he explains—started Three Sisters Backcountry, the idea of more formalized and semi-permanent structures in the backcountry was a novel concept here. Moreover, even though dozens of skiers have trekked out into fields and hills in the Forest Service land that blankest Central Oregon for decades, setting up that first hut-to-hut system required as much navigating through the pine forests as it did the Forest Service bureaucracy.

But six winters ago, Fox and Three Sisters Backcountry did manage to establish the area's first hut-to-hut system, the Tam Rim backcountry huts—two 20-foot yurts that allow skiers to connect a few backcountry dots and expand trips beyond day excursions out and back from Sno-Park parking lots, and also to allow a certain amount of comfort while "roughing it" in the backcountry.

Over the past few years that first hut-to-hut system has proven so popular that it is now booked out throughout the winter, and this season has expanded to a second trail—a 22-mile, self-guided, two night (read: two huts) system. The trip starts at Dutchman Flats, the parking lot at the skirt of Mt. Bachelor's ski resort that is popular with snowmobilers. But the path that Fox and his friends have traced out quickly leaves behind the roar of snowmobilers, and tours along the ridge that reaches north towards Sisters.

"That terrain between those huts is pretty vacant," says Fox. "It allows people to escape the crowded area and allows adventure for those who aren't comfortable going to Broken Top."

Indeed, the terrain is more gentle than some of the backcountry roller coasters; even so, the new system does require a lengthy trek and the navigation skills necessary to get from one hut to the next.

"I wouldn't suggest it as a first trip on Nordic skis," says Fox.

Three Sisters Backcountry has made its new system a balance between primitive and comfort.

"To keep people's packs light," says Fox, "there are sleeping bags in the huts, and basic food items, but you have to carry luxury items like whiskey and salmon." (In an oh-so-Bend-mentality, included in the "basic food items" stocked at the two cabins are GoodLife beers.)

Three Sisters Backcountry is currently putting finishing touches on its huts, and accepting reservations for this winter.

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