I lace my boots as friends show me how to clip the plastic toe pieces to my rental classic cross-country skis. My head is pounding with pressure from a start of a head cold. Am I really going to ski nine miles today in sub 20-degree weather without knowing what to do? Yes, I am.
I enjoy trying new things. It helps me learn more about myself and what I can do physically and mentally. Mentally, I was doubting what I got myself into since I wasn’t feeling 100%. Physically, I’d be ok.
A Weekend of Adventure
I find the cold, brisk air does something to me: It rejuvenates my energy after sitting at a full-time desk throughout the week. Not sure I had the right amount of layers for a new winter activity, I stuffed a bulky down jacket and cough drops in my daypack and hoped for the best.
Before gliding on snowy cross-country trails, we piled the group’s overnight gear and food in the parking lot to be hauled to the between the three huts we’d be traveling to. It was definitely worth the extra cost, especially since Nordic skiing is new to me.
We met the owner as they arrived on snowmobiles to shuttle our gear to the first hut of the trip: Cassal Hut. After light exchanges, we were off. I tried different movements as I got used to the skinny skis attached to my feet.
We took turns preparing dinners and breakfasts for the group. Lunches were spent snacking on the trails. To pass time during the long winter hours, we played card games, Catchphrase, and Bananagrams which we packed. Cards can be found in most of the huts. Bring some new games and teach your friends.
Cassal Hut – Night One
After what felt like a long 9 miles of travel, we made it to Cassal Hut as dusk began to soften the daylight reflecting off the white landscapes around us. It was a relief to detach the skis for the day and cozy up to the blazing fire. The table was small but fit all seven of us. With a long day of driving and skiing, we started dinner almost immediately as our bodies craved calories. Sipping whiskey or beer, we shared outdoor stories and ski tricks and tips we learned throughout the day.
Heifer Hut – Night Two
With a shorter distance and a definite head cold, we make it to Heifer Hut. I expected more sweeping views like I’m used to in the Methow, but sparse trees were spread out perfectly to block the spanning mountains in the distance. My neglected muscles are tight but warm up as we glide along the trail system. We take a nice long lunch at one of the few sections with a view even if we are less than a mile away from the hut.
Heifer Hut has less views than Cassal and Rendezvous and is situated at a short climb off the trail. It didn’t take long for someone to say we should sled the hill. Acting like college students, we grab kitchen supplies (mainly baking trays instead of cafeteria trays) to see how far we can “sled” down the trail. My friends definitely kept their speed better than me. Apparently I didn’t tray-sled enough in college to have the run, jump, and tuck into a ball technique down. With time to spare before dinner, a jump was built. Unfortunately, the sticky snow and lack of proper sleds made for only maybe one semi-successful attempt.
Rendezvous Hut – Night Three
The Rendezvous hut was built over 30 years ago but remodeled roughly 15 years ago and is the namesake of the hut system. It has a great mountain view that is centrally located in the trail system. After a short ski from Heifer hut, we were greeted by other skiers having lunch inside. It’s normal for those skiing in the valley to stop at the huts to warm up from the cold, winter air. However, it was extremely common at the Rendezvous Hut.
The fire was still going from the last guests and we were welcomed with a note about the full-time hut resident, a rat. In the visitor log, guests share stories about the host. My friends decided to use the extra daylight to snowshoe off the trails. I opted to knit in the corner of the hut by the fire while sipping tea and fighting off my cold.
The night was spent enjoying beverages and playing games. The host, Ratagast the Brown, decided to pay us a visit after we shut off the lights. Fortunately, it was our last night, so we stored all our food in packs and hung them from the rafters. Ratagast scurried across the cabin and woke those staying on the main level of the cabin. Ratagast didn’t like the attention and would freeze in the bright glare of our headlamps. We woke up to find our gear and food spared but the deck of cards on the table were scattered on the stove on the other side of the hut. Ratagast must have felt left out from our games earlier.
Our Weekend Itinerary
- Day One: Cub Creek Trailhead to Cassal = 13.9 km
- Cougar Bait (1.7), Little Cub Creek (5.2), Cow Creek (1.1), Rendezvous Basin (3.4), Cassal Creek Loop (1.7), Cassal Hut (0.8)
- Day Two: Cassal to Heifer = 14.3 km
- Cassal Hut (0.8), Cassal Creek Loop (1.7), Rendezvous Basin (3.4), Cow Creek (3.1), Cedar Creek Loop (4.1), Heifer Hut (1.2)
- Day Three: Heifer to Rendezvous = 9.2 km
- Heifer Hut (1.2), Cedar Creek Loop (4.1), Cow Creek (3.1), Rendezvous Hut (0.8)
- Day Four: Rendezvous to Cub Creek Trailhead = 10.6 km
- Rendezvous Hut (0.8), Cow Creek (5.1), Cub Creek (3.0), Cougar Bait (1.7)
How to Cross-Country Ski
I’ve been downhill skiing for several years now. It can’t be too different, right?
Certain areas of my body weren’t used to getting this much repetitive motion. My glutes and hip flexors taking the majority of the work to transport me on my skis between the huts.
The Skis: They’re skinny, long, and light. Fortunately, I dabble in backcountry skiing, so I’m not a stranger to climbing and skating on skis. However, going uphill on touring skis require the use of skins that create friction with the snow to help climb without slipping backwards. Unlike backcountry skins, the classic cross-country skis have built-in traction to help prevent going backwards. Skate skis are another option, but we opted for the classic style since we are noobs.
The Boots: Man, they are comfortable compared to downhill ski boots! Enough room for circulation to keep your feet warm but not too much that your feet will be moving around a bunch.
The Poles: Longer than traditional hiking or skiing poles to give you a little more leverage for continued glide.
The Technique: Gliding when possible to let the skis do the work is optimal. Staying in the groomed tracks help with keeping your glide in check. However, most in the group decided to challenge themselves outside of the track. Going uphill, the tracks seem to disappear in some areas giving more space for skating, or spreading your skis in a wide V-shape (a.k.a. herringbone), to maintain friction on the snow.
How to Book the Rendezvous Huts
Fortunately, my friend invited me as they had a couple drop out the week before and my schedule was open. Since it was a holiday weekend (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), we took Friday off as well and were able to squeeze in three nights. Busy weekends and normal weekends tend to get booked months to a year in advance. However, if your schedule is flexible, consider doing a weekday trip.
Head to their website and look for availability for the different huts. Book the same hut and set up basecamp or explore different huts and ski between them. Yes, the winter pricing looks steep, but it can be affordable if you fill the hut with your friends.
There are other places to stay if you can’t get reservations at the Rendezvous Huts. Other options include the Rolling Huts or Brown’s Farm.
What You Need to Know about the Rendezvous Huts
Buy a Methow Trail Pass in town (Winthrop, Twisp, or Mazama) before you head to the trail OR buy a pass online. Prices vary depending on how many days you decide to ski.
There are five huts throughout the Methow trail system: Rendezvous, Cassal, Heifer, Gardner, and Grizzly.
- Most sleep 10 to 12 people either on bunks on the main level or mattresses in the lofts.
- Bedding and pillows (most likely warm sleeping bags) are brought in by the visitors to stay warm throughout the night.
- A wood stove is stocked by its guests and extra wood can be found outside of the hut. It keeps the hut warm throughout the night as long as someone is getting up and feeding the fire every so often (we had those going to the bathroom in the middle of the night throw a new log on the fire to keep the hut warm for the morning).
- There isn’t running water. What does that mean? Melt snow in the pots on the stove.
- Outhouses are a short walk away from the hut for doing your business.
- Huts also have minimally stocked kitchens with propane stoves. Find knives, cutting boards, pots and pans, and dishes to prepare and serve food.
Getting to the Methow Valley
Seattle is one of the closest major cities (with an airport) and is a 4-hour drive. Spokane is a 3-hour drive.
Note: Washington Pass (Highway 20) is closed for the winter, which makes the drive longer depending on where you’re coming from.
There are a few trailheads to start your journey. If you’re doing day trips, select the trailhead of choice. We parked at the Cub Creek Trailhead since that is where we were scheduled to leave our supplies to be shuttled to the huts.
Learn more about the Methow Trailheads here.
Now, it’s your turn.
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