Imagine eating cheeseburgers, made on a camp stove using local beef and truffle oil, with friends in a remote cabin after a day of backcountry skiing. This stuff of daydreams was reality for a group of friends on a recent trip to Bryant Camp, nestled among backcountry ski trails at Bolton Valley Ski Resort. Built in 1930 and restored in 2016, Bryant Camp is an historic shelter that has been appreciated and used by generations of Bolton Valley’s backcountry skiers. It sits on a large tract of land that was conserved in 2013 after more than 1,000 acres of Bolton backcountry terrain went up for sale. Friends of Bolton Valley and Vermont Land Trust coordinated a massive fundraising effort to raise $1.85 million, and the land and cabin were purchased by VLT, then transferred to Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation to be managed as part of the Mt. Mansfield State Forest. As a partner to FPR, the Green Mountain Club maintains and manages Bryant Camp, and recently secured funding for several renovations. After the work was completed, the camp was opened for overnight reservations on Friday, January 13. “It’s a spectacular landscape this time of year, right in the spruce-fir transition zone,” said Mollie Flanigan, land stewardship coordinator with the Green Mountain Club, of Bryant Camp’s special setting. Nestled into prime backcountry skiing terrain, the location is both convenient and remote: Bryant Camp is one mile up a trail from the Nordic and Sports Center at the base of the ski resort, and also about a day’s ski from Trapp Family Lodge on high ridges of the Catamount Trail. Users can reserve the hut as a base camp while skiing the many miles of groomed and ungroomed trails around the cabin, or they can reserve a single night as part of a multi-day hut-to-hut ski trip. Another group aims to provide a similar experience for more backcountry skiers. Vermont Huts Association, a newly incorporated nonprofit, has a multi-phase strategy to establish a network of backcountry huts for overnight accommodations across the state for backcountry skiers and snowshoers, and for mountain bikers and hikers in the non-winter months. It’s the kind of experience RJ Thompson, executive director of VHA, hopes many more backcountry users can have, as more cabins come online for overnight reservations. “It’s important for people to be in the wilderness and to experience Vermont’s topography in its purest form,” he said after taking part in the recent trip to Bryant Camp. The first phase of work began in 2016, with the identification of about 30 existing cabins and camps that range in condition from complete disarray to luxurious, turn-key operations. Thompson says these existing huts include small cabins that sleep four or five people or yurts like Maple Wind Farm, and the network can even include lodging at higher-end spots like bed and breakfasts or inns. VHA works with owners of the existing huts, such as nonprofits, businesses, and entrepreneurs, to get them ready for overnight guests. This includes making repairs, if needed, and lining up liability insurance by either expanding existing policies to include rental properties, or by buying into VHA’s group policy. Once a hut is ready for rental, VHA’s online reservation system can be used by skiers, hikers, and bikers to reserve a night. The fees charged for spending the night become business income or revenue for nonprofits, depending on who owns the cabin. After phase 1 is completed, and existing cabins are on the map and ready for reservations, VHA and its board of directors will assess the gaps, looking for places that are in need of new backcountry accommodations. Ideal spots will include places where hiking, biking, and ski trails intersect, and with some trail expansion, connector trails can provide access to these new cabins. The goal is to provide accommodations for backcountry users, and also to consolidate overnight use to established locations, which helps to minimize the impact on the backcountry from growing numbers of users. In addition to Vermont’s existing backcountry users, there are those who might be apprehensive about spending a night in the woods, and the huts help with this, too. For some, making the leap from their comfortable bedroom to a tent in the woods is too extreme, so rustic backcountry cabins can offer a new entry point for backcountry exploration. “If we can offer good accommodations in the backcountry,” said Thompson, “it’s more comfortable. It provides a good stepping stone.” Backcountry huts also provide an educational opportunity, as they can be used by school groups, youth groups, and colleges to expose younger generations to outdoor recreation and nature. This benefits the kids who participate, but also the state. “The more people you have in the backcountry, the more people you have who will protect those places,” said Thompson. Bryant Camp can be rented from August 1 through March 31 at $95 per weekend night and $75 per weeknight. Bryant Camp has an unfurnished sleeping loft that fits eight people, plus a wood stove, firewood, and composting toilet. There is no running water or electricity, and guests need to provide their own cooking supplies and water. In addition, guests are asked to purchase Nordic Center passes for the duration of their stay. For more information and to make a reservation, visit Sarah Galbraith writes about outdoor adventure, local food, and craft beer. Follow her on Twitter @adventurevt.

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