Photos provided by Terry Patterson
Even getting a reservation at one of Idaho’s backcountry huts in the Sawtooth Mountains is just about impossible unless you’ve booked it a year in advance.
Not so with the Thompson Creek hut in the South Hills of Idaho, near Twin Falls and Kimberly. You drive up to the trailhead next to Magic Mountain Ski Resort, and xc ski or snowshoe 3 miles into the hut. Crank up the wood stove and make everything cozy for weekend of winter fun! The Thompson Creek hut frequently has open dates throughout the winter.
“It’s amazing up there, it’s so beautiful and peaceful – it’s a real hidden treasure,” says Jessica Kluth, who took her family of five up there this winter.
Kluth rented xc ski gear at Magic Mountain and trekked into the hut with her family. The price to stay at the hut is also cheaper than any other hut in Idaho — $10 per person per night if you’re a member of the High Desert Nordic Association or $20 if you’re a non-member. The hut sleeps 7. Go ahead and join the association to help support their xc ski grooming program.
“We took a lot of pictures and made a lot of memories with our family,” Kluth says.
Terry Patterson, Instructional Dean at the College of Southern Idaho, has been going to the Thompson Creek hut for many years. “It provides a real close access point to get into the backcountry just a short drive from home,” he says. “Compared to most backcountry ski areas in Idaho, this place has yet to be discovered. It’s a real gem, a little secret spot in the South Hills.”
Once you’ve arrived at the hut, you can go ski touring around the hut or go for a little adventure on snowshoes. There’s plenty of terrain to explore above the hut, where one can make some turns or just tour around in the aspen and fir trees and enjoy the peaceful and quiet setting.
Christa Gessaman, coordinator of the CSI Outdoor Recreation Center, teaches a winter survival skills class at the hut, and she takes recreational groups there as well.
“The hut is a great backcountry option for adventurers to go and stay in for the night!” she says. “The hut offers basic amenities that gives first-timers and seasoned skiers a respite against the elements as well as options for heartier or more fair-weathered adventurers. The hut comfortably sleeps 4-6, but we have fit 12 people in the hut for meal times and teaching lessons. The stove helps keep the hut warm at night.”
But you do need to get up to stoke the stove during the night if it’s really cold outside. Kluth said they brought warm sleeping bags and didn’t stoke the stove at night, and everything was frozen the next morning, including their water bottles.
Gessaman says going in on xc skis or snowshoes works just fine. “We offer to our students the option of skiing or snowshoeing to the hut, knowing that one group will be faster than the other,” she says. “Because the hut is off the main groomed trail, the trail often needs to be broken by the lead skier, and has some dips and climbs that is sometimes intimidating for those who have never cross-country skied before, so we offer both options. Snowshoeing takes about 2-3 hours to get to the hut, and cross-country skiing takes usually 1-1.5 hours depending how fast you go.
“I personally love to cross-country ski into the hut, as it is beautiful terrain, varied scenery, and you feel like you’re entering a winter wonderland. Overall, definitely a win. We definitely venture onto other trails as we are out there for the weekend, and they are great for both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.”
To reserve the hut, contact the High Desert Nordic Association to inquire about open dates. You will be pleasantly surprised that you will have options! Valdon Hancock of the High Desert Nordic Association is the hut master. You can reach Valdon at 208-420-9042.
The hut has sleeping pads for each bunk. So you need to pack in a sleeping bag, your clothes and food for the weekend. It’s best to pack all that gear into a backpack for the ski or snowshoe into the hut. Some people pack their gear on sleds, too.
March and April should be great times to visit the hut as the days are getting longer, providing more daylight, the temperatures get warmer during the day, and there’s still plenty of opportunity to do more powder skiing and snowshoeing as well. Have fun!