The sun glimpses through the clouds, like a huge spotlight over the wintry high mountains, carefully displaying all its fine blue facets. No snow falls though. All those blinking snow crystals are just thrown up and down in the air by the wind. In winter, the high mountains show us in painstaking clarity how their harsh landscape is not only beautiful, but very hostile to life. We are grateful that we don’t have to spend the night outside in these conditions as we push open the heavy wooden door of the winter room – after having shovelled for an exhausting amount of time to get access to it.
Winter rooms, accessible throughout winter months at most Alpine Club huts, provide one of the most common methods of doing a multi-day trip in the Alps during wintertime. Most mountain huts are closed during winter – only providing self-catering facilities in separate winter rooms that are generally unmanaged throughout the season.
Sounds like an adventure! However, to make your winter room trip an adventure and not a nightmare, you should bare the following points in mind:
Not all winter rooms are free to access. Many of them can be opened with a general Alpine Club key, which you can borrow from every local Alpine Club. For some, however, you need a special key that you’ll get onsite in the valley or from the hut’s caretaker. So gather all information in advance – e.g. using the Alpine Clubs’ websites or blogposts. If you’re not sure, call the hut’s caretaker for your questions.
Don’t forget to ask where the winter room is located: Downstairs, in an outbuilding, or maybe even in a separate building next to the hut? You’ll be really glad to have this information if you have to shovel loads of snow to get to the winter room’s door!
Inside the winter room, it’s gloomy and damp. The massive wooden floor show signs of endless winters with people like us traipsing on it with heavy ski boots.
Quickly now, you’ll want to change clothes.
Before it gets too cold, you need to put on your down jackets.
But wouldn’t it be great to have something warm to drink?
Using some splinters of wood and a handkerchief, it’s easy to set a little fire alight in the oven – but where’s the firewood to get the warming embers?
You may search every corner and every cupboard, without success. Taking a look outside, you become more and more desperate. You’re looking in every corner in search of a firewood storage – until you accept that it won’t get warmer in the winter room tonight.
No pattering embers – and nothing to eat? Of course not. We came prepared. We brought a Jetboil camping stove with us; dinner and a cup of warm tea for everyone!
When planning your winter room adventure, you should always make sure to know how the room is equipped before you go there. Does it have an oven? Pots and dishes? You can use the huts’ and Alpine Clubs’ websites to get more information on this, or ask the hut’s caretaker. Keep in mind that winter rooms are getting more popular – so it’s not unusual to find that there is no firewood left, even early in winter – without firewood, you can’t heat the oven and it will be very cold inside.
In this situation you’ll highly appreciate a warm down jacket like the Skyline Jacket | Skyline Women’s Jacket, or a synthetic jacket like the Superflux Jacket | Superflux Womens Jacket, that will even keep you warm in damp conditions.
Note for everyone : The oven should be used for cooking, not for heating (even though this might be a welcome side-effect) – keep in mind that firewood is limited!
For cooking you can use light and compact camping stove systems (e.g. Jetboil). They will only add a little extra weight to your pack, and will provide you with the safety of a warm meal, regardless if there’s an oven or firewood in the winter room. Besides, you’ll get boiling water in next to no time, whereas you’d have to wait a while if using the oven. Plus no waiting for the oven to heat in the morning means that you can start your tour almost right away.
Use expedition nutrition for catering: Just pour some hot water over your freeze-dried meal and et voilà: a meal that’s low in weight, nutritious and no need to clean the dishes! To get some culinary feeling, you could also bring some nuts, chocolate, gummy bears or – healthier – an apple!
After dinner, you’ll be really tired. No one is fond of playing cards or having a look at tomorrow’s tour. You’re just glad that you already carefully planned your tour at home.
The old woollen blankets lying on the mattresses look scratchy and holey rather than cuddly and warm. Fortunately, you just have to dig into your pack to grab a luxuriously warming down sleeping bag!
Most winter rooms are equipped with blankets, but often these don’t contribute to comfort and well-being. It’s a much better – and more relaxing – idea to bring your own sleeping bag.
A Firefly Sleeping Bag weighs no more than 274g / 20oz, and you’ll gladly carry this on a multi-day trip if it ensures a relaxing, comfortable sleep. To increase comfort, you can use a bottle as a hot-water bottle. You can’t use a thermos for this, of course; but we would recommend non-insulating bottles that can be filled with hot water, e.g. duroplastic plastics bottles by Nalgene.
You can’t book a bed in a winter room (like in normal huts). So you never know how many “roommates” you’ll have. This is another reason (especially in popular regions) why it might be worth bringing your own sleeping bag and camping stove.
Make a check list before leaving: Is everything cleaned and stored away?
Is the door locked, preventing snow from coming inside? No glowing firewood left in the oven? Did you write down your stay in the hut’s book as well as the hut’s bank details? Winter rooms are a system based on trust, so it’s important to be honest and pay onsite in cash or after coming back home via credit transfer. (Besides, winter room fees are pretty low in general.
You don’t have to carry loads of cash in your pack: You’ll find bank details in every winter room which you can write down or simply take a photo of and pay when you’re back home.
If you’ll keep this in mind, you’re ready for your winter room adventure! It will never be a wellness holiday, though – but, honestly, will you ever opt for wellness if you can have an adventure instead?
WINTER ROOM PACKING LIST: WHAT TO TAKE
Mountain Equipment Pro Team member Susi Süßmeier shows you her packing list for a winter room trip.
Everyone in our group needs to take avalanche safety equipment in their packs; the other items should be adjusted to your group’s size.
- Shovel, probe, beacon
First Aid Pack
If I am on a three day trip I like to take three packs of expedition nutrition with me: I’ll use one on the second afternoon as late lunch.
- Camping stove (e.g. Jetboil) with enough gas cartridges *our experience: 8oz per night per 2 persons if you’ll have to melt snow; 3.5oz if you’ll have water at the hut; both values include an emergency reserve*
Freeze-dried expedition food
Spoon (with long handle!)
Snacks – eg. fruit, nuts, chocolate
Tea bags (for coffee enthusiasts: coffee powder!)
Thermos + 0,5l bottle to use as a hot-water bottle
You can wrap some tape around one of your poles – thus, you always have it ready to hand and save space in your pack.
- Thin down sleeping bag (e.g. Firefly) or liner – according to individual preferences
Reserve batteries (for headlamp and beacon)
*In spring conditions: crampons (for your skis) and skin wax*
The traditional layering system comprises several layers which can be worn separately or in combination to allow you to regulate your comfort when the weather or how hard you’re working changes. Read more about the key to layering in our ski touring layering guide.
If I am staying more than one night in a winter room, I’ll take the below, as well as an extra pair of wool socks for inside the hut.
- 1 pair of socks
These fitted lightweight fleece pants are perfect for cold weather climbing and ski use.
Depending on the weather, I’ll take either of the following: