WALLOWA ALPINE HUTS
SOMEWHERE IN THE maze of domed and jagged peaks that ring northeastern Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness lies a tiny yurt village, built just last month by three ski guides and a local fix-it man named Connelly Brown. During the summer, Brown’s the guy area residents like to call when they need to have their showers regrouted. But when winter rolls around, he trades his Carhartts for a pair of Marmot bibs and spends his days guiding hard-core powder seekers to the very best runs in his tranquil, craggy backyard wilderness.
Aided by a string of pack mules, Brown and his crew build the Wallowa Alpine Huts anew each year, just about the time the snow starts to fall in the Eagle Cap. Though it’s a time-consuming endeavor, the yurts make for the ultimate wilderness base and allow skiers relatively easy access to some 19 peaks over 9,000 feet. It’s also one of the only ways to experience the Wallowas’ seemingly endless network of chutes and steeps and whisper-light snow, reminiscent of the Grand Tetons. Thanks to their remote location, no big ski resort has ever materialized near this range. "We’re just so far at the end of the road, no one ever bothered with it," says Brown, the self-described owner, chef and yurtmeister. "This truly is a mecca for human-powered skiing."
‘Here in the Wallowas, we never ski the same run twice. We’re kinda snobs that way.’
A typical four- to five-day trip to the Wallowa Alpine Huts begins with four miles of skinning up a horse trail into McCully Basin, a broad U-shaped valley where, this year, Brown’s clump of circular yurts rests amid snowdrifts and spruce forest, about a thousand feet below the tree line. The mess hall occupies one of the four yurts; two serve as bunkhouses; and the fourth is home to a wood-fired backcountry sauna—something you’ll be glad Brown thought of after a day logging 3,000 to 5,000 feet of vertical.
Thankfully, guides haul in all the food and water you’ll need, as well as cots and woodstoves (everything, in fact, except your clothes, personal items and your private stash of whiskey) ahead of time—an act of human pack-muling that assures you’ll be well-rested before a day out in the basin. With a maximum of 10 skiers and 3 guides per trip, everyone can seek out their own place among the open steeps or gun down the tree-choked chute of their dreams in the wilds of the Eagle Cap backcountry. Each epic descent you make will take you through virgin snow. "Here in the Wallowas, we never ski the same runs twice," says Brown. "We’re kinda snobs that way. We say, ‘If you ski over another track, we’ve made a mistake.’ "