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When West Virginia winter visitors talk about ‘hitting the hut,’ they’re not heading out for pizza. They’re making their way to Snowshoe Mountain’s new Sunrise Backcountry Hut.

A huge hit during its premier last season, bookings are already filling quickly for 2000-2001. Modeled after the ‘huts’ found in Colorado with the 10th Mountain Division hut system and similar ones found in the European Alps, a trip out to Snowshoe’s Backcountry is truly one of the top new winter (or summer) experiences in the Mid-Atlantic.

The trip out to the Hut is a prelude of the experience to come. Nestled two miles out in the backcountry of Snowshoe’s Cheat Mountain, the Hut is reached by foot, snowshoes, cross-country skis, snowmobile, or horse-drawn sleigh, depending on conditions and your condition or desire.

Less than 100 feet down the trail, you’ve entered a wilderness world. The bustling new resort complex and people at Snowshoe Mountain are quickly left behind, with the pines and views your only company. On the way out, you’ll pass by several spring-to-fall campsites that can provide stunning views just off the trail.

Upon arrival, you’re greeted by the resident Hut Master on the porch of a two-story cabin that’s anything but what you might thing of as a ‘hut.’ Constructed of native spruce and situated in a small clearing, the cabin features with an awe-inspiring eastern mountaintop view. Inside, you’ll find five cozy rooms (two in an upstairs loft), all nicely furnished with white cedar furniture. Most of those with the Hut habit don’t spend much time cooped up in the cabin rooms, however, as they are quickly drawn to the large woodstove, the porch, nearby overlooks, and many trails.

The Hut Master, Dave Thorne, is your host, chef, activities director, and a typical all-around native West Virginia outdoors guy. After a quick tour of the rustic cabin’s facilities, you’re on your own for the length of your stay. Aside from simply reading by the constant fire, other popular activities include winter hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling, and big bonfires on cold winter nights.

Another popular ‘activity’ for all visitors is eating. You won’t find any pizza served at this hut, unless it’s a gourmet slide topped with creative choices like ramps (a popular wild onion-like vegetable in the West Virginia mountains). A typical meal might be grilled salmon on cedar planks, steamed vegetables, baked West Virginia apples and Dave’s special blend of spiced apple cider.

Before or after dinner, it’s a short walk to an overlook for a great sunset. For many, this beats bundling up early to catch the Hut’s namesake sunrise. Either way, it’s a great way to start or end an unusual Snowshoe day.

Featured last December in SKI Magazine, Snowshoe Mountain has undergone a dramatic change since purchased by Intrawest. The village concept is a true success at this four-season resort, but the Sunrise Backcountry Hut provides an alternative to those who want a simpler Snowshoe experience for all or part of their stay.

The Hut is bookable by individual room or as a whole (12-14 people). Rates start at $78 midweek or $98 per person weekend (that includes lodging, dinner, and breakfast. The entire hut can be rented for $275 per night midweek and $375 on weekends. For reservations (they’re booking quickly), call (304) 572-1000.