Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek

It takes a village at Manitoba

January 6, 2016

Manitoba2015Manitoba Cabin is where my daughter learned the joy of sledding before she could say the words “hut trip.” Manitoba is a hut trip with many of the comforts of home, including a cinnamon roll-tested oven and a small blue guitar. Creature comforts are paired with the rustic chores of hauling water from a creek and chopping firewood at this accessible backcountry hut just downstream of Upper and Lower Summit Lakes. At just under ¾ mile from the parking lot with propane heat available, it was our ideal first cabin outing with our then-3-month-old. Since then, we’ve enjoyed many happy return visits.


In classic hut tradition, the kitchen and dining space in the main cabin is common space to encourage Manitoba skiers and hikers to share grub and games. Many chores are designed to be communal too. Even the 4-year-olds in our group enthusiastically contributed in the three-tub dishwashing system that keeps the abundant community dishware sanitary. Two adjacent yurts provide separate space for sleeping and may be rented by the yurt or by the bunk. Alaska Huts, a nonprofit created to aid exploration of Alaska’s backcountry and backcountry community, revived and maintains this communal lodging.


The restoration of Manitoba Cabin was a shared effort. The cabin was built in 1936 by placer miners and inhabited by miners until the 1980s. The Anchorage Nordic Ski Club operated the cabin under a special-use permit from United States Forest Service. Despite multiple repairs, the Forest Service deemed the structure unsafe and the permit lapsed in 2001.


Alaska Huts stepped in after the property had been transferred to the State of Alaska and proposed a new vision of a restored, expanded, sustainable cabin and adjoining yurts. It took years of permitting, on-site wood salvaging and reconfiguration, thousands of hours of volunteer labor, and a $10,000 grant from the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Historic Area to achieve that vision.


The grant and matching volunteer hours enabled restoration of Manitoba Cabin to incorporate and reveal its history. Salvaged materials, including floor planks stamped with “K D Co. Moose Pass” now serve as doors and countertops. The casual visitor – simply appreciative of the firm plank base – may not know that the outhouse was once the meat-drying shed.


My family has stayed twice at Manitoba with a big group of friends that we don’t see nearly often enough, but reconnect with as we load our sleds and suit up our kids. Among our five families, we have nine kids under the age of nine, so all the mobile ones are sliding, or, last winter, splashing, on a nearby snow bank before we have skins on our skis.


The kids jump into hut culture instinctively, forming snowball and sledding alliances. We adults negotiate chances for couples to ski together. Hut life feels pretty good. The best parts are the group meals, with piles of pita bread pizzas, gourmet oatmeal toppings, or gallons of hot soup. All are shared together in the same space we play silly games, plunk on the guitar, and read stories. The even better part is extra surprise desserts of homemade toffee. Skiers are good folks.


Good folks share Manitoba Cabin year-round. Reservations, amenity details, and hut history are available from the Alaska Huts website, A reservation at the Manitoba includes full shared-use of the cabin and use of your selected yurt. The two yurts may be rented by the bunk or by the yurt at various times, or “The Whole Shebang” as our group has done. I’m looking forward to this February when we will do so again. Let it snow!