On the Mt. Baldy ridge line between Bozeman and Helena, a boxy structure offers one of the most unusual rentable structures in Montana.
Yurts, the packable tents favored by some nomadic tribes on the central Asian steppes, have made their way to the western United States in recent decades. Normally used in the wintertime by skiers, campers and other outdoors enthusiasts, yurts and their well-known round shape have become synonymous with warmth and shelter during the coldest parts of the year.
But the Big Belt Hut squares the circle.
The Big Belt Hut, owned and operated by Montana Backcountry Yurts, is a 15-person "longhouse" style yurt. It's built in the long, rectangular form common to the Nordic way of building, but retains the all-weather purposes of the circular yurts. With posts and frames harvested from the National Forest surrounding it, the Big Belt Hut looks a bit like a shed dropped at 8,500 feet. But inside, the amenities abound.
With a bar, six full and two twin bunk beds, the hut can sleep up to 15 people. And with a wood-fired stove and a three-burner propane cooking stove, the PVC-covered canvas wrapped hut stays toasty when the brutal cold sets in.
Educational classes, including avalanche safety and wilderness medicine classes, will also be held at the Big Belt Hut.
Unlike the two seasonal yurts Montana Backcountry Yurts run up in the southern Swann Valley from Dec. 1 to March 31, the Big Belt Hut will be open year-round.
Access depends on the vehicle and the time of year, but it's a bit of a hike in, according to owner and operator Brad Maddock.
"In the summertime, you can drive up to Duck Creek Pass and hike in from there," Maddock said. "Depending if you have a four-by-four or two-wheel drive, the hike is three miles or one and a half. Wintertime, park down below on Duck Creek Road, snowmobile to the pass, then from there it's a three-mile ski to the hut."
With opportunities for hunting, mountain biking, trail running, cross-country skiing and backcountry downhill, Maddock says, the Big Belt Yurt will be primarily focused on winter recreation.
"There's tons of backcountry skiing," Maddock said of the Big Belt Hut. "There is terrain around the hut which lends itself to be dangerous with avalanches during the winter, so we require people to have knowledge of avalanche education before they go up in the winter."
Maddock said that after snow consolidates toward springtime and the bigger mountain lines open up, "it really shines."
Maddock also suggests for anyone thinking about renting the hut to think about a minimum of two nights to make it worth it, based on the hike-in and the amount of opportunities for outdoor recreation in the area.
"It's something we've been passionate about," Maddock said about opening the hut. "We've been loving it."
The costs are $55 per person per night during the winter, and $45 per person per night in the summer. Because this is the hut's first year, Montana Backcountry Yurts is offering a 25 percent discount on reservations.
For more information, visit bigbeltyurt.com.