It's the 21st April and I'm on my way home by train from Innsbruck after my last week of hut-to-hut ski touring in the Stubai. We spent two of the five hut nights in the Amberger, a hut that has all the characteristics that make hut life such a pleasure: enough room without being so large as to lose its sense of intimacy, comfortable enough without losing contact with the mountain environment outside, top quality food (especially the apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce!) but above all a team of friendly, helpful and efficient staff who turn a good hut into a really great one.
Life working in a hut is tough: up for early breakfast at around 6am, then once all the departure racket has subsided, there's a chance to clean the rooms before folk start turning up for lunch. Lunches (and apfelstrudel) all afternoon, then dinner at around 6pm, and lights out at 10. All this might sound the same as any hotel, except that the staff often stay there for 3 months. Karin at the Amberger had arrived in late January and would leave in early May with no visits to the valley in that time. She admitted to wanting to see the odd tree and welcomed the sound of birdsong round the hut as spring eased its way in.
When the hut opened in late January, temperatures were below -20 and, like many of the higher huts have to do all season, the water would all need to be melted from snow. And at least at the Amberger you can go outside and wander around. In glacial huts like the Vignettes the hut staff live confined to the hut and its immediate surroundings, and the only way out is on skis, or roped up, or by helicopter.
Levels of work in many huts can oscillate wildly from super busy to totally quiet in a very short space of time. Bad weather can leave a hut almost empty, and huts on honeypot routes like Chamonix-Zermatt will be packed for a couple of days and then quiet for the rest of the week.
As Westerners we're not used to communal living so hut staff help people fit in to the systems that are vital to maintain some sort of order when a lot of people are crammed into a small space.
The fact that they're able to do all of this, retaining a sense of humour, welcoming people to their hut which is also their home in which they have a sense of pride is something which is often underrated by visitors.
So merci, vielen dank and molto grazie to all the hut staff I've worked with this season. Especially for the apfelstrudel...