Utah State University students swaddled in puffy coats and thick sweaters shuffle around campus as brittle leaves scatter across sidewalks and patches of grass. A brisk bite in the air and snowy mountain caps signal a beginning to winter.
With the arrival of December, students may be looking for ways to spend the winter months, to enjoy Logan Canyon’s scenic mountains and take advantage of snowy terrain.
The Blind Hollow Yurt, located up Logan Canyon in the heart of the Bear River Range, provides an opportunity for students and members of the community to spend a day or overnight surrounded by backcountry skiing terrain and scenic canyon views.
The yurt, operated by USU Outdoor Programs, or OP, was built during the 1990s as a place for students to enjoy Logan Canyon during the winter months.
The yurt comes with a variety of amenities: freshly chopped wood, sleeping bags and cots, bunk beds, and a wood-burning stove. The yurt’s prime location provides easy access to prime backcountry terrain.
“It’s really awesome because as anybody who backcountry skis in the Bear River Range knows, there’s a lot of long approaches,” said Derek Mann, a trip leader for OP. “The yurt allows you to stay multiple days and kind of cut out that long approach time.”
Students can rent out the yurt for individual use or schedule trips through OP, including both overnight and day trips. Overnight trips usually last three days and introduce students and members of the community to backcountry skiing through a guided tour experience.
Students of all demographics and skill levels attend the trips, and the close nature of the trips creates an environment ripe for team bonding.
“There’s kind of a neat camaraderie that happens on the trips, and it’s a great opportunity to be out in the backcountry and to have a unique experience and learn a lot,” Mann said.
Juliann Mann, Derek’s wife, leads trips for OP as well. Juliann loves leading trips with those who have never skied backcountry before. She recalled an especially memorable experience last semester with an inexperienced group during a trip.
“They were just amazed by how much untouched powder was there,” Juliann said. “It was an awesome experience — seeing them do a new sport and for the great conditions that we had.”
Although no backcountry experience is needed to go on a trip, students with at least intermediate ski or snowboarding experience are encouraged to sign up. And students don’t have to worry about ski rentals. The trips are all-inclusive and include any necessary ski gear.
In addition to hosting backcountry ski trips, the yurt is open for individual rentals. Students can sign up for a rental beginning the first Monday of October every year
“First day we typically have a line outside waiting. We’ve had years where we’ve had people camp outside to get the dates they want,” said Dan Galliher, the assistant director of adventure programs and marketing for USU Campus Recreation.
Students rent the yurt for a variety of purposes. Most use the property as an easy access to backcountry terrain.
“It’s a great place to backcountry ski because there’s not a ton of steep stuff,” Galliher said. “You don’t have to worry a lot about avalanche dangers in that area.”
However, Derek said the terrain has some access to avalanche areas, so students should acquire avalanche training if possible.
Some students just rent out the yurt as a place to enjoy the outdoors with friends.
“I know there’s been groups and they just come up here, hang out, spend one night a year, play card games, you know, cook a meal together and kind of camp as a group,” Derek said.
Students must either visit or call the OP office to reserve a date for a yurt rental. Because the yurt is a part of the OP rental services, students get access at a discount. In comparison to non-student rates of $160 for one night, $290 for two nights and $420 for three nights, USU students pay $100 for their first night, $188.50 for two nights and $260 for three.
“It’s pretty unique that the university has it quite a bit less expensive than other year rentals.” Derek said.
Students get all rentals at OP with a 35% discount. Rentals include everything from rafts to ski gear.
Four sections compose OP: they run the climbing wall in the Aggie Recreation Center, hold certification and education programs, host outdoor trips and run the rental shop in the OP office, located at the back west side of the ARC, across from Aggie Legacy Fields.
Although the office does get a lot of business, it’s still a resource many students may not be aware of.
“We always have people come in that say, ‘I didn’t even know you guys were here,”’ Galliher said.
OP staff work hard to provide students with a variety of resources and rentals at a discounted price, such as the Blind Hollow Yurt. Many of the amenities are at least partially funded by student fees, and staff want students to know of all their options.
“Student fees help pay for the outdoor program, and I think it’s just important students know that,” Derek said. “There’s a lot of things that they’ve wanted to do or wanted to try out that the other program is equipped to help them.”
With the oncoming winter season and accompanying outside sports and scenery, the OP rental and trips services may provide students with a cheap way to engage with all of Cache Valley’s surrounding canyons and terrains.
“We want to get people outside,” Galliher said. “Enjoying our mountains so that they, you know, develop a love of nature.”