It's an unproven yet widely acknowledged fact that Two Buck Chuck decanted from a Nalgene bottle while snowbound in a warm and cheery mountain hut far from the nearest road tastes significantly better than Chateau Margaux sipped from Riedel stemware in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Every mile it's carried in your backpack through a wintry wilderness, it seems, adds five bonus points on the Robert Parker scale.
It's a notion that was common wisdom a generation or two ago but now thought hopelessly quaint: Life's pleasures are more intense and satisfying if you have to work for them.
And make no mistake: Getting to Ostrander Hut, deep in the Yosemite backcountry, is hard work. I was reminded of this recently as I strapped climbing skins to the bottoms of my cross-country skis and huffed and puffed up a seemingly endless rise to the crest of Horizon Ridge.
But there came the first of my rewards: A king-of-the-world panorama that took in a good portion of Yosemite National Park, in California's Sierra Nevadas: the back side of Half Dome, the snow-clad Clark Range and the fingery Matterhorn Peak, 35 miles away.
Darkness had fallen by the time I struggled up the aptly named Heart Attack Hill and glided down through a frozen pine forest to the hut, navigating the last furlong by the scent of chimney smoke. I wasn't the last to arrive. Other skiers and snowshoers would continue to straggle in long into the night.
Built in just 10 weeks in 1941 by the Civilian Conservation Corps with granite blocks quarried from a nearby moraine and lodgepole pines felled from the surrounding forest, the two-story Ostrander Hut is perched beside a frozen lake at 8,500 feet, about 11 trail miles from the Badger Pass Ski Area.
It was envisioned as the first of a series of European-style refuges opening up Yosemite's exquisite backcountry for multi-day ski tours. But the newfangled mechanical ski lift installed at Badger Pass five years earlier -- the first in the West -- proved far more popular, and plans for the other huts were scrapped. Even back then, it seems, the easy way was just too seductive.
There is no running water at Ostrander, no television and no phones, although cell phones occasionally get crackly reception if you lean out over the upstairs balcony. There is no electricity, except for a few lights powered by solar panels. Heat comes from a roaring, wood-burning stove, and for bedding you have your choice of three-tiered bunks downstairs or mattresses laid out on the floor upstairs.
Dinners fit for four-stars
Do-it-yourself dinner at Ostrander is a movable feast amid friendly competition. Groups try to outdo each other with elaborate repasts, commemorated in calligraphy on menus tacked up in the kitchen. Among the previous entrees: lobster bisque, jambalaya, sautéed mushroom caps with walnuts and crepes filled with honey-glazed kiwi fruit and strawberries.
The group next to mine at the long communal table -- like virtually everything else in the hut, an original furnishing from 1941 -- was dining on crab cakes and fresh salad as we tucked into French country paté and my friend heated up his signature dish, beef cooked in beer.
The snow can be glorious powder or delectable corn, but on the following day it's breakable crust, the bane of the backcountry. As the others head off to ascend Buena Vista Peak, I laze around the hut, drinking endless cups of tea.
New arrivals trickle in during the day, including three of my friends. All are experienced skiers and very fit, yet their faces show weariness from the uphill journey.
It was hard work, but it will make the Nalgene bottles of Two Buck Chuck they pull from their packs taste all the better tonight.