The formidable san juan backcountry typically calls out to hard-core beyond-the-ropes explorers—which is to say I figured the terrain around the picturesque Aladdin’s Lamp Hut outside Silverton was just a bit out of my league. I became so nervous as we rented our avalanche safety gear that we opted for snowshoes over a skis-and-skins setup for the weekend.
The last leg of the drive to Silverton over Red Mountain Pass, with hairpin turns minus guardrails, made me squeamish, but the majestic scenery was well worth it. The drive, it turned out, was the most challenging part of reaching the hut. Not 200 yards from the roadside gate, the wood cabin appeared against the spruce trees with Grand Turk looming in the distance.
Frequent snowfall and several feet of snow buildup make snowshoes a required accessory to avoid tiring and dangerous postholing, in which legs can sink thigh-level into the snow. Still, our group of four congratulated itself on choosing a cabin with a trek conducive to lugging along a full case of beer. (A second high five–worthy decision from a duo who arrived later: piling a sled with supplies to lessen the carrying load.)
The private hut, named after the 1880s-era Aladdin’s Lamp mining claim on the same land, was built in 1996 as a yoga retreat. Current owner Kennan Harvey purchased the cabin three years ago; to make it available for rent (and to remove it from Bureau of Land Management property), he hooked up a bulldozer and dragged the entire structure 50 feet downhill.
First on the agenda after claiming our bunks and building a fire: hitting the billowy snow in front of the hut with the plastic toboggans we pulled off the porch. Our sledding luge was good for the kind of spectacular snowbank wipeouts and gut-busting laughs that bring you right back to childhood. Only when the last vestiges of daylight retreated did we trudge inside. Our snowshoes came in handy the next morning when we headed out to the groomed trails across U.S. 550 for a one-mile hike. For a moment I felt a twinge of regret at leaving my skis behind: From the cabin, there was plenty of low-angle backcountry terrain to explore. (Experts can block off six to eight hours to skin up Grand Turk, ski north off the back side, climb the south side of the Sultan, and ski a 4,500-foot vertical shot down to the highway, where they’ll need to leave a car.) But avalanche conditions were risky, and my regret dissipated by the time we kicked off our snowshoes for another round of big-air sledding. —Julie Dugdale
IF YOU GO
Aladdin’s Lamp Hut
Setup: The two-story hut sleeps eight and has a kitchen, common area, and attached outhouse.
Hut-Specific Pack List: Paper towels, board games
To-Do List: Alpine touring; cross-country skiing; snowshoeing; snowmobile tours (try the Silverton Snowmobile Club); cat skiing (check out Silverton Powdercats); for non-thrill- seekers, visiting the Montanya Distillers Tasting Room in Silverton.
Getting there: Take U.S. 285 south about 124 miles toward Fairplay and turn right onto U.S. 50 west to Montrose. After 123 miles, go 0.8 miles on East Main Street, then turn left onto U.S. 550/South Townsend Avenue. Follow U.S. 550 about 60 miles through Silverton to a pull-off on the right about four miles past town, where a gate marks the trail. If snow makes it impossible to park, turn around and drive back a quarter-mile for additional plowed parking.
Book It: $150/weeknight, $175/weekend night, $700 weekly (two-night minimum Friday–Saturday, whole hut rentals only); 970-382-9570, silvertonskihut.com