Colorado escape: The backcountry hut trip.
I’ve been spoiled by the deluxe huts of the Alps, where multicourse meals and fine wine await even if you have to jump crevasses and scale ladders to reach the dinner table. By comparison, the typical Colorado ski hut can seem a bit…rustic. Yet when two friends and I skied up to the two-year-old OPUS (Ophir Pass Ultimate Ski) Hut deep in the rugged San Juan Mountains in early April, our packs were the lightest we’d ever carried this side of the Atlantic. That’s because OPUS owner Bob Kingsley has imported European amenities to the hut he built half a mile east of Ophir Pass.
When we arrived after several hours of easy skinning, Kingsley greeted us at the door and pointed out hut slippers, indoor bathrooms with running water, and cozy bunkrooms, then ushered us into the dining room for homemade barley soup—much-needed warmth and carbs after the chilly ski in. This hotel in the woods even comes with warm blankets and pillows so you don’t need to lug in a sleeping bag. For an extra charge, Kingsley and his staff will prepare your meals, including bread baked in the wood cookstove (with a full-size oven), a hearty dinner, and a full breakfast with brewed coffee. All the fuel you need to pack is lunch fare and cocktails. (You can opt to cook your own meals, but your pack will be that much heavier.)
Despite a relatively short, 3.5-mile approach, OPUS’ location at 11,765 feet is higher than most Colorado huts. What that means for outdoor enthusiasts: out-the-door access to terrain most skiers can reach only by helicopter. My crew still had some energy after our midday bowl of soup, so we headed out for late-afternoon turns on Piper Charlie, a broad chute directly above the hut. The next day, Kingsley guided us to a 1,600-foot drop into Paradise Valley (equivalent to an easier black diamond run), and then we toured up the valley to frozen tarns glistening below 13,380-foot South Lookout Peak. New snow had begun falling, and by that afternoon several inches had built the base for a creamy powder run behind the hut.
Since OPUS opened in 2011, February has been the busiest month, but Kingsley says the best skiing is often found in April, when snow stability improves and sunny slopes yield harvests of fun-to-schuss corn. We didn’t get any kernels, but by day three the storm had dropped more than eight inches of snow, and Kingsley led us to one more steep stash before we had to pick up our featherweight packs and glide back out to the car. —Dougald MacDonald
IF YOU GO
Setup: OPUS sleeps 16. There is a dining room and two indoor bathrooms on the main floor; two private (three-bunk) bedrooms downstairs; and two five-bunk bedrooms upstairs.
Hut-Specific Pack List: Sheets or sleeping bag liners for bunks and a bathing suit for the sauna.
To-Do List: Seeking out the best—and safest—backcountry powder stashes (we recommend guided tours from Bob Kingsley, at $150–$325 per person depending on group size).
Getting There: You can approach OPUS from the west (Ophir/Telluride) or east (Ouray/Silverton); most Front Rangers choose the latter because it’s 45 minutes closer to home. Take U.S. 285 south to U.S. 50 west to Montrose, then head south on Highway 550. The trailhead is about halfway between Red Mountain Pass and Silverton, at the start of Ophir Pass Road.
Book It: $35/person/night (private rooms vary), $35/person/day
for meals; 970-708-0092, opushut.com