If you’ve ever had the luxury of experiencing a European backcountry vacation—where a resident host of the high alpine not only wines and dines you, but stokes the cabin’s communal fire throughout your stay, too—boot-packing to one of Colorado’s primitive huts might seem rather unrefined in comparison. That is, unless you’re staying at Thelma Hut.
Nestled in a picturesque meadow and surrounded by the striking silhouette of the San Juan Mountains, Thelma Hut emerges as a welcome mirage through the pines. The cabin, which opened in December 2018, is only a half-mile from Red Mountain Pass, which winds between the far-flung mountain meccas of Ouray and Silverton. From the pullout on Red Mountain Pass, the hike or skin up to Thelma is a quick bootpack (it took us about 15 minutes) with only around 250 vertical feet of climbing, making it incredibly accessible for visitors who aren’t as familiar with backcountry travel. There was a well defined skin-track that switchbacked over a few steeper sections, and in the summer—Thelma Hut is open year-round—a dirt access road meanders its way up the hillside.
Outfitted with riveted steel siding and accented with blue-hued, beetle kill pine throughout its interior, Thelma boasts sleeping space for up to eight, plus coveted backcountry amenities, like a flush toilet, shower, radiant floor heating, and sleek interior finishes. As a major bonus, the property also includes a dry sauna located just steps away in the hut keeper’s residence. And it’s eco-friendly—it all runs via an off-grid, solar-powered system.
The journey to the hut is nothing less than breathtaking, but the real experience begins when guests click out of their ski boots and step into Thelma’s mudroom, where an apron-clad host is waiting with steaming bowls of afternoon soup. Then there’s breakfast and dinner—we indulged in syrupy, buckwheat pancakes topped with blueberries and apricots, homemade porridge, and a delicious slow-simmered yellow curry during our stay—to fuel and refuel while you hit the powder-filled playground located just outside Thelma’s front door. The only posted rules? No ski boots in the house, let your hosts take care of the fire, and stay out of the kitchen while dinner’s cooking.
Thelma Hut is privately owned by a couple based in Taos, and managed by Bob Kingsley and his partner Allison Snyder, who also own and operate the OPUS Hut (located just four miles away). Kingsley and Snyder happen to be connoisseurs of Europe’s sprawling backcountry hut system. Late last year, the duo completed a hut-to-hut excursion through the Pyrenees. While they curate a similar, European-style experience at the OPUS (which stands for Ophir-Pass-Ultimate-Ski) Hut, Thelma offers a more intimate setup, with two private bedrooms and one small bunkroom that fits four. OPUS—and most other backcountry huts for that matter—accommodate 16 people and typically have one or two giant bunk rooms, so you’re in pretty tight quarters with anyone who’s reserved a spot for the night.
Thelma Hut’s opening has given die-hard backcountry enthusiasts a reason to rejoice, too. Local guiding companies are offering guided backcountry ski-tours between Thelma and OPUS, so adventurers can enjoy a more immersive backcountry experience. Ouray-based Peak Mountain Guides is running the American Haute Route, during which advanced-intermediate to expert-level backcountry skiers can sample the San Juans’ hut system for five days and four nights (the 2021 excursion is February 22–26 and costs $1,750 per person). Peak Mountain Guides also offers privately guided trips to OPUS, Thelma, and others in the San Juan Range throughout the winter (guide fees start at $460 per day; reservations for the huts range between $50–$900 per night).
During our own excursion to Thelma Hut, we skinned to the top of the rocky ridgeline just outside the hut’s floor-to-ceiling windows and made some turns back down to basecamp, where we curled up fireside in the cabin’s alpenglow-drenched communal living space. The next morning, we awoke to six inches of fresh snow and had some of the best turns of the season as we skied the half-mile back down to our Jeep—no passport required.
If You Go
Packing List: The best part of the Thelma Hut experience is that you can pack light. All you need to bring is your ski gear, slippers, and a reusable water bottle.
Getting There (from Ouray): .6 miles after your reach the top of Red Mountain Pass, park in the small pullout on the left, cross the street, and follow the Summer Access Road .5 miles until you see Thelma’s eaves through the pines.
Book It: The hut rental is $580 per night (8 guest maximum), plus $240 per night for meals (which includes breakfast, afternoon soup, and dinner) for the first four guests. Meals for additional guests are $60 per person per night. The Thelma Hut is dog-friendly (for “well-behaved” pups), with a $50 per night pet fee. thelmahut.com, 970-708-0092