This New Backcountry Ski-Hut System Is Epic
Europe has always had something America doesn’t: an Alpine ski route connecting a network of full-service, premium lodges. That’s about to change, as San Juan Mountain Guides in Ouray, Colorado, launches the ultimate hut-to-hut tour in a stunning setting. We sent Devon O’Neil to check it out.
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Perched on skis at the top of Bullion King Basin, I admired a wide barrel of spring corn glistening below me. I’d been waiting for this moment. It was my reward for suffering through a five-hour traverse between two backcountry cabins in southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. We started that morning at the OPUS Hut near Ophir Pass, just west of Silverton, which we’d skinned up to the previous afternoon. Now we prepared to descend to Highway 550 on Red Mountain Pass, the second day of a new five-day, 27-mile adventure between three luxurious huts in the range.
As I pushed off the ridge and embraced the lightness of gliding down perfectly softened corn, my worries dissolved. No longer was I feeling the burn of a newly formed ankle blister or the hunger pangs brought on by my failure to pack enough snacks. I tucked into my turns with little effort, arcing down one of America’s most spectacular backcountry skiing playgrounds, knowing that a hot meal and a shower awaited that night.
Multiday ski tours between full-service cabins, which allow guests to travel light and fast and sample big-mountain turns along the way, have existed in Europe, Canada, and other great ranges around the world for years—most notably, the Haute Route between Chamonix, in France, and Zermatt, in Switzerland. But in the U.S., hut-to-hut skiing has mainly been a DIY endeavor. You had to bring your own food, prepare your own meals, and be strong enough to skin long stretches under the weight of a 40-to-50-pound pack. As outdoor enthusiasts in greater numbers discover the magic of backcountry skiing, and demand grows for well-stocked refuges, that’s starting to change, especially in the San Juans.