This hut trip through Colorado’s San Juan Mountains is the closest you can get to skiing Europe without hopping a plane.
Borders are closed, but that doesn’t mean that big ski trips are a bust. This spring, San Juan Mountain Guides (SJMG) is introducing a European-style, hut-to-hut tour from Silverton to Ouray, Colo., with overnights at two or three full-service huts along the way.
This traverse offers up some of the best backcountry skiing in the state. Here’s what you need to know to gear up and get after it yourself.
The American Haute Route
Colorado’s San Juan mountains have some of the most complex terrain and reliable snowpack in the western U.S. The Interconnect Route, also called the American Haute Route, winds through the San Juans from Silverton to Ouray. The hut tour traverses 13,000-foot passes, carves down powdery bowls, and climbs up evergreen-covered shoulders.
It’s inspired by the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route, but it’s not just the route that’s Euro-inspired. The rest of the trip — format, lodging, perks — oozes European hut vibes.
In the U.S., this trip is unique. While there are many backcountry huts, there are few if any fully catered and supported hut-to-hut trips. And even sparser are trips with a heavy focus on skiing the region’s best terrain versus ones simply connecting one hut to the next.
San Juan Mountains Interconnect Route: Huts & More
On the Interconnect, guests will overnight at multiple full-service huts along the way. There’s no schlepping your sleeping bag or wearing the same stinky long underwear for 4 days. SJMG staff shuttle the bulk of your gear. You just carry a daypack with lunch and avi gear and earn your turns.
There are two options for skiing the Interconnect hut trip: the Interconnect 121 route and the Interconnect 22 route. Both Interconnect itineraries are 5 days and 4 nights, with all meals, lodging, and IFMGA/AMGA guiding included. The guide-to-skier ratio is 1:4.
Ophir Pass Ultimate Ski (OPUS) Hut
The Interconnect 121 starts in Silverton and climbs to OPUS Hut, a high-alpine wood and stone backcountry hut that clings to the southern slopes of the 13,666-foot Lookout Peak. The hut is surrounded by powdery tree runs and creamy bowls ready to be skinned and skied. Guests have at least half a day to sample the snow before breaking to toast to the guides and the goods and savor a delectable meal.
Day 2, guests skin up and over a 13,000-foot couloir before dropping to Columbine Lake and a dramatic traverse through several basins. From the shoulder of Trico Peak, where San Juan, San Miguel, and Ouray counties come together, you’ll descend to Red Mountain Alpine Lodge (RMAL). Depending on conditions (and how late you want to arrive for apres), the route can be direct or include bonus laps.
Red Mountain Alpine Lodge (RMAL)
Recently opened, the RMAL is a striking timber-frame lodge with floor-to-ceiling windows and cathedral ceilings in the main room. The lodge is just a few minutes from Red Mountain Pass on the former site of Red Mountain City. Despite its proximity to town, it feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere.
Sidle up to the massive hand-forged steel island to order a drink from the Lodge’s bar, or curl up on a sheepskin-covered chair in front of the roaring fire. Both Interconnect itineraries spend 2 nights at this luxurious yet homey lodge. Here, the ski options are endless, whether you love trees, open bowls, or alpine summits.
Hayden Backcountry Lodge
On Day 4, the tour climbs Senator Beck Basin toward historic Imogene Basin over another 13,000-foot couloir before moving down rolling slopes to Hayden Backcountry Lodge. Highlights of this fully renovated historic log cabin include a cedar wood-fired hot tub and an in-house chef. The tour ends with a loop through Camp Bird Corridor in the shadow of Mt. Sneffels and Yankee Boy Basin, before a shuttle returns guests to Ouray, Colo.
The Interconnect 22 follows roughly the same route and crosses similar terrain but differs in lodging. (It includes 2 nights at Red Mountain Alpine Lodge and 2 nights at the Hayden Backcountry Lodge.)
How to Book Your Interconnect Experience
Each Interconnect hut trip will run with limited departures in spring 2021. Due to COVID-19, group size is limited to eight people — unless you book a private group. Contact San Juan Mountain Guides for details, or book online. Pricing starts at $1,995 per person.