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The Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt is the most iconic ski-touring trek in the world, replete with cozy candlelit dinners in huts tucked into the rocky Alps. But why fly all the way to Europe when we have some incredible hut-to-hut opportunities right here in Colorado?
Boasting both extensive private huts and those operated by the 10th Mountain Division, Colorado’s offerings run the gamut from luxurious to self-supported. Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll enjoy more affordability, easier access, more reliable snow, and fewer (or zero) crowds than you would at their famed Euro counterpart. If you’d like to take the trek less traveled, here are some of our favorites—a couple of which are in Wagner’s backyard. (Call us today to start building your perfect touring skis.)
The San Juan hut system is one of the best in the world for access, views, hut offerings, snow quality, and terrain. This five-day adventure starts at the Opus Hut, a full-service Euro-style lodge that sits in a basin on Ophir Pass. In nearly every direction, steep couloirs turn into perfectly pitched aprons of powder that spit skiers right back to the Opus front porch. Spend a day touring some of the best backcountry terrain in Colorado, then move on to the Thelma Hut, another gorgeous full-service hut that elevates backcountry luxury to four-star status. From there, spend another day touring in the jaw-dropping San Juans and, on day five, ski five miles down to Telluride. Hire Peak Mountain Guides to put it all together for you—they’ll hold your hand the whole way.
Named after the highway that runs through these mining towns, this traverse starts at the Opus Hut but then goes to the Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, a relatively new hut on Red Mountain Pass that’s owned by the same folks who own San Juan Mountain Guides. Like the Opus and Thelma, RMAL also belongs in the opulent backcountry category with a full bar, beautiful accommodations, and excellent food (the views are also insane). The skiing here is so good, we recommend utilizing the knowledgeable guides and spending a couple of nights here if possible. From RMAL, ascend up Senator Beck Basin toward historic Imogene Basin, pass Telluride Peak, and ski down to the Hayden Backcountry Lodge. From there, tour to Camp Red Bird, where a shuttle will take you to Ouray. San Juan Mountain Guides will take you the whole way.
This is a challenging trip for experienced skiers only—and you’ll need to haul your own provisions. It also travels through dangerous avalanche terrain, so it’s best done in springtime. But if you’re up for the exertion and the exposure, the skiing is top-notch. You can do this from either direction or in a loop, but the safest way is to go from Crested Butte to Aspen, as the East Brush Creek route from the Crested Butte side is less steep. Your first stop is the Friends Hut, which was built as a memorial to the Aspen and Crested Butte victims of a head-on plane collision over East Maroon Pass in 1980. From Friends Hut, you can ski the June Couloir off Star Peak (13,521 feet), if conditions are prime. From here, skin up and over Pearl Pass and descend to the Green Wilson Hut, just below timberline. Castle Peak (14,280 feet) will tempt you—but beware, as this terrain is notorious for avalanches. From here you’ll ski down into Ashcroft, where you’ll meet up with your car (you’ll have to do the shuttle before you begin).
This classic Colorado tour is the reason that many of Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Huts exist—Fritz Benedict, a WWII 10th Mountain Division soldier and Aspen architect, started the hut system to fulfill his dream of linking these two Colorado ski towns via skin track. The tour is as strenuous as it is rewarding, and you’ll bag some of the most classic lines our state has to offer. (The skinning is hard, so we recommend keeping everything else easy by hiring Aspen Alpine Guides or Paragon Guides.) The trip involves five huts—Margy’s Hut, Betty Bear Hut, Uncle Bud’s Hut, Jackal Hut, and finally the Shrine Mountain Inn.
Interested in more? Check out the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association website and plan your own.
Article by Kimberly Beekman
Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.