New Kid on the Pass

BY Tess Strokes | February 25, 2019 | Feature Features

Red Mountain Alpine Lodge brings the Canadian backcountry lodge experience to Colorado.

Colorado’s backcountry huts are just that: huts. That’s why when a European-style backcountry lodge that provided comfortable beds, running water, meals and alcohol opened almost a decade ago, it filled with bookings from backcountry skiers looking to elevate their experience from the state’s bare-bones 10th Mountain Division huts. The caveat is that Opus Hut lies 3 ½ miles and 1,800 vertical feet from the road, with route finding and avalanche path crossings required.

Enter Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, a brand-new backcountry lodge off Red Mountain Pass, the “Million-Dollar Highway” that runs between Ouray and Silverton that is regarded as one of the best backcountry ski passes in the world. While the off-the-grid timber-framed lodge nestled in old-growth trees feels like it’s deep in the San Juan Mountains, RMAL sits just 300 yards from the highway, making access easier than any other Colorado hut. One can leave Ouray at 5pm and be drinking a local beer on tap in the lodge’s tavern at 5:35pm. Plus, breakfast and dinner are offered, and lunch is available to purchase, along with amenities like a wood-burning sauna, radiant floor heating, and—get this—hot showers. Private rooms sleep three to four people, and the loft features space for 10 guests. In the loft, eight of the spaces are single beds, and two of the spaces are full beds.

The cabin is a dream realized for Nate Disser, longtime owner and American Mountain Guides Association-certified guide for Ouray-based San Juan Mountain Guides. A client, Mark Iuppenlatz, became a business partner, and the two broke ground on the lodge in May after years of buying up mining claims in the area that now add up to 300 continuous acres, with a goal to preserve access and offer the kind of experiences they have both enjoyed in Canada and Europe in a range known as the Switzerland of America.

RMAL offers a la carte guiding to access world-class ski terrain in every direction. North-facing tree skiing (read: where the snow is of the highest quality in winter) is found out the front door, offering a safer option when avalanche conditions make the skiing above treeline dangerous. When conditions are right, San Juan classics like Red Mtn #3, Commodore Basin and Chattanooga beckon. “From beginner and intermediate terrain to big peaks; north, east and west-facing slopes; and terrain on either side of the pass—we can hit it all,” says Disser. Nonskiers can snowshoe on circuits around the lodge, practice yoga, read a book by the fire or drive 15 minutes to Ouray for a hot-springs soak.

If all goes according to plan, Colorado skiers could have their own Haute Route. Next winter, RMAL plans to offer hut-to-hut options between the Opus Hut and another catered hut opening this summer in nearby Richmond Basin. Just imagine: a weeklong hut trip carrying nothing but a day pack—in the heart of Colorado. From $134 per person, redmountainalpinelodge.com

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