Note: Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.
Too often in travel writing, we use the word “escape” to mean “a little vacation.” But every once in a while we all find ourselves needing to actually get away from everything, mentally and physically. Yet not everyone has a Walden they can retreat to. And that’s where an off-grid, backcountry ski trip to one of the San Juan Huts in Colorado comes in.
About 10,000 feet up in the Sneffels Range in the southwestern part of the state, the five backcountry ski huts in the San Juan Hut System are cozy and remote, and you might just get one of these eight-person huts all to yourself. They connect Telluride, Ridgway, and Ouray and are set near meadows or in forests with epic views of the 14,000-foot peaks around them. You’ll have to work for this kind of solitude—none of the huts is accessible by motorized vehicles, so you’ll need to cross-country ski or snowshoe—but the effort is an excellent chance to disconnect from the stress of everyday life.
Unlike backcountry camping, you can pack light because these huts are equipped with the necessities. Each one sleeps up to eight people per night and is equipped with padded bunks, a propane cookstove and light, a wood stove with firewood, all the necessary utensils and cookware, and a composting toilet. They’re rugged, but since you won’t have to pack a tent or stove, you can supplement your gear with the extras, like a packable pillow or a french press for your morning coffee, that’ll make your experience deliciously comfortable. (Do note that in the winter, water is obtained by melting snow, so you’ll want to pack some sort of purification system too. We’re fans of the Grayl purification bottles.)
The ski huts are open from November 25 through June 1 and cost $30 per person per night. You can also book out an entire cabin simply by paying for all eight spots.
The San Juan Hut System, which was inspired by similar Canadian and European alpine huts, was created in 1987 and follows 60 miles of cross-country trails in the Sneffels Range. You can string together a few or all five of the huts on a multi-day backcountry adventure, or you can pick one and use it as a base. The individual access trails range from 2.7 miles to 10 miles, and the distance between huts is roughly 4 to 9 miles, depending on which huts you’re traveling between.
The route is designed for intermediate skier ability and up, but in the surrounding areas, there is plenty of excellent skiing that will thrill advanced and expert skiers too. (But this writer wouldn’t mind making the trek in and then spending the next day hiking around the hut and lounging with a book.)
All guests are emailed GPS tracks (waypoint coordinates) and a detailed booklet to help guide their planning and packing. They are also mailed hardcopy, custom maps. And the San Juan Huts team is happy to talk through trips, maps, trails, food, terrain, and huts. Because this is a backcountry trip, you’ll want some knowledge of snow and avalanche conditions too and how to stay safe.
Not into snow? The San Juan Hut System also has hut-to-hut mountain bike routes and hiking routes in the summer. No matter what time of year you go, these huts are places where you can truly escape from it all.