Opus Hut – Ophir Colorado
If you haven’t traveled into the Colorado San Juan mountains it’s time to plan a trip. The Opus Hut is like a shining star of Nazareth perched in the middle of their craggy peaks.
Each year my girlfriend Chance and I pick two adventure-based trips to conquer together. Typically these trips involve some type of challenging wilderness experience, like desert climbing, river or mountain based travel, but we had not discussed a winter off-piste ski trip since College.
In my small mountain community of Ophir Colorado my neighbor, Bob Kingsley had a formidable dream of acquiring a mining claim and building a ski hut. After much research with the county assessor’s office in Telluride he found a claim and after a year of legalities was able to dig dirt. His goal was born out of his love of the mountain lifestyle, to turn people on to the mountain environment and travel. His guiding background and appreciation of the mountains was his driving force. Ultimately building the hut would bring him closer to the mountain lifestyle he was aspiring to lead. European hut experiences influenced the customized building and the level of service was inspired by his travel to tea houses in the small mountain communities of Nepal. Bob’s vision was to offer this warm, cozy full service experience to skiers and hikers in his own back yard. The hut in all reality feels much more like a retreat then what may come to mind when I say hut trip; the only rough part is getting there.
Chance, a Sante Fe local, arrived at my house in Ophir the night before our hut trip. Like most of our trips the planning is left to the planner, which happened to be me for this particular undertaking. She was surprised to learn our adventure would begin the following morning right out my front door. By 9am we were scrambling out the door, half pro wilderness traveler, half junk show, with my food bag and water tied to the outside of my ski pack, so I could cram the important things in my pack; the bag of limes to accompany the bottle of tequila Bob had slogged up on his back the day prior, a tube of lip gloss, Dior show mascara, all the important things a girl brings on wilderness experiences. Pulling apart Chance’s skins, that had been stuck together for the last half decade, was a literal game of ski skin tug a-war in my over-populated neighborhood of extreme skiers (insert junk show here). Finally we were on our way.
The ski up to Opus begins at Ophir pass and then follows an old jeep road to Swamp Canyon and turns back towards the pass by some tiered beaver ponds; from there the 3000 foot climb starts up a steep face to a saddle just shy of 12,000 ft. We picked a blazing hot sunny March weekend for our Opus trip. For two ladies who work out daily on some level or another, the skin up was underestimated. Totally whooped at the top of the climb, we earned our afternoon treats at the hut. After the beautiful ski down we were greeted with another good climb up to the hut, flicking through our levels of ski risers to the highest, (think skinning in stilettos). Getting to the hut is like finding the spring in the middle of a parched desert, except this desert is the San Juan peaks which are epically gorgeous.
The hut is constructed out of beautiful, perfectly worn barn wood that Bob laboriously brought in from a turn of the century dairy farm in Wisconsin. It is perched on the side of a gladed mountain and surrounded by endless skiing. From the decks you can pick from far too many runs that you would never be able to accomplish with an entire winter spent at the hut. After changing out of our wet base layer, hydrating and a quick ski out the back door, Bob whipped up some frosty margaritas. The ice was sans the icicles from the eaves of the hut. Next up, homemade Cream of Local Mushroom soup which Bob serves daily at 4pm sharp (just about the loveliest surprise imaginable after an exhausting day in the mountains). One margarita in and we were making friends with the rest of the guests at the hut and listening to their various adventures in the San Juan mountains that day.
The hut sleeps 16 guests in 4 bedrooms, plus the hut keeper’s accommodations. The rooms are all furnished with a queen bed, bunk above and insane mountain views. Although you are advised to pack in a sleeping bag, clean sheets, pillows and cozy wool blankets are available for each guest.
Dinner at the hut consists of some hearty dishes with locally sourced sustainably farmed ingredients. Our favorite was the chicken pot pie, with thick buttery crust cooked in a Dutch oven. Don’t worry vegans, there was a separate equally delicious meal prepared for you. Wine and beer is available for purchase; yes indeed the opus hut is actually liquor licensed. This does qualify Bob for bragging rights! Chance and I stuck to glasses of Colorado grown grapes, from Sutcliff Vineyards outside of Cortez, Colorado, a stone’s throw away as the crow flies.
After dinner and a hilarious game of apples to apples among 40 something’s, we hit the sauna. Getting to the sauna was a true experience in itself; the 20 yard path of packed snow would have any recreational star gazer losing themselves in the night sky for a good long mountain moment. The 10 person sauna gives off that rich, hot, cedar smell. At 108 degrees, you literally sweat out the rest of any toxins left in your body after the ski in. Like any vain mountain girl, I was worried about the one amenity important to my daily life, a hot shower. Not to worry, there was a large galvanized bucket in the sauna. Seconds after you fill it with snow (that you gather just outside the hut) it is melted into warm refreshing water to ladle over yourself; hands down best mountain shower ever!
Chance and I requested a private room, but honestly, sharing would have been just fine too; it is amazing the quick camaraderie you gain with people in the mountains. We slept tucked in tight, looking out our windows that were hand crafted in the European style by an artisan company in Seattle, staring out at billions of stars, mountain silhouettes, and the plunging drop to the valley floor, we felt like we could be in a narrative for a children’s story.
In the morning we woke up with the sun, to fresh coffee and cream, homemade hot breads (gluten free especially for me through my online request form), fresh butter and jams, complete with eggs and breakfast meats. It beats most Sunday brunches at my house. After breakfast group by group the hut guests ventured out on their skis. Some venturing far to the mountain chutes across the valley where the skiing looks endless with long steep, wide open snow fields. We choose the gladed 1400 vert down to the river below the hut, which we never wanted to end. The skiing was fantastic. Four new inches had fallen the previous night creating a dreamy layer that felt as though we were skiing through butter. The climb up and out of the valley to a high alpine lake qualified for a week of barre classes. We found a southern facing bench beside Crystal Lake where we dug out snow seats for lunch to poster us up for another giggle fest of turns back to the hut.
The Opus Hut could be my all-time favorite trip Chance and I have taken together. Maybe it is my love of the San Juan Mountain’s, where I am lucky enough to call home, but I think it absolutely has to do with the level of service and comfort that the hut and Bob provide.
I asked Bob to describe the hut in five words to me and I think he nailed it: Eco-friendly, cozy, vast terrain, sunny, mountain-modern
Park on HWY 550, 5 miles north of Silverton, Colorado. At the turn off for Ophir pass road there is a large parking area, park and begin from this point. The other access is from the town of Ophir, a 45 minute drive around the Sneffles Mountain Range, just outside Telluride, Colorado. Alpine tours are possible from the Telluride Ski Resort, a unique experience on its own and a high alpine route the whole way. The ski in from either side is approximately 2 to 3.5 hours and is 3.5 miles from either direction. OpusHut.com
by Holli Owen for MTN Town Magazine
Photo Credits; Opus Hut
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