Good Vibrations: The Vagabond Ranch is a powder retreat center. Photo: Courtesy Vagabond Ranch
The Luxury Escape
Why rough it? The new luxurious Vagabond Ranch Huts nestled in the Never Summer Mountains are powder-luxe. It’s best described as an off-the-grid retreat thanks to a centrally located hot tub, private rooms and practice space for meditation and yoga. So you won’t have to worry about snoring bunkmates and stinky laundry drying by the fire here. A mellow 3.8-mile ski or snowshoe brings visitors to three elegant cabins that rest at the foot of 12,303-foot Cascade Peak. These huts deliver more than rustic charm—this backcountry trip includes hot showers and beautifully stocked kitchens that provide a welcome respite after long days spent frolicking in the surrounding powder fields. Plus, the owners are focused on making the building, operations and their practices as environmentally-sound as possible.
If you can plan just one backcountry trip this winter, head here. Open year-round, the Pass Creek Yurt rests just below the Continental Divide at 10,250 feet in a pristine setting just three miles southeast of Wolf Creek Pass. It’s a family friendly spot—especially if your family likes to ski pow. The yurt records a whopping 300 days of Colorado sunshine but don’t despiar, it’s also graced with up to 40 feet of snow each winter, and serves up countless opportunities for scoring fresh tracks. Additional perks include a wood burning stove, solar-powered lights, comfy futon beds to sleep up to six and the opportunity to take part in avy training through the Wolf Creek Avalanche School.
The Last-Minute Getaway
Maybe you wanna get away, but you’re short on time? Or, you’re scrambling at the last minute to do something special for a forgotten birthday or anniversary? Head to the Colorado Mountain Club’s Arestua Hut (aka Guinn Hut), located between Eldora Ski Resort and Rollins Pass Road. The steep and strenuous 4.5-mile climb up the flanks of Guinn Mountain from the resort is worth the slog. For those on a more ambitious trek over to Winter Park, the hut provides the perfect mid-trip resting spot.
If making turns is your first priority, reserve some time at the Ophir Pass Ultimate Ski Hut (OPUS Hut). This charming lodge, which lives up to its name, stands at tree line on the southern slopes of 13,666 foot Lookout Peak in the northern San Juans between Telluride and Silverton. The brand-new cabin provides skiers and mountaineers of all abilities with the perfect base for exploring some of the best and most varied terrain in the region. Right out the front door, Owl Meadow serves up low-angle terrain suited for novices while the big drops and couloirs of Lookout Peak, Ophir Pass and the surrounding steeps could entertain and challenge even the most seasoned shredders for weeks. Even the approach to the hut can be a thrill, depending on your skill and the level of adventure you’re seeking. The easy way to get here is a straightforward slog via Ophir Pass Road or try one of the more adventurous high routes from Telluride, Silverton or Red Mountain Pass. Either way, make sure you’re avalanche savvy or hire a guide. San Juan Mountain Guides (ourayclimbing.com) is the best local resource. Best of all, after crushing it outside all day, the OPUS hut is one lush place to recover—replete with hot water, central heat and a living area with an entertainment bar. Additional perks inlcude indoor plumbing, composting toilets, in-floor heating and a full size oven (think warm chocolate chip cookies for dessert!).
Into the Wild
Tucked into the mountains above Aspen, the Benedict Huts provide access to prime cross-country and snowshoe touring terrain. If you’re up for the challenging 6-mile climb out of the Hunter Valley to the top of Smuggler Mountain, the Fabi and Fritz cabins offer guests the opportunity to trek below towering ice-capped peaks while exploring a vast and largely untouched wilderness. Perched just above Warren Lakes, these aesthetically pleasing structures that are part of the renowned 10th Mountain Division Hut System, are also known for their beautifully crafted and unique… wait for it… outhouse. It’s hard to imagine an outhouse creating so much buzz, but this is no ordinary privy—high wood beams and tons of glass create a view of the outstretched forest, Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak stretched out in front of you from your seat on the throne. When you have finished your business check out the luge track or head out to try to spot lynx that use this habitat.
Not into roughing it, but still want a base for backcountry exploration? Head to Avalanche Ranch. This 36-acre ranch, situated in the shadow of Mt. Sopris and overlooking the Crystal River, offers a range of idyllic accommodations that include mineral hot springs, an ice rink on site and a game room and lounge area. But it’s the location that seals the deal: Cross-country skiers and snowshoers will enjoy touring around McClure Pass and Huntsman’s Ridge. Expert skiers with avalanche training can head to the powder playground around Marble Peak. Skin up, soak in the panoramic views, then dive into big bowls with epic 2,000-vert runs. Just don’t tell the locals we sent you.