The San Juan Hut System may have been made famous for its mountain biking over 25 years ago, but we personally like the appeal of snow-capped peaks and several feet of snow to glide through. The hut system covers more than 250 square miles and offers a variety of routes from Telluride or Durango to Moab. The area between Telluride and Ouray is our favorite for skiers looking to enjoy the fresh powder. This section leads you beneath the soaring 14,000-foot alpine peaks of the Sneffels Range and offers expansive, magical views.
First of all, the mission of the San Juan Hut System is “to provide low-impact, human-powered, lightweight backcountry travel opportunities for the independent health conscious adventurer at a practical price.” In Colorado, this is just the type of outdoor adventuring we like to support.
The padded bunks can accommodate up to eight people per night, and will set you back $30 per person. The huts are great because they provide all of the essentials you need, leaving you plenty of space in your pack for a luxury item or two. Aside from the wood stove, we can tell you from experience that sipping whiskey is another great way to warm up from the cold. A propane cook stove, firewood, utensils, and cookware are also available for your use. Not to worry though, when nature calls, there is a composting toilet in each hut, so there is no need to creep out into the cold snowy wilderness in the middle of the night.
If you are interested in skiing between huts for an extended adventure, it’s important to note that it can take anywhere from three to eight hours to get to the next hut. If skiing straight into one hut is more your speed, Last Dollar, Burn, and Blue Lakes huts will be the quickest at two to three hours, while Ridgway and the North Pole huts will take four to six hours.
It’s important for skiers to have knowledge of avalanche and changing weather conditions any time you are in the backcountry. Because tracks can easily get covered in a few feet of fresh snow, we recommend taking a compass or GPS with you. The San Juan Hut System website can answer all of your questions, like what kind of skis are best and what the trails are like between huts.
Planning Your Adventure
The San Juan Hut System is the ultimate outdoor playground, but it is wise not to get out of your depth when heading into the backcountry. Considering your skiing and navigating abilities is important when deciding which hut and route you will take. We are breaking down the best options for all skill levels.
For the beginner: The best trail to start on if you have never skied the backcountry is definitely the Last Dollar hut. At less than three miles to the hut, and a short drop in elevation on your descent, chances of wearing yourself out are slim. Plus, you are less likely to lose your way on this trail. You can spend a few days at this hut, playing around in the snow nearby without having to travel too far.
For the intermediate: Heading straight in to Ridgway is a bit further at nearly seven miles and close to 2,000 feet in elevation. This route will certainly put your skiing stamina to the test, without placing you way out of your depth. If you want to spend an extra day or two, you can always head out to Burn which is just a four mile trek from Ridgway and only 730 feet in elevation. Finish by heading back the way you came.
For the advanced: If you have spent a great deal of time skiing the backcountry in Colorado and you know how to watch for snow changes and avalanche dangers, consider taking several of the longer routes to a few different huts. We personally recommend starting out your adventure with a ten-mile trek in to the North Pole hut. When you are ready, the route from North Pole to Blue Lakes will knock your socks off and is just over seven miles. Still not done? Try adding on the trek to Ridgway for another day or two of adventure.