I was super psyched when I got the email way back in August: "You are cordially invited to our OPUS Hut trip in the San Juans March 30 - April 2, 2018." I'd heard about the Opus hut in Colorado's San Juan mountains before but not much beyond that it was high and awesome, and the terrain was such that it was in a pretty avy prone area so going late season - after hopefully, things had stabilized - would be perfect. Ryan McDermott was the protagonist, which made it even better; I'd been hearing about Ryan for years due to his adventurous enduro exploits and his legendary nice-guyness, and the rest of the crew I either knew already or by reputation knew them to be to fun and strong lads/lasses.
Time marched on, and as the trip approachethed, my enthusiasm began to wane a little; some of the great folks I knew on the crew were bailing (including Ashley, due to work intensity) and as meager as our winter has been in Utah, the Four Corners areas were getting an unusually raw deal: most of the Southwest has been sitting at 50% snowpack, and there has literally been no more than a coupla feet on the ground at nearby reporting ski resorts. But in many cases some snow is enough snow, the Opus hut is high, and we are always game for some silly adventures in a new place, so off we went.
The Opus hut is perched above the gravel road that goes over Ophir pass between the small town of Ophir (a drainage south, and up above Telluride) and the Red Mountain pass highway that goes between Silverton and Ouray. Getting there involves a 3.5 mile hike in up the road, which goes pretty fast since in addition to your ski gear all you need is lunch food and a sleeping bag liner (dinner, breakfasts, and comforters are provided). And once there....well, the Opus "hut" is a far cry from the yurts of the Tetons or the Sawtooths.
Inspired by the high mountain chalets of Europe, Bob (he doesn't need a last name) spent 5 years working on buying a mining claim,and then - without needing approvals from the Forest Service, since he bought the claim -he spent another few years using a snowcat to haul materials in and used his experience building custom homes in Ophir and Telluride to build a pretty incredible place. I am usually not that impressed by any building, but the attention to detail and artistry of the Opus hut is hard to miss. As Aaron Smith put it: "Even the stairs are perfect; they don't creak!"
|Bob has been in the Telluride area since the beginning of time, and is as great a ski info resource as he is a builder.|
But as nice as the hut is, the skiing is better, as long as there is indeed good stability, because it's big:
in those parts!
Our first afternoon of skiing was a bit thin (and brother Paul had one of his "best crashes ever", splitting his tips and diving steeply down across a scree patch!) but it gave us a sense of the "main" terrain across the road and up the aptly-named Paradise Valley
Where our dozen-strong crew set upon itself the hefty task of skiing just about all the steep lines to be had. And while indeed the snow was thin:
there was just enough snow blown into couloirs and onto lee slopes to get both some steep chalky-powder chuting
and long fun corn lines:
As we crawled up to various ridges, a few sights leapt out at us:
|This thousand foot couloir dubbed "King Kong" just begged to be skied|
the snow was supportable enough for solid booting
|I wanted to put the booter in so I'd get first tracks! (tho it didn't matter at all)|
|hungry to bite the King|
And it was steep enough to make brother Paul look burly!
Blake hails from Utah County, and clearly the Timpanogos and Cascade ridge areas have had an influence on him, since he skis the steeps with a smooth, very casual grace:
Another chute we spied split the summit of South Lookout peak, and though it wasn't quite as long or as steep, the aesthetics were definitely there
|Blake showing the way towards our primary goal, with a little gem to slay en route|
It took a bit of work to get to the big one, including sniveling down a line that barely went
And once in, the line was as sublime as we'd hoped
At the end of the day we had a good 1200 foot grind out of the valley back up to the hut:
|the snow was even thinner at the lowest elevation of about 10,500|
And we were always happy to finally stumble in:
|Paul and I posing for the gratuitous Voile shot; there were Chargers, Vectors, V6's, and Objectives on the trip, and all worked just fine across the range of conditions and terrain we had.|
Part of the evening hut time was of course planning out the next day:
|Ryan and Rob plotting|
|and after plotting, Ryan was always the first to be ready to go in the morning.|
Aaron and I had spied another, more subtle line splitting the E face of South Lookout:
And we tried to boot up it late in the day, but were turned back since it had already iced up (and had to go to a plan B, which wasn't bad:
But the next morning Paul and Rob and I went back up there and skinned up the fatter line to lookers left to where you could traverse into the thinner line, and I booted on up. Once on top, it was intimidating:
|I didn't measure it, but it was steep enough that I was being quite careful with each turn, and in the choke it was only a bit wider than my ski length...but it was much softer than the afternoon before.|
I had also kinda forgotten that 13,000 feet is a lot different than 9-10,000, and I kept being surprised at how worked I was getting skiing down these runs (and how tiring it is skiing steeps; this high-avy year has kept me skiing a lot of low-angle noodly stuff). 'Radoans love to talk about their elevation ("Well, I live at 8500 feet, so....") but it does indeed take a bit more outta ya.
So after 3 days of solid chuting and corn harvesting on barely enough snow we zipped back down to the highway, letting the next crew have their shot at creating their art on the Opus's indeed large scale.
Thanks again to Ryan for having the vision to organize the trip last summer and inviting a fun, strong, and interesting crew to rattle around some new mountains for a few days. and thanks to Aaron for taking most of the pics here (at least, all the good ones!).