Is the Red Mountain Alpine Lodge the next best thing to a mountain chalet in Europe? No, it’s better. It’s in Southwest Colorado.
By Brandon Mathis
When mountain guide business partners Nate Disser and Mark Iuppenlatz got the idea to build a full-service, solar-powered, off-the-grid A-frame lodge loaded with modern amenities at 11,000 feet on Colorado’s Red Mountain Pass, more than a few people thought they were crazy. Maybe they were. But they did it anyway.
Both of them knew a modern lodge could serve the growing demand for such a concept. While there are several options for mountain huts and getaways, there’s not much in the way of a decked-out cabin in the woods.
“We wanted to showcase this terrain, and have a place where everything was taken care of,” Disser says.
Co-owner of San Juan Mountain Guides in Ouray, Colorado, an internationally renowned guiding service specializing in climbing and skiing, Disser’s résumé is built on guiding in Alaska, South America, the North Cascades and beyond. But seven years ago, he began to toy with the idea of building an upscale ski lodge in the San Juan Mountains. It just so happened that longtime client-turned-partner Iuppenlatz was thinking the same thing.
Iuppenlatz spent 30 years working in corporate America, but he is a lifelong skier and backcountry enthusiast who has skied around the world. Like Disser, he had a different perspective when it came to what ski huts could be like.
“If you go to CMH (heli-ski mega-giant Canadian Mountain Holidays), the kind of lodges you stay in are just a little nicer,” he says.
Iuppenlatz said that while people are fanatic over epic powder, they also like a nice meal, nice accommodations and some of the comforts of home. Disser, a guide of 17 years, said he believed a new kind lodge in the region would elevate the already stellar profile of San Juans skiing. Once they got their heads together, they didn’t look back. They broke ground on the lodge in spring 2018.
Though the lodge is upscale, you don’t need a Gold Card and a passport to stay there. It’s posh enough for a honeymoon yet positioned for some of the most incredible backcountry alpine adventure in America.
Artisan style timber frame A frames are built with a centuries old practice. There are no big metal nuts and bolts. Other local ski huts are charismatic: cobblestone, refurbished mining cabins or minimalist chalets, but they lack some comforts. Red Mountain Alpine Lodge takes another approach.
The lower level is 2,500 square feet, with an additional 500 feet in a loft. The lodge can sleep 20 guests comfortably: upstairs are five clever two-bed roomettes. Private rooms are downstairs. In total, there are three showers with on-demand hot water, four toilets and four sinks. Resident inn keepers take care of things, and a chef in Ouray handles the menu. Breakfast and dinner are included with every night’s stay.
A giant solar system has 5,000 pounds of batteries to power dual-zone radiant-heated floors, electricity, wi-fi and a commercial-style kitchen with a coffee bar, a two-keg cooler and wet bar (yeah, they got a liquor license). Propane generators act as backups.
A wood stove and several cozy living areas are perfect for après naps. There is also talk of a shuffle board in the loft.
Groups can hire their own guides at no extra cost for their accommodations. In fact, guides get their own bunk rooms plus a situation room with wi-fi flat-screen feeds for video chats, avalanche bulletins, weather observations and crucial safety information.
Backcountry powder hounds have been booking the Red Mountain Alpine Lodge for months, in great anticipation of the mid-December opening. Disser says the growth of backcountry skiing and the number of people who are taking avalanche courses so that they have skills to go farther off the beaten path is part of why the lodge has demand before it is even open.
In the last few years, backcountry-related gear sales have quadrupled, according to Snowsports Industries America. Many major winter resorts are scrambling to adopt policies to allow users to ski uphill and to develop access beyond the typical ski run.
“… If they don’t have some sort of good side-country and a good hike-to terrain plan, they’re sort of behind the curve,” Disser says. “There’s a demand for that kind of experience.”
The mountains surrounding the lodge are the reason people will come to stay at the lodge, which is essentially the front and back doors to the wilderness. Iconic ski tours up Red Mountain 1, 2 and 3 leave from the front deck of Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, and the mellow slopes of U.S. Basin are a short skinned-ski away. People can hike up and drop in Prospect Gulch. Commodore is across the way. Trico and Telluride peaks are close. Low-angle trees, powder heavy glades, ridge line traverses, alpine bowls and open faces create a diverse playground. With 300 inches of snow a year, Red Mountain Pass is an epicenter of Colorado backcountry skiing. And this new lodge adds to it.
“For a lot of people, this is the ultimate way to go skiing,” Disser says. He sees everything from ambitious diehards, to avalanche education courses and adventurous families there.
Access is a major attraction of the lodge. Although it sits at 11,000 feet, it is only 300 yards away from U.S. Highway 550. That means it’s more accessible than many backcountry ski huts that require you to slog for hours. Guests can hike in in 10 minutes, stash their stuff and go.
“Drop your gear on that porch, go out and ski all day then check in that night. It’s a lot easier,” Iuppenlatz says.
In other seasons, he says the lodge will be usable for all kinds of events, from family reunions to corporate retreats and workshops.
“We hope people get an appreciation for the San Juans and a less-traveled experienced,” Iuppenlatz says. “It’s the Alpino Vino of huts. We just want to share our love of the backcountry.”
For more information, visit www.redmountainalpinelodge.com.