Red Mountain Alpine Lodge

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Red Mountain Alpine Lodge

Conveniently located, but off the grid, Red Mountain Alpine Lodge is the epitome of a backcountry skiing paradise.

PHOTOGRAPHY •  courtesy of Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, unless otherwise noted

Pushing open the massive iron front door to the 2,500 square foot timber frame lodge, it felt as if I was walking through a portal into the epicenter of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Sitting at 11,000 feet, 300 yards from Highway 550 on Red Mountain Pass, with Ouray a mere 20 minutes north and Silverton just 15 minutes down the road, Red Mountain Alpine Lodge isn’t in the middle of nowhere. But it certainly feels remote as you round the snowy bend toward the A-frame structure and lose sight of the highway behind you. It’s exactly the feeling the owners of this backcountry ski lodge had in mind when they opened its doors to the public last December.  

Nate Disser and Mark Iuppenlatz are co-owners of San Juan Mountain Guides (SJMG)–a year-round guiding service based out of Ouray, Colorado–and are also the proud founders of Red Mountain Alpine Lodge. The two purchased SJMG in 2012 and merged the operation with Disser’s existing guiding business. In the years since taking over SJMG, Disser and Iuppenlatz have witnessed the explosive rise of backcountry skiing first-hand. Looking for a viable expansion of their already successful business, the two landed on the idea of creating a backcountry ski lodge.

It’s easy to feel small exploring the San Juans. | PHOTO: Jeff Cricco

“We get a lot of guests for hut trips [through SJMG] and there are some huts up on Red Mountain Pass, but they’re substantially smaller, feature a lot fewer amenities and book out very early–like a year in advance for choice weekends,” Disser explains. “So Mark and I put our heads together and thought it would be a great idea to combine the guiding service with a lodge concept so that we can really feature our guides during those times and do something that is really unique up here.”

Unique, it is.

As soon as you step onto Red Mountain Alpine Lodge’s property, you forget just how close to civilization you actually are–that is, for backcountry hut standards. While it’s remarkably accessible from where you park your car, Red Mountain Alpine Lodge is still a six-hour drive from Denver and nearly an hour from the closest airport in Montrose, which tends to weed out those looking for a convenient vacation. However, those who make the initial effort to get to the lodge are immediately rewarded with spectacular, 360-degree views of one of the most aesthetically beautiful mountain ranges in the United States.

The San Juan Mountains are often compared to the Swiss Alps and for good reason. Within the 5 million acres of designated wilderness and national forest, the San Juans boast 653 named mountains and, of the 54 peaks in the state that exceed 14,000 feet, 13 of them live within this Rocky Mountain sub-range. From the lodge’s front door, skiers have virtually endless access to some of the best backcountry skiing in Colorado. With north-facing tree runs, high-alpine bowls and rock-notch couloirs, there’s something for every skier.

“I think that’s what sets this range apart,” says Disser. “It runs the gamut for beginner, intermediate and advanced-type skiers and then all different types of skiing that those people find enjoyable.”

As well as variety, Disser and Iuppenlatz both agree the amount of terrain that skiers and guides can get to from the lodge is key. Often, on hut trips, skiers are limited to the terrain surrounding the hut and if conditions in that area are too dangerous to go out, you’re stuck inside all day. But at Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, there are so many different areas and zones to access, hazardous conditions don’t ruin an entire day, just shift the plan.

“The lodge and its positioning gives us this incredible opportunity to have choices in where we go to deliver the goods for our guests,” says Iuppenlatz. “Ninety-nine times out of 100 we can go out in any type of hazard condition and deliver a great experience,” adds Disser.

After all is skied and done, Red Mountain Alpine Lodge hangs its hat on an array of dazzling amenities. Far beyond the average run-of-the-mill hut, this off-grid A-frame checks every box on the luxury list. The lodge sleeps up to 20 people, with three private bedrooms–each outfitted with one full-size bed and a bunk set-up–on the first floor and a lofted second floor housing 12 more single beds. Every mattress in the place is memory foam for Sleeping Beauty-like rest, four hot-water showers are at your disposal to wash off that long slog in the San Juans and heated floors negate the need to pack bulky slippers.

Once you’ve changed into something more comfortable, you can enjoy a well-deserved après beverage from the full wine cellar or craft beer keg and feast on a chef-prepared post-skiing snack like homemade vegetable barley soup and fresh bakery bread. The large, marble center island in the kitchen, reading nook with a wood-burning fireplace and massive farm table between the two provide ample space to relax, socialize and play a game of Scrabble or Jenga before a Michelin-worthy dinner is served.

Beyond the bells and whistles, the exposed posts and beams of the Douglas Fir timber frame lodge add a touch of rustic to the civilized luxury of the lodge’s amenities and an entire wall made up of large bay windows sets mighty Red Mountain on impressive display. 

“What I really appreciate are the smiles on peoples’ faces when they walk through the door. Genuinely, it exceeds all expectations,” says Iuppenlatz.

While SJMG and Red Mountain Alpine Lodge are sister companies, you needn’t book with one to enjoy the other. SJMG offers plenty of different guiding options, but Red Mountain Alpine Lodge guests are free to explore the terrain on their own. That said, experiencing a guided tour up and down Red Mountain #3 last spring, I highly recommend letting the local experts lead you to the goods.