After another great season, our staff headed south to the San Juan Mountains for our annual retreat to Opus Hut.
Nestled into the mountainside near the summit of Ophir Pass at 11,700 feet, Opus Hut is a ski-tourers dream. Not only do you have great access to some of the best skiing Colorado has to offer, but the hut masters keep you warm and well-fed throughout the duration of your stay. For these reasons it is obvious to see why we have made the Opus Hut the destination for our annual staff retreat. After a long season of talking to each other on the phone, it is always great for our employees to spend some quality time in the mountains together.
Arguably the best part about going on a hut trip!
With the trip falling at the end of the season, the goal is to ski steep corn in the high alpine but this year, however, mother nature had different plans. Our trip corresponded with a strong spring storm so instead of sunny skies, we battered down the hatches as we were pummeled with 20 inches of snow. While our bags were initially packed with crampons and ice axes, we don’t suspect that anyone was too upset at the prospect of some good old fashioned powder skiing.
From the turn off of Red Mountain Pass, it is roughly a 5 mile and 2000 foot ascent to Opus. Most years you can drive a good portion of the way to the hut and minimize your approach, but as we all know, this was not a typical winter. When we rounded the corner on Highway 550 and Ophir Pass came into view, we were greeted with a fully snow covered road and a longer approach than expected. While we obviously would have preferred to drive right to the summit of Ophir, the promise of afternoon soup and a great trip ahead kept our spirits high. So after shedding all of the unnecessary weight from our packs, we made our way up to the hut.
Picking our way through avalanche debris on the skin in to Opus
As soon as we started the tour in, the snow flakes started to fly, and they wouldn’t stop until we returned to the cars two days later. As we ascended it quickly became clear why the road was closed as the historic early March Avalanche cycle had taken its toll. Entire switchbacks of the road were completely taken out as we navigated through swaths of fallen trees and avalanche debris piles. After a bit of adventure skinning, we arrived at the hut just in time for the afternoon soup which was aptly named ‘lentils and friends’.
For anyone who has spent time in a ski hut, you can understand the feeling that sweeps over you when you walk in the front door and go completely off the grid. This feeling is only amplified when you’re surrounded by great company and it is absolutely dumping snow outside. After a long and busy season making other peoples ski touring dreams comes true, it was time for the Cripple Creek Staff to fulfil our own. Half of us went out for a quick sunset tour near the hut while the other half dove into a puzzle. Everyone was stoked.
Puzzle prodigy Paul, Marissa, and Jack enjoying down time at the hut
We woke up the following morning to upwards of ten inches of new snow and temperatures in the low 20’s. Needless to say spirits were high and after an energy packed breakfast of steel cut oats, the entire crew geared up and set out for some good old fashioned May powder skiing. With avalanche danger heightened, we opted to ski right outside of the hut with low angle powder turns right down to the valley floor. With a skin track in this face was farmed thoroughly over the course of the day and rightfully so. Around midday the visibility improved enough for a group to make their way over to ‘Paradise Basin’ and ski a line known as the Labyrinth. After a magical day of powder touring we reconvened at the hut to enjoy the sauna, delicious food, and some guitar.
(Almost) the whole CCBC crew!
We woke up on our final day to another ten inches of snow and so there was only one option to cap off the trip. We dropped off the hut and partied skied as a group down to the valley floor. On a trip with so many high moments this was the highlight. The whole Cripple Creek staff hooted and hollered down the untouched powder field all the way to the valley floor. It was one of those moments that you feel so incredibly lucky to be where you are and it was such a wonderful cap to a phenomenal season as a company. Following that run, we started to go our separate ways as some of us needed to get back north earlier than others.
Party skiing low angle powder right out of the hut!
On the return trip to the car we skied right over the debris piles that we had to skin through on the way in. With a fresh coat of snow blanketing the mountains, it was a fitting end to an unbelievable season for Cripple Creek. Now we just can’t wait back to do it even bigger and better next season!
Photos by Lauren Danilek