Mr. Kingsley’s Opus11/24/2020 12:33PM ● By Aryeh Copa
The Opus Hut, founded by Bob Kingsley, is located between Telluride and Silverton, above Ophir Pass in the San Juan Mountains.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS- I met Bob Kingsley in the early ‘90s in Steamboat Springs. I had just moved here to be a ski bum for a year, while he was a seasoned one. When the word “ski” is placed in front of it, “bum” becomes a word of endearment, even something to aspire to. The ski bum life can lead to varied places and has resulted in many noble yet unconventional paths of pleasure and satisfaction. For Bob, that path led to becoming a ski mountaineer and world traveler, logging first descents and immersing himself in the local culture of the mountains he explored.
It was the backcountry huts of the Alps and the tea houses of the Himalayas that inspired Bob and sparked his dream of creating a European-style backcountry hut in the United States. After years of searching, Bob finally found the mining claim that would support his dreams: a 10-acre parcel just above Ophir Pass, between Telluride and Silverton.
Bob left Steamboat in the late ‘90s to pursue a timber-framing career and the larger mountains of the San Juan range, so by the time he closed on the mining claim in 2005, he was ready to start building his dream, the Opus Hut.
A master timber-framer at this point, Bob used reclaimed wood and timbers from an old dairy farm to frame his shrine to the mountains, in the mountains. The mountain-modern woodworking and craftsmanship of the hut is beautiful and tight, as if built by an artist who was planning on spending the rest of his life there. As if. After five years of building, the hut opened for its first season, the winter of 2010-11.
Opus is a full-service eco lodge with a liquor license. By the time I visited Opus in the spring of 2018, my ski bum lifestyle had led me to dabble in some ski mountaineering and world travel myself. Although I had experienced a couple of the backcountry huts of interior British Columbia, they did not prepare me for Opus. With full solar power, indoor toilets, hot and cold running water, catered meals (breakfast, afternoon soup and dinner – you’d better be out skiing during lunch), beer and liquor available for purchase, decks and walkways shoveled and dishes washed, the only chores are the ones you give yourself. Evenings are full leisure: start in the wood-fired sauna, play cards and study maps of the following day’s lines, trade stories and go to bed whenever you like.
Opus offers a year-round experience. As the ski lines melt out, so do the summer trails and high alpine lakes, creating an abundance of hiking and mountain biking opportunities. I can only imagine the beauty of this high Alpine setting in the summer, when it is surrounded by imposing peaks and copious wildflowers. With a couple suggested bike routes from Opus and many more rustic and burly trail opportunities if one is willing to do a little hike-a-biking, a summer trip to Opus, via a mountain bike with a fly rod, is definitely on my bucket list.
But Opus is about skiing. The Opus Hut sits at 11,765 feet above sea level, pretty much at tree line, and is surrounded by peaks exceeding 13,000 feet. Right out the door, one can mount up and drop in to nice intermediate tree skiing or open avalanche chutes if conditions are stable. Or skin up right out the door and go above tree line for open bowls and more advanced chutes. The beyond goes seemingly forever as the San Juan Mountains are vast. The farther you are willing to hike, the more options you will have.
The spring of 2018 was not kind to the San Juans in terms of snow, and the skiing around the hut was not great. With a small tour to nearby Paradise Basin, however, we were able to find good snow and lines. The basin is wide with multiple peaks, chutes, couloirs and open bowls to ski. Our Steamboat crew of 16 all found runs to their liking and the openness allowed for a base camp location with perfect viewing of all available lines. We could leave extra beer, food and gear and go light, always to return to the Paradise Basin “Burro” and join the lounge session while watching others take and make their turns. While lounging at the burro we had the pleasure of watching Bob and his dog, Ronja, ski a signature line off of the 13,231-foot South Lookout Peak.
Opus has a sister hut, the Thelma Hut, less than a mile’s hike in from Red Mountain Pass. It sits at 11,320 feet and can be skied, hiked or biked to from Opus. Also in the area is the just-opened Hayden Mountain Lodge, situated in the same group of mountains. These three full-service eco lodges provide a sort of de facto hut system where skiers and riders can trek hut-to-hut and shush into a hot meal and a warm bed. Connecting these huts is not just a tour, it’s an adventure with many quality ski lines to be had en route.
Due to the pandemic, Opus is currently operating at half capacity. For booking, the latest info and COVID-19 policies, visit the following websites:
Aryeh Copa is a long-time Steamboat Springs local, adventure sports photographer, trail builder and avid backcountry skier.