Our descent from Bullion King ejected us onto Highway 550, not far from the Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, an 11,000-foot luxury lodge that opened in 2018. The timber-framed cabin sleeps 22 and is equipped with the Wi-Fi and three bathrooms. But the surroundings are the reason we spent two nights here. There’s no better place to launch an attempt at Red Mountain Number 3, one of southern San Juan’s most popular peaks, with spectacular ski runs on all sides. We spent the next day chasing corn on a stable spring snowpack until our legs were soft.
After rising on the fourth day, sore and sunburned, we embarked on our last big tour, traveling up Senator Beck Basin to the cliff-surrounded Savage Basin, which looks towards Telluride. A dozen fourteen occupied the skyline, and Utah’s La Sal Mountains were barely visible to the west. The wind was howling as we took off our skins on an exposed saddle at 13,300 feet. Disser then drove us towards Mount Hayden Backcountry Lodge, nestled in the forest somewhere far below and out of sight.
Owner Eric Johnson greeted us when we arrived. A rock climber and former chef at the Flagstaff House restaurant in Boulder, Johnson spent three years transforming a decrepit 1980s cabin into a modern oasis before opening it for business in 2020. The 2,100-square-foot pavilion, raised on a pair of mines claims just seven miles southwest of Ouray, 17 berths; it runs on solar energy and spring water that springs from the mountain. A stream gurgles in front of the bridge, not far from the wood-fired hot tub.
Some of our group headed out for an evening of skiing, flanked by the toothy peak of the 13,036ft USA Mountain and the Sneffels Range in the distance. Later, after a feast of lasagna, the conversation turned to the name of the trip – a debate that had been going on. Suggestions included the San Juan Haute Route, San Juan Basin Bounce, and the Interconnect, but we ultimately settled on the Million Dollar Traverse. “I just like the ring of this one,” Disser said.
This four-night, all-inclusive trip costs $1,999. Good physical condition and ability to ski are required.