Glamping meets mountaineering at new 12,500-foot Telluride destination

Colorado’s newest overnight backcountry experience offers the pleasures that come with backcountry hut skiing in a spectacular setting, but without the burden of hauling a 40-pound pack crammed with food and a sleeping bag.

Located in the spectacular San Juan Range, the Bridal Veil Backcountry Ski Camp began operations last weekend. The guided trip takes skiers from a backcountry access gate at the Telluride ski area to a camp with heated tents at 12,500 feet in the Upper Bridal Veil Basin. Sleeping bags, down jackets, insulated boots and hot meals await skiers who only need to carry lightweight packs with their incidentals.

A national travel and leisure website described it as “luxe winter camping,” and some might see it as glamping, but co-owner Bill Allen views it as falling in the middle of a spectrum with glamping at one extreme and hard-core mountaineering at the other.

“Some magazines want to target a different audience, so they play up one side of it or the other,” Allen said. “We’re not trying to make it a glamping experience where it’s this super-luxury thing. It’s not like hard-core mountaineering, but we’re trying to steer away from ‘glamping trip.’ I think the target audience is the hut skiers, people who ski the 10th Mountain Huts and that sort of thing.”

Getting there involves about four miles of skiing with 1,200 feet of climbing, Allen said. From the backcountry gate on Telluride’s Gold Hill near the upper terminal of Chair 14 at 12,000 feet, skiers descend into the Bear Creek Basin, climb over a 13,000-foot pass and descend into Upper Bridal Veil Basin.

“The touring to get there from the ski area is not extreme,” Allen said. “It’s pretty reasonable in terms of the distance, the elevation gain and the terrain we go through. On a nice day, it’s super mellow, a nice easy tour. You ski down very low-angle moderate terrain to get to the camp.”

The tours are run by Mountain Trip, a company based in Telluride that guides trips on Denali in Alaska, Mount Everest and the other “Seven Summits” (the highest peak on every continent), as well as backcountry ski trips in Alaska. Mountain Trip partners with Telluride Helitrax, a helicopter ski service which keeps the Bridal Veil Basin camp stocked with food and fuel.

Telluride Helitrax also runs its own trips to the camp.

“They can do fly-in trips, support the camp, set up camp,” Allen said. “It’s their permit to have camp in that location.”

For hard-core mountaineers, there are opportunities to use the camp as a base for skiing steeper terrain. It also can be used to link with backcountry huts in the area, including one near Red Mountain Pass and another on Ophir Pass. The standard exit from the camp takes skiers down the Bridal Veil Basin, past the spectacular Bridal Veil Falls located at the end of the box canyon overlooking Telluride. The falls are currently frozen.

Allen says the experience isn’t intended for folks who have never skied on alpine touring gear, and he warns that sleeping at 12,000 feet can cause problems for people who are not acclimated to the altitude.

“It’s really good for Coloradans, or people who have spent a few days (in Colorado),” Allen said. “But if you’re flying in from Florida, you shouldn’t be spending the next night at 12,000 feet. It’s no joke, sleeping at 12,000 feet.”

The first trip happened last weekend, and plans are to conduct trips through the end of April. Prices depend on the size of the group. Three-day, two-night trips range from $2,748 for one person to $1,050 per person for four people. Avalanche safety equipment is included in the price, and gear rentals are available. A Telluride lift ticket is required and is not included in the price, but Telluride does honor the Epic Pass.

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