Outside Magazine names The Observatory among America's Best

Unwind. Recharge. Book a Winter Hut Trip.

These backcountry lodges welcome dedicated skiers with warm bedding, home-cooked food, and sometimes even a sauna.

By: Frederick Reimers

Published: Jan 6, 2015

This swanky wood-and-stone chalet can be accessed via a 20-minute ski from Telluride’s Baldy Gate. Or get there via the unplowed road with the option of having your gear shuttled by snowmobile. The 2.5 bedroom lodge must be rented out in its entirety, but sleeps up to 16 under down comforters, and includes a sauna and a legendary hot tub—the frame on the circular window hanging above the tub is made from a ski lift bullwheel. The kitchen is dialed with Viking appliances, though if you’d rather not touch them, the owners can help arrange a cook for your stay. The observatory is tucked beneath 13,000-foot Palmyra and Silver Peaks. The only problem might be elevation sickness—the Observatory is perched at 11,000-feet, so be sure to acclimate in Telluride (8,750 feet) for a few nights before bunking here.

Mountain Magazine highlights The Observatory in the Winter 2014 issue

The Observatory at Alta Lakes, Telluride, CO

From the Winter 2014 issue.

Published: Feb 25, 2014

This alpine chalet was handbuilt by Telluride locals over three summers in the early 1970s. Two 13,000-foot San Juan peaks tower above; a high country lake sits out the front door, and Telluride Ski Resort is the closest neighbor. Six people sleep comfortably in two bedrooms and a loft.

Freeskier's 2014 Backcountry Issue covers a significant gathering of pros at The Observatory...Seth Morrison, Jacob Wester, Greg Hope and more. The issue is available in print only, but Jacob provides some highlights

The Observatory

By: Jacob Wester

Published: Friday, March 22, 2013

"Hey everyone, I am back to civilization after 3 days of radio silence. We just got back to the town of Telluride after spending 2 nights in the Alta Lakes Observatory just around the corner from the ski area. Built in the 70s, the Observatory is a classic ski lodge nestled in a huge backcountry bowl, with big faces, narrow colouirs and epic tree skiing all around it."

The Observatory is recognized in New Zealand as one of the world's most spectacular

The world's most spectacular ski lodges

By: Rachel Oakes-Ash

Published: July 9, 2013

You'll find The Observatory 20 kilometres from Telluride in Colorado. Many skidoo in, though you could walk in or ski tour as well. Bring your own oxygen because the backcountry cabin sits at almost 3500 metres. Built by locals in the 1970s, The Observatory has a "what goes on at The Observatory stays at The Observatory" reputation and a clear sky view under moonlight that will take your the oxygen you brought with you and that breath away. I can't tell you anymore or they will kill me.

The Financial Times highlights the ghost town of Alta and mining history of The Observatory

Colorado’s ghost towns reborn as ski retreats

By: Tom Robbins

Published: October 25, 2013

"Telluride’s little museum tells a fascinating story of its changing fortunes, but visitors who want to see the mining and hippy heritage up close don’t have to go far. At the edge of one of the pistes, I meet my guide Matt Bowling, who is waiting with a couple of skidoos. He shows me the controls and we’re off, whizzing through the snowdrifts until we come to the ghost town of Alta Lakes..."

MTN Town Magazine feature

The Observatory at Alta Lakes

A Telluride Escape

I had no idea what to expect when I was invited on a trip to The Observatory at Alta Lakes. I had heard from a close friend in the area that the Observatory had been home to some outrageous parties over the years and that the location was amazing. It was a last minute invite and I left with no expectations until we crested the trail that opened up into a beautiful snow covered coulee. A rustic log house was gleaming beneath 13,000-foot Palmyra and Silver Peaks of the San Juan Mountains. The words gorgeous, breathtaking and exciting all come to mind thinking back on the experience.


Check out the article in Telluride Magazine, winter spring 2011-2012 about the

History of The Observatory and the sale to the Bowlings. Click here








New owners, same soul at the Alta Lakes Observatory

Storied lodge is up and running for the winter

By Katie Klingsporn

Published: Tuesday, December 27, 2011 6:11 AM CST

Up near treeline in a lofty basin south of Telluride sits the Alta Lakes Observatory, a backcountry lodge surrounded by rugged peaks and steeped in Telluride lore.

Over the past three decades, the storied cabin has played host to small weddings and wild all-night parties, to summertime family reunions, outdoor classes and groups of backcountry skiers seeking solitude. With its great sunken fireplace, long dining room table, rustic timber walls and stunning views, the Observatory inspired ardor and made memories and became a well-loved destination.

So when news rippled out last spring that the Observatory was changing hands — from the building’s original owners, Jim and Salli Russell, to a trio of brothers — many panicked about the fate of the Observatory. Would it still be available for rent? Would it retain its decades-old magic? Would the days of the Observatory soon be over?

People can breathe easy — the Observatory is staying put, it’s still available and it even has a few improvements aimed at making it more comfortable. The lodge’s new owners, local Matt Bowling and his brothers, Dan and Michael, have committed to continuing its legacy as a rustic backcountry getaway. They completed a number of updates and improvements to the building this fall (yes, the hot tub is working again), and have it up and running now for winter stays.

“Our plan is to not forget all they’ve done,” Bowling said of the Observatory’s founders. “It’s an amazing thing that they put together. It’s about as unique a place as you can find.”

Bowling said the plan for the future of the Observatory is to maintain its character and make it more accessible to a broader range of visitors.

“One of our goals is certainly not to change the rustic charm in any way,” he said.

The two-story lodge is nestled in the pines at 11,300 feet in a basin shadowed by Silver and Palmyra peaks. It’s adjacent to the Telluride Ski Resort’s Prospect Basin, but since it’s five miles up a dirt road, it feels hours away from civilization, especially in the winter.

“It’s just absolutely peaceful,” Bowling said.

Jim Russell built the lodge in the early ‘70s with friends after buying a mining claim near the ghost town of Alta Lakes. They built the cabin over several summers, finding much of their building materials from the surrounding land — timber from the forest, stones from nearby scree fields.

What resulted was a one-of-a-kind place. The big, sturdy building has arched windows, thick timber walls, second-story decks, a large living room and beds to sleep 10. It’s 25 feet from the edge of a lake and surrounded by a lovely panorama of pines and mountains and sky. Jim and Salli Russell began renting it out to the public in the ‘80s, and over the years it became a destination beloved both by families and ski bums.

Bowling, who has worked as a landscaper, snowmobile tour driver, day trader, lift op and snowmaker in Telluride, had been up there many times during his 15 years living here, be it chopping wood or as a guest.

A friend of his encouraged him to look into it when he heard that the asking price had dropped last spring. Bowling started talking to his brother about it and the next thing he knew, they began the process of purchasing it.

They closed in June, and immediately had five weeks of guest stays.

When things quieted down this fall, the new owners completed a series of improvements to the building. They dug a new well, got the hot tub up and functioning and added a cell booster up there for people who don’t want to be completely off the grid. They made improvements to the upstairs bathroom, installed new lighting and appliances in the kitchen, put in some new furniture and, for the first time ever, chinked the place.

“Our goal is to make it more comfortable for everyone,” Bowling said.

Bowling said that a lot of people who have been helping out with the Observatory for years came up to work on it; and Jim Russell has been a constant advisor, offering his expertise, knowledge and guidance on anything and everything. 

“It’s been a real group effort,” he said.

The Bowlings had their first winter guests this weekend; a family rented it out for the holiday. They are booked for New Year’s too, and are excited to get back in the swing of things.

He said nearly everyone he talks to about the Observatory has a story about it — it’s where they fell in love or held their 40th birthday party or stayed with their family that one weekend. He wants to continue running the place in that spirit — a place open to everything from avalanche education classes to reunions and unforgettable get-togethers.

“I think that what has made it so special is that there have been so many special moments there …” he said. “I want it to be everything for everyone.”

Winter guests can ski or snowshoe in — there’s a backcountry gate on the ski resort that offers easy access — or take a snowmobile.

Backcountry Magazine - Dec, 2010 - 2011 Photo Annual


Backcountry's Rider in Chief Mike Horn traveled to Colorado's Alta Lakes Observatory with a progressive crew of skiers and riders to experience the famed chutes and rustic ambiance of this high-mountain chalet. Within a cirque of spiny couloirs, they found deep powder and rich history. Check out this video from Off the Grid Media, and read the full story of Alta Lakes Observatory in the December 2010 issue of Backcountry.

“Walled In – Deep Power and Tight Chutes at Colorado’s Alta Lakes Observatory”

By Mike Horn, Photos by Scott DW Smith



Call us (970) 239 - 0027       The Observatory at Alta Lakes, LLC, P.O. Box 2372, Telluride, CO 81435        Email: altalakes@gmail.com

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