Originally, we planned to snowmobile our food and gear up the rugged unmaintained road and propel ourselves the 5.5 miles by snowshoe or ski. Normally by late November, that’s a necessity. But as Old Man Winter lingered somewhere beyond Colorado, the road remained open. The balmy fall granted easy passage for our high-clearance convoy. “Much easier,” my wife said. I had to agree.
Our party was heavy on kids, so we threw in a few sleds and snow gear just in case. But as we grabbed lunch on the way through Salida and soaked up rays in short sleeves on the patio at Moonlight Pizza, it seemed like we’d overpacked.
That’s the thing about the high country though, you’ve just got to put yourself in the right spot and be ready to roll with whatever may come. Isn’t that the essence of adventure, after all?
Tomichi Lodge is perfectly positioned as an adventure base. The 10-acre property sits at 10,300 feet in the steep upper Tomichi Valley, just below the backside basins of Monumental Peak and the Continental Divide. The nearest civilization, White Pine, is part mining ghost town, part seasonal enclave of vacation cabins. As the crow flies, it’s only a few miles from Old Monarch Pass.
The road draws ATVers up the rough Tomichi Pass in warm months. Hardy mountain bikers willing to slog the babyheads of the rugged road can access off-the-beaten-path singletrack along the Canyon Creek Loop or the Continental Divide Trail. Come winter, the road and terrain belong to the powderhounds.
Tomichi Lodge is a rustic-plus experience—think backcountry hut with bonus amenities. A small hydroelectric system uses water from the on-property Tomichi and Buckhorn creeks to generate enough power for lights and a hot water heater for showers. A well provides potable water, and the indoor plumbing is on a septic system. A full kitchen includes a refrigerator and stove. Heat comes from two wood-burning stoves, which do their job well. On-site caretakers had a blaze started for us on arrival. What’s pleasantly missing is TV, cell service and reliable Wi-Fi.
There are lodging options, and we opted for the main lodge. Our party of four adults, six kids and two dogs fit comfortably in bedrooms, but there are enough beds stashed throughout to pack the house with 20 guests. For those seeking smaller digs, the newer Buckhorn Cabin sits deeper into the forest. It’s the quintessential Colorado cabin, one room plus a loft bedroom. It lacks electricity and indoor plumbing, but it has a surplus of cozy charm.
The two-story main lodge has rustic charm of its own with a wide loft overlooking open timbers to the great room. It was handcrafted in 1979 by a hunting outfitter who didn’t let the logs cure before stacking them into the large cabin. He skipped town with his patrons’ deposits. His Lincoln logs warped and twisted in place. So even after a few late-night Distillery 291 toddies at elevation, you can blame him for that sensation of uneven floors.
I discovered the backcountry gem when good friends bought, greatly improved and opened the property for lodging business in 2007. Now, new owners James and Kristina Bengala have plans to take things into full eco-resort territory: overnight treehouses, an event yurt, a dry sauna and more. But the goal will be the same: providing a place where people can get away, breathe deep and savor the high country.
Let It Snow
As if on cue, the snow gods delivered us a winter weekend of white. We woke to a scene gone full snow-globe, with pristine pillows blanketing the dense lodgepole pines overhead. This is what backcountry skiers love about Tomichi Lodge. The road offers a Nordic track, and the avvy savvy can skin up to open bowls and chutes dropping from the Divide.
We earned our sled cred. Hiking and snowshoeing about a quarter-mile up the valley, we found a wide open meadow known as Tomichi Park. The green-level terrain was just right for hours of sledding. The kids dodged eager dogs and launched off a snow-submerged boulder that doubled as a worthy kicker. The sled fest made the hot chocolate chaser all the tastier.
Snowshoeing through the enveloping hush brought a centering calm. Inhale. Step. Exhale. Repeat. Evergreens towered overhead. The creek babbled into the windless muffle. Inner warmth overpowered the surrounding chill.
Later, while the kids built a makeshift bridge across the creek, I considered firing up the cowboy hot tub. The two-person setup is heated by a submerged wood-burning box. Maybe if we had one more day, but daylight was waning. There weren’t enough hours left to bring the water to a soothing simmer. So like a moth, I returned to the warming indoor flames. Sometimes you’ve just got to put yourself in the right place.
Get Tomichi Lodge info, reservations and the closest weather and avalanche conditions at tomichilodge.com.
Follow U.S. 50 over Monarch Pass. Turn right on CR 888 just before Sargents, and go 12 miles.