Skiing at Wolf Creek
—Ty and Barb Belknap
Fireside Inn cabins overlook the San Juan River
Wolf Creek Ski Area got a head start this year on living up to its reputation as the resort with the most snow in Colorado. We took advantage of the pre-Thanksgiving opening as soon as the Signpost was on the street—one son was picked up at the airport and another was signed out of school a little early for a "doctor's appointment." Both boys learned to ski at Wolf Pup Ski School and were anxious to return, now as accomplished snowboarders.
Another storm was forecast, but it didn't materialize. Anticipation of heavy El Niño storms among Wolf Creek employees was already giving way to fretting about a possible return of the drought. As things turned out in December, they need not have worried, but then they're accustomed to a lot of snow. Last year’s snowfall was 50 percent of normal and the 243 inches that accumulated throughout the winter was slow to stack up, but was still the envy of other resorts in the area.
We used to stay at the Spring Inn in Pagosa Springs when the inexpensive price of a room included a bargain on lift tickets and a free soak in the hot springs. But those bargain days are gone. This time, our accommodations were provided by The Fireside Inn, a fine new establishment built in 1996 on seven acres which caters especially to skiers, hunters, fishermen, and horse people. Our modern housekeeping cabin, one of fifteen, was right on the sparkling San Juan River. It was warmly decorated Western-style with branded walls, old horse tack hanging up, a poster bed with handcrafted latilla posts, and a handmade quilt on the wall. The cabin was well appointed as well, with a kitchenette, gas-powered iron stove, hot tub, and good beds. That was all we would need after a hard day on the ski slopes, and we only wished we could have spent more time there.
After the early morning drive up to the summit of Wolf Creek pass, just east of Pagosa Springs, we were ready when the lifts started to operate. The base area elevation is a lofty 10,350 feet. One of the six chair lifts takes you to 11,775 feet, where there is an awesome view of the sixteen hundred acres of versatile terrain spread out along a high alpine ridge. There are a number of white peaks, chutes, and ridges above the timberline. The terrain as it transitions into varying densities of pine forest glades is all skiable. The breakdown according to difficulty is 20 percent beginner, 35 percent intermediate; 25 percent advanced, and 20 percent expert.
Where there’s Wolf Creek, there’s snow.
One of the most remarkable features of Wolf Creek is the one thousand acres of pristine wilderness from the Waterfall area to Horseshoe Bowl on the ski-area boundary. The addition of Alberta Lift to serve this part of the mountain was the most notable improvement since our last visit, when we had to drag on a rope behind a snow cat to get back to a lift. It was well into our second day before we had a global view of the area, from challenging black-diamond runs to an incredible variety of intermediate runs. It was hard to do the same run twice. Narrow, groomed runs through the trees were a nice surprise. Gullies formed natural half-pipes that were especially good for snowboarding.
The Wolf Creek employees seemed like a close-knit bunch of kids who were having a really good time making the crowd—mostly families—feel right at home. Wolf Creek features the Prospector Grill, open daily for breakfast and lunch, the Pathfinder Bar, ski and snowboarding school for all ages, the Base Camp for picnickers, and complete rentals. Visit www.wolfcreekski.com for prices, events, and detailed information about facilities, ski school, patrol, trail map, safety, and other information. The information phone line is 970-264-5732 and for the ski report call 1-800-SKI-WOLF.
Returning to Placitas took less than four hours from the ski-area parking lot. It was a good thing that there was still a little daylight left as we sped though Apache country from Dulce to Cuba because we had close encounters with three mule deer and several head of cattle. We were thankful to partake in the tail end of a Thanksgiving potluck that evening after a glorious two days in the mountains.
The Fireside Inn is located a quarter of a mile east of Highway Junction 160 and 84 on Highway 160 just east of Pagosa Springs. For a closer look, visit www.firesidecabins.com, or call them at 888-264-9204.