Going Further Afield: Wolf Creek, Colorado 14
By Anne Fitzpatrick, Guest Author

“Awesome!” -; my companion Laura shouted as she came cruising into the base area as we were just wrapping up at Wolf Creek, Colorado, two weekends ago. And indeed it had been truly enjoyable: lots of fresh snow, sunny weather, no wind, tons of runs for skiers of all levels, and no crowds. People were in fine moods, sharing lots of fun taunting, laughter, and smiles, especially from the slightly rowdy group I was with last weekend.

Where is Wolf Creek? Rather out of the way: Wolf Creek sits directly on top of the continental divide in the Rio Grande National Forest not too far from the New Mexico border, about a 225 mile drive from Albuquerque via I-25 and U.S. 84 through Chama up to Pagosa Springs, then east on U.S. 160. Coming from Durango, Colorado, Wolf Creek is about a 75 mile drive eastbound on highway 160. From Denver, United Airlines offers seasonal service to Durango airport.

Wolf Creek is one of those deeply hidden gems of the Rockies that easily compares to Taos, New Mexico in difficulty levels, but is harder to get to and far more rustic. It is one of Colorado’s older ski areas, having opened in 1939. At first glance it appears well worn. For example, the two-person Dickey chair that leads to the easy green Kelly Boyce, Bunny Hop and equally gentle blue Thumper and Charisma runs was a bit beat up and slow, but that was about the only detraction I noted during our entire excursion there. Everything else about Wolf Creek was great.

Its simplicity is very appealing. The entire base area consists of about five buildings. Parking was wonderful: not only is it free, but also a very short walk to the ticket area and lifts. Lift tickets are quite reasonable here: I paid only $43.00 for a full day on Saturday. The base area also maintains a small rental and gear shop, and a picnic pavilion available for those who pack their own lunch.

Wolf Creek has neither fancy sushi bars nor martini-and-cigar hangouts. The Wolf Creek Lodge and Prospector Grill is housed in one compact building at the base and serves fresh and simple sandwiches, chili, salads, juices, and hot and cold drinks. Laura claimed she had the best bacon cheeseburger in her life here. The Lodge also has a small bar serving beer, wine and mixed drinks. The warm weather last weekend allowed us to sit outside and enjoy our meals while watching skiers pound down the black diamond Holy Moses run next to the t-bar D. Boyce lift.

What struck me the most about this place was the lack of lift lines. Even though it was the beginning of spring break for many Colorado, Arizona, and Texas universities and we were expecting a ton of college students to show up, it almost seemed as if we had the area to ourselves for the entire weekend.

Our party of seven people ranged from extreme experts such as Paul, a well-known outdoor guide, to Donna from North Carolina, who was still learning to ski but did exceptionally well for her second time in the West, easily conquering the long and wickedly elegant blue Tranquility run. One of our other companions, Shannon, swore by Wolf Creek’s woodsy Waterfall area, and spent several hours there dodging trees while navigating through powder.

Powder is a given here every season: Wolf Creek’s motto is “The Most Snow in Colorado,” and they’re not kidding. The area certainly lived up to that reputation when we visited, having just received three feet of new, slightly heavy powder.

I stayed away from most of the bowl areas since I was toting my big Völkl skis with me on this trip, and turning them in such deep powder or on large moguls is too tiring (I had finally rented some shorter, lighter Rossignol performance skis on a trip to Winter Park in February, and yes, they did turn out to be a lot easier on moguls and in deep powder, so a second pair of skis may be on my shopping list next season). When I decided to be cute and hop off the Navajo trail toward the bottom of the Waterfall area anyway, I ended up on my side with skis facing uphill and my head facing down in sticky snow. After about fifteen minutes of contortions I managed to get free, then headed to the base of the relatively new Alberta quad lift to join my friends Jan and Kevin, who were brave enough to rough it through the Waterfall area from its top.

Kevin told me that prior to the Alberta lift’s installation - just a few years ago - one got over to this side of the mountain from the top of the three-person Treasure Chair lift (at 11, 775 feet) then down off the Navajo Trail. At the bottom, a snowcat would tow people on one big rope from this part of the mountain all the way up the lengthy ski road back to the base area. If someone got tangled and fell during the trip, everyone behind them would go down like dominoes.

Jan, Kevin and I played around on this far side of the area for a good part of one afternoon, observing brave souls up on the endless stretch of peaks, ridges, and bowls accessible from the Alberta lift. Heading left off the Alberta lift one can try something like seventeen different chutes and the entire horseshoe bowl area, which leads to lower black diamond runs such as Simpatico and Abracadabra, and eventually back down to the base of the Alberta lift.

A lot of areas along the tops of the ridges were blatantly roped off due to avalanche risk. As of March 15, Wolf Creek had received 297 inches of snowfall during this ski season so the avalanche danger was quite high.

I don’t believe one could ever get bored here. Besides downhill, Wolf Creek features an alpine ski area near the base of the Alberta lift. Too, on Saturdays the area has a “Fun Series” non-competitive downhill ski race, where participants’ names and times are posted on the Lodge door at the end of the day and everyone gathers to check their times.

They don’t groom very much here, so if you dig moguls, Wolf Creek is your spot. If you don’t do bumps, the most groomed areas lie below the Dickey Chair and Treasure Chair lifts. Just off the Treasure Chair, I found in particular the Silver Streak, Muskrat Ramble, and Tranquility blue runs all quite fun and built for speed. The entire area features numerous tree trails as well for those who are inclined.

Wolf Creek has none of the shi-shi lift-side condos and hot tubs, heated gondolas, and expensive boutiques that cram Vail, Breckenridge, and all of the I-70 corridor ski resorts further north. Here, you can stay in a motel in nearby Pagosa Springs or instead rent a fully furnished house, as we did, for quite modest prices. Pagosa Springs has a number of good restaurants including the Bavarian Inn, which serves authentic German cuisine. Finally, the Pagosa Hot Springs are delightful to settle sore muscles in after a long day of skiing (sorry, bathing suits are required here).

Besides all of its qualities like a huge variety of challenging runs, snowfall, and lack of both crowds and pretensions, Wolf Creek retains a kind of nostalgia, reminding one of what skiing was like before it became so commercialized. Above all, this last aspect is what makes Wolf Creek truly awesome.

About the Author

Anne Fitzpatrick is a Washingtonian who currently lives in Santa Fe and works at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. She finds her way back to Washington to quell her Potomac Fever whenever it hits.

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Reader Comments

johnfmh
March 21, 2003
Anne:

Nice article. I'm glad to hear that resorts like Wolf Creek actually exist West of Pennsylvania. :)

You didn't mention much about stats--something we DCSki types enjoy. Therefore, I pulled some stats on the place off of www.ski-guide.com to share with the group:

MOUNTAIN STATISTICS

Base Elevation: 10,300 ft (3,139 m)
Summit Elevation: 11,904 ft (3,628 m)
Vertical Drop: 1,604 ft (489 m)
Skiable Area: 1,600 acres (648 hectares)
Annual Snowfall: 465 in (1,181 cm)
Number of Lifts: 6
Uphill Lift Capacity: 8,280 per hour
Types of Lifts: 1 Magic Carpet
2 Double Chair
2 Triple Chair
1 Quad Chair
Number of Trails: 77
Longest Run: 10,560 ft (3,219 m)
JimK
March 21, 2003
I'll probably never get there, but it was fun to read about this neat, out of the way place. I'll bet they are swamped in snow right now after big Colorado storm of March '03.
Jarrett
March 21, 2003
Sweet stats and article! T minus 1 hour to leaving!
Laura McNamara
March 21, 2003
What Anne failed to mention... our noisy group was struck silent (in a good way) by Anne's outstanding seafood lasagne, which we devoured our second night there. Thanks Anne!!
Kevin R
March 21, 2003
http://www.wolfcreekski.com/
Kevin R
March 21, 2003
The double-black bowl areas and trees, how do they compare to some of the bigger resorts in difficulty nearby?
Anne Fitzpatrick
March 21, 2003
Kevin R. -

I do know that Crested Butte, Colorado is intended for experts and has lots of extremely double black diamond practically vertical runs, compared to Wolf Creek. Telluride is much bigger but more a mix of easy, intermediate, and difficult trails. I've never been to Purgatory, Colorado although it is fairly close to Wolf Creek.
Kevin R
March 21, 2003
I have been to CB and only skied one double-black diamond run, forced to, by my friends who eat that stuff for breakfast. Anyway, nice place but snow cover was a little thin at the time, closing a lot of the crazier stuff. Dang. ;-)
Also I have been to Telluride but only briefly and I have no recollection of the expert runs at all -- mainly as I didn't go near them (injury). Very beautiful canyon area, nice town, big houses, that's what I recall there.
Purgotary does sound promising for my friends... although I must say it's likely they wouldn't even get a reprieve... :-) I think WC looks like a great place for a 4 day visit. Smallish, kinda outta the way, lightly traveled, lots of snow, and a nice mix of runs. Oh, and inexpensive...
Roy
March 23, 2003
This past summer I went to Wolf Creek. Actually, we were going to the Navajo Reservoir for water skiing. Since we passed Wolf Creek, I made everybody stop so I could look at it.

I have read many articles on WC and it's on my top ten list of places I have to visit. FYI, it's about a 4 hour drive from Denver which may save you on the plane fare.

Anne, thanks for fueling my desire for this place again.
David
December 4, 2003
Hortman
December 22, 2003
I just got back from Wolf Creek and the skiing was great. First time on skis in 7 years, Had a great time and will go back.
teresa
December 29, 2003
i have skied wolf creek many times with my family and this year some friends and i are going to stay. We need help finding somewhere to make home for about a week. Some where reasonable for eight college freshmen. thank you
tinkasaurus@yahoo.com
Stephanie
February 26, 2004
As a local to Wolf Creek, I must tell all that it is the best snow in Colorado. The claim of most snow is right on. It's all about powder up to your knees, fresh tracks on every run, and no crowds. You can ride all day and never ride the same run twice. Great tree runs,and all about Alberta. Great cliff drops too. If you're looking for epic days of riding, this is the place to find them.
chris
July 9, 2008
is this place an affordable place for a second home.
life2uadio@aol.com

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