Wolf Creek just like they say
I often don’t put too much stock in other people’s assessments of things I haven’t experienced. But I knew there had to be something to it when nobody I’d ever talked to who’d been to Wolf Creek ski area ever had a single bad thing to say about it.”It’s the goods,” they’d say. Or, “I was coughing on powder with every turn.” Or, “I almost drowned at Wolfy last weekend.”Knowing that the area gets an average 465 inches of natural annual snowfall and that it’s the only area in Colorado already 100 percent open, I was convinced.The only downside for Vail Valley residents is that Wolf Creek, in all of its family-style, old-school splendor, is four hours away … on dry roads. Nonetheless, we set off at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning and arrived at 10 a.m. The lifts – all six of them – open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. every day.
As we approached Wolf Creek Pass in the San Luis Valley, having driven through several tiny, sleepy towns after Leadville and Buena Vista, I was dismayed to see dirt and grass everywhere. “I’m not seeing any of that 9 inches,” I said, referring to the reported accumulation of the previous three days. But. The first thing I noticed as we wove our way up the pass was a cloud that seemed to rest directly over the summit … directly over the ski area. And Wolf Creek Pass holds one of the few (if not the only) sections of road in Colorado equipped with an avalanche tunnel – you know, the kind you come across in the Swiss Alps.As we pulled into the parking lot, I was in awe of the sudden change of climate. It would seem that Wolf Creek does, in fact, have its own little weather system. Upon arrival, the sun was fading and large, beautiful snowflakes were zig-zagging down from the sky. It also happened to be “Local Appreciation Day,” so lift tickets were only $22.
The second thing I noticed, eyeing the map as we headed up the chairlift, was that some of the names of terrain areas weren’t merely descriptive. For instance, the section called “Waterfall Area,” is literally a double-black, super steep basin full of waterfalls. And it’s in-bounds. You can ride directly over the falls. Although, I’d advise aiming your line at the snow-packed areas next to the waterfalls rather than raking down the falls themselves. Also, “Knife Ridge” is exactly that. It’s a ridge, fully maintained with high-tech, remote-controlled avalanche control devices and a built-in metal staircase, which eventually leads you up to the thin ledge, where you’ve got about four yards width-wise on which to traverse over wind drifts between the 40-degree-angled, in-bound chutes to your left and the slightly less steep, out-of-bounds drop to your right. When we dropped in, we heard nothing save the light billowy sound of snow under our boards. When Wolf Creek reported a 70-inch base, it truly appeared to have a 70-inch base. It seemed bottomless. We spent the morning redefining the notion of powder turns in Montezuma Bowl and through the trees around the Waterfall Area. It was the first time in a while that I felt inclined to spring for a full lunch in a ski lodge and was pleasantly surprised at the nonexorbitant prices. Plus, all grilled items were made-to-order. There were no hockey pucks on buns solidifying under warming lamps and there was a fresh fixings area that included a marshmallow trough (the marshmallow trough made me almost as happy as the powder turns). The afternoon was spent in much the same fashion as the morning. We virtually had the place to ourselves, and the powder was certainly not disappearing. I was almost relieved at how slow the lifts are, because my deep-snow legs were clearly not dialed in completely. Nabbing the last chair a few minutes before 4 p.m., I was ready to move to Pagosa Springs.
Next time, it’ll be at least a full weekend of powder turns.Wolf Creek offers locals’ specials throughout the season. For more information, check out http://www.wolfcreekski.com.Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Colorado