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Wolf Creek Ski Area is a small (by modern standards) ski area located at the summit of the Wolf Creek Pass between Pagosa Springs and South Fork. Wolf Creek is beloved by locals for its laid-back atmosphere and short lift lines. In many ways, Wolf Creek is like the smaller family-run ski areas that have been squeezed out of the market over the past thirty years by the big resorts. What sets them apart is the snow—light, fluffy and measured by the foot.

The Snow

Wolf Creek boasts the most snow in Colorado. 465 natural inches a year. Not as much as places like Snowbird, but it's still the envy of the southwest. There's something about the topology of the San Juan Mountains that forces the moisture right through Wolf Creek Pass. It's also positioned perfectly to pick up snow from both the southwestern and northwestern storm tracks, which means more consistent snow than other areas receive.

The snow is typically light powder, as is to be expected in the dry southwestern climate. But what makes it all the more special are the low numbers of skiers. It's not unusual to find untracked powder days after a storm.

The Terrain

Wolf Creek is not a particularly large or steep mountain, yet it manages a bit of everything. Although lacking in long steep descents and bump runs, Wolf Creek is a tree skier's paradise.

The front side
The front area is served by four chairlifts. This includes most of the groomed runs, and is relatively tame terrain with a few black diamonds spread around. Beginners will want to stay in this area. Even so, nothing is really off limits, you can hike along the ridge and there is plenty of interesting terrain through the trees.

The back side
The back side is served by the Alberta Lift. This area is expansive with few cleared runs. Mostly it's through the trees with a lot of glades and a large "burn area" that is mostly open due to a forest fire.

The Waterfall Area
Halfway down the mountain dividing the front and back sides is a bowl known as the Waterfall Area. This is some of the steepest terrain and includes many cliffs. Parts of it are frequently closed for avalanche control.

Knife Ridge
Hiking up from the Alberta Lift is a long ridge with extremely steep chutes dropping 100-300 feet. You can hike on all the way to the edge of the area known as the Horseshoe Bowl. The further you go, the longer the flat at the bottom back to the chairlift, which deters heavy use of the area. Your reward is deep powder and solitude from top to bottom.

Cross Country Skiing Wolf Creek has several miles of cross country ski trails around the base of the Alberta Lift which are free for public use. They have recently had to stop grooming these due to development interests (see below).

The Culture

Wolf Creek is a skier's ski resort. There are no posh cabins, no trendy boutiques, and definitely no tanning beds. In fact, there are no on-mountain accommodations at all (yet). At the foot of the mountains 25 miles away is the town of Pagosa Springs. The main amenities there are the natural hot springs, which any skier can appreciate after a long day on the slopes. Although real estate prices are rising, Pagosa Springs is still very much a small town and not a resort town like nearby Durango or Telluride. Being 4 hours from any major city has helped Pagosa maintain its authenticity, and the residents are proud of that fact.

The Proposed Village at Wolf Creek

Running against public opinion is a plan to turn Wolf Creek into a destination resort. The Proposed Village at Wolf Creek is a decades-old plan to put a 2,000-unit housing development right on the border of the ski area. Locals are largely opposed to this plan which will certainly change the culture of the area, but development is usually impossible to stop. Fortunately it will likely be at least 10 or 20 years before anything is complete. In the meantime Wolf Creek remains a diamond in the rough. No snow bunnies, no terrain parks, no attitude, just pure winter fun.

Mountain Stats

Base Elevation: 10,300 feet
Summit Elevation: 11,904 feet
Skiable Acres: 1,600
Vertical Drop: 1,604 feet

Sources

http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/riogrande/index.shtml
http://www.wolfcreekski.com/

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