A Pair Of Old-Time Storm-Catchers Beckon From Continental Divide
It's no coincidence that the Continental Divide is home to a collection of some of the oldest ski areas in the nation as it winds its way through the middle of Colorado.
Skiers and riders who want to take a trip down memory lane should head to the highest spine in the Rockies for light deep powder, inexpensive tickets and lodging, and mountain views beyond compare.
A solid two-mountain adventure in southern Colorado begins at Wolf Creek. Since its first rope tow in 1939, "Wolfie" has had the most snow in the state -- as it seems to catch every storm that rolls in. Right off U.S. 160 on the east side of the eponymous pass, this no-frills mountain of 1,600 acres and 1,600 vertical drop is a magnet for powder hounds and families alike.
To skier's right, virtually hundreds of powder lines can be had off The Divide: Down Alberta Face and Montezuma Bowl, or in the trees 11,900-foot Alberta Peak and 11,500-foot Casa del Sol. Recent investment in chairlifts has solved past clunky flow around this part of the mountain. Tons of backcountry, too. To the skier's left is a family playground of groomers and lazy greens, with four chairs.
Tickets are reasonable: Weekday ticket for $82 for adults drops to $51 for 65-plus and $41 for kids. No reciprocals with other resort season passes, nor is Wolf Creek hooked with any multi-resort pass. Lodging is a half-hour away in Pagosa Springs or West Fork. Four-wheel vehicles get the closest parking, which is free but a bit of a hike to the base area.
North up the Divide (a two-hour drive) is Monarch Ski Area. First skied by hard rock miners in the early 1900s, a WPA-funded rope tow went up in 1939 on the steep Gunbarrel run near today's parking lot.
Like Wolf Creek, Monarch grabs lots of snow to cover its 670 lift-access acres and 1,162-foot drop. Sited below the 11,900-foot Divide, Monarch has loads of short but steep powder stashes, intermingled among groomers across the trail map. Hike-to routes and snowcats open up snow-stuffed Curacanti Bowl and Milkwood Basin.
The lower mountain welcomes all skill levels, and the ski school is one of the best for beginners. Beware of winter break periods, because school buses pour in from nearby Kansas.
Getting on the mountain is pleasantly inexpensive. Parking is free and close by. No multi-mountain passes, but bring any resort's season pass and get a $ 59-day ticket. Seniors (69+) ski free, and Monarch season pass has two dozen partners including Colorado Continental Divide cohorts Arapahoe Basin, Loveland, and Ski Cooper. Lodging is sparse in the valley but plentiful in Salida.