Insider Guide: Wolf Creek
Anyone who hears the words "Colorado" and "powder" in the same sentence best expects "Wolf Creek" to follow closely behind.
Banked up against the continental divide at 11,900 ft., family-owned Wolf Creek Ski Area catches any and all from storms that come through -- which are many. And it's high-altitude light stuff for 1,600 acres and 1,600 vertical.
Any Wolfie powderhound will tell you: Bring your snorkel. Because, when nobody's reporting snow, you pull into the parking lot and it's pounding. And it has been for days. The mountain's first snowmaking put in only recently as early-season snowfall became less predictable.
The nearest commercial airport is Durango -- 80 miles away with connections to Denver, Phoenix, and Dallas. Shuttles run up from Pagosa Springs. Otherwise, hit U.S. 160 to drive up to Wolf Creek Pass.
No accommodations on or near the mountain. Nearest to east clusters of cabins and motels in South Fork and Monte Vista, with larger Alamosa 65 miles away offering many options. About 40 miles west in Pagosa Springs, The Springs Spa & Resort includes hot springs -- and bathrobe(!) -- in the price of overnights. Otherwise, Pagosa has ample choices -- from motels to cabin to condos.
A couple of choices at the base, including the cafeteria line at Wolf Creek Lodge for standard mountain fare that is often spiced up with southwest chili. The bar inside has beverages covered, and outside grill fires up on busy days. On the mountain, Raven's Grill and Roost perch at top of Raven chair with hearty, skier's menu. At the base of Alberta chair, order a burger, take a run and then eat at picnic tables.
Wolf Creek nicely splits out green-blue trails off Raven and Bonanza chairs, with expansive "slow zones" around the base and off Raven's Nest. Stash the novices in the family there, and head to the good stuff. Hop Treasure Stoke or D. Boyce chairs to the top, where the mountain descends out of alpine bowls into a series of tree-filled benches. Skier's right yields powder stash after powder stash. Catch Alberta chair to where the locals know to go. A short hike gets to the top of Continental Divide and freshies off Alberta Peak. Or traverse right below the ridge and find infinite powder lines carved in among the trees. If you stay high up and hit Dog Chutes, Knife Ridge Chutes, and Horseshoe Bowl in one day -- with Knife Ridge snowcat shuttle -- you are an official local. New Charity Jane chair eliminates long skate back to Alberta chair, as does Elma chair to get back to base.
Cross-country trails loop below the base area. The ski school focuses on newcomers, especially with all the school children bused up during the week. Otherwise, Wolf Creek is old-fashioned, without frills or extraneous thrills.