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An epic opening day for an old-fashioned resort

Richard Chittick
Special to the DailySeveral snowboarders ride the Windjammer run near the base of the Treasure Chair at Wolf Creek Ski Area on Friday. The resort opened its 64th season with a 32-inch base.
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WOLF CREEK SKI AREA – Two hundred miles due south of Frisco, Wolf Creek opened for the season on Friday in style – with a 32-inch, untracked base that is one of the deepest in the country.

Several hundred skiers were willing to make the trek to ride one of Colorado’s most remote ski areas, which opened 600 of its 1,600 powder-covered acres.

Every tree along the summit ridge looked like it was the target of a week’s worth of snowmaking. But Wolf Creek has no snowmaking.

Instead, it claims an annual natural snowfall average of 465 inches a year and backs it up with a tagline boasting the “most snow in Colorado.”

Wolf Creek is the first mountain in Colorado to open with natural snow.

“It’s why I moved here,” said one skier on the Treasure Chair. The telemarker moved to Pagosa Springs from Meeker seven years ago to be closer to Wolf Creek.

Two teenage snowboarders from nearby South Fork said they wouldn’t ride anywhere else.

Four out of the six lifts were running, and virtually no terrain was closed under those lifts.

Two of the mountains ridge hikes were open along with several black diamond runs such as the Alberta Face, a dramatic pitch near the top of the Treasure Chair.

A few rocks showed through and skiers and snowboarders had to be either careful with their turns or careless with their equipment. Just the same, it was early season skiing that felt more like mid-December.

Earlier this week, a massive storm tracked across Utah and southern Colorado, dumping a whopping 44 inches of heavy, wet snow on the small ski resort in Mineral County between South Fork and Pagosa Springs.

Located at the top of Wolf Creek Pass on U.S. Route 160, the resort spreads its terrain out across two miles of the Alberta Ridge, an 11,000-foot spine that separates the fourteeners of the north San Juans from the thirteeners and twelvers of the south San Juans.

The formula for catching storm systems for days adds up to the powder reports coming from the resort each season.

On top of amazing annual snowfalls, the mountain also features a laid-back feel, with a thinly developed base area and a lift-ticket system that doesn’t beep.

“I don’t want to say that we’re behind the times,” said Rosanne Pitcher, spokesperson for the area. “But that’s how we do it, with hand stamps and hole punches.”

Of the two lifts that weren’t running, one was the Magic Carpet, a rolling conveyor for young beginners, while the other was the Alberta Lift.

The Alberta Lift is a recent addition to the resort, serving nearly 1,000 acres of intermediate, advanced and expert terrain on the resort’s southern flanks.

“We don’t have the vertical of other resorts, so it’s all spread out,” Pitcher said, referring to several hundred acres of black and double black terrain served by the resorts only four-person lift.

Brighton Ski Resort, just outside of Salt Lake City, also reaped the benefits of the same storm and opened on Nov. 6 with a 38-inch base after more than four feet of freshies fell in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Brighton was the only resort in America to open with a deeper base than Wolf Creek, though Brighton’s base has since packed out to 24 inches, according to their snow reports.

California had two resorts open as of Friday – Boreal in the Lake Tahoe region and Mammoth Mountain, east of Yosemite National Park. Both had bases of 18 inches on their opening days.

Wolf Creek Ski Area Information

* Location: On Highway 160 at Wolf Creek Pass 200 miles south of Frisco, 80 miles east of Durango, 65 miles west of Alamosa

* Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

* Vertical Rise: 1,604 feet

* Skiable Terrain: 1,600 acres served by six lifts

* Average Annual Snowfall: 465 inches.

* Lift Ticket Prices: $43 full-day, $25 child/senior full-day (special prices apply for half-day beginning at 12:30 p.m. and for beginners)

* For more information: Visit the Web site at http://www.wolfcreekski.com

Richard Chittick can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at rchittick@summitdaily.com


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