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Inside Line: Wolf Creek, CO

Inside Line
By Evelyn Spence
posted: 01/14/2005

Elevation: 11,904 feet Vertical drop: 1,604 feet
Snowfall: 359 inches Acres: 1,600
Getting There: Wolf Creek is about 250 miles southwest of Denver. Take Highway 285 to Highway 160 through South Fork. Albuquerque is slightly closer (212 miles); take I-25 to 285 (through Santa Fe) then 84 to 64 into Pagosa Springs.
Info: 800-754-9653, wolfcreekski.com

Beta: Wolf Creek is proud of its weather: Its mantra, The Most Snow in Colorado, spirals around every cafeteria cup. While the majority of Western resorts spend their Novembers cobbling together a few ice slicks with snow guns and prayers, Wolf Creek often wallows in midwinter conditions by Halloween, drawing snow-desperate pilgrims from as far away as California and Idaho. But they don't come for vertical: The mountain, which sits in the southern San Juans, is an undulating, two-mile-wide panorama scribbled with traverses. On the other hand, it's layered with hidden folds and deep pockets, rarely sees more than 1,400 skiers a day, and is less pretentious than a 4-H sewing bee.

Powder DayMax your vertical on the roomy faces of Alberta Peak, the 800-foot-long funnels of Peak Chutes, and the steep backbone of Big Drop. Later, hike the ridge above the Bonanza chair and farm the snow in Bonanza Bowl.

3 Days LaterPoke around the hidden boulder drops of Blueberry Hill and the steep glades of Holy Moses—then hit Horseshoe Bowl, a 40-degree cirque at the area's fringes.

The RidingBoarders get mired in Wolf Creek's many flats, traverses, and benches, especially under the Alberta Lift. Keep your momentum and head to the Waterfall Area, a steep amphitheater of cliffs, spines, and chutes. Proving Grounds marquee route: Climb the metal Knife Ridge staircase (a.k.a. The Bridge), and drop into one of the dozen short, 50-degree Knife Ridge Chutes. off-broadway: Hike to Bonanza Bowl and drop into Crowes Nest: five jump turns, hang time, and a mandatory straightline to the cat track.

Backcountry AccessAvoid Wolf Creek's vacillating OB policy by crossing the highway and skinning up the visibly popular (unnamed) trail to a treeless knob. Ski 2,000 feet back to the road. TheSan Juans are North America's most avy-prone mountains; check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (geosurvey.state.co.us/avalanche) before you start climbing.

WeatherStorms track north out of Baja and bang into the mountains surrounding Wolf Creek. The chatter you hear about 60-inch dumps? It's true. Take whatever Telluride and Crested Butte forecast, then double it. —Evelyn Spence

Apres: Since There's no time for lounging at the on-site Pathfinder bar (it closes at 4:30 p.m.), grab a quick beer and head to Para-dise Brewpub in Pagosa Springs. (South Fork, on the other side of the pass, is quiet.)

FuelBelly up to 14-inch enchiladas at Tequila's in Pagosa Springs, or grab a slice at DSP Pizzeria. Carnivores migrate to the Ole Miner—three miles west of town—for a Beef Heap (barbecued sliced beef).

Up All NightThe Bear Creek Saloon and Grill in Pagosa has a 100-inch TV screen, live rock and blues on weekends, and Steam Engine Lager (from nearby Durango) on tap.

DigsCrash at the Springs Resort ($109—$200; pagosahotsprings .com), and you get 24-hour access to the hotel's 13 pools. The Fireside Cabins, which have kitchenettes and hand-made quilts, sleep six ($85—$164; firesidecabins.com).

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