At the top of the Alberta Chair at Wolf Creek, Colorado, a 50 foot bootpack awaits. From there, skiers walk along the beautiful Knife Ridge, with views of the San Juans that can bring you to your knees. Keep going… up some metal grate steps, across a little bridge, a little farther, and there you are: the lip of snow you ease over to discover a steep, powder-filled slope above exposure. Also, the pinnacle of what is probably the best value in skiing.
For a $66 lift ticket, this is what you get: bountiful powder skiing; friendly lifties and courteous parking lot shuttle drivers; free parking; no ego or frenzy; the beauty and steeps of the San Juans; and 430 annual inches of cold, natural snowfall delivered from the skies. Add $10 and you can sip a microbrew and eat a delicious brat (with cheese!).
Keep going down Knife Ridge to reach the free snowcat, or, do what we did and lap the near vertical, powder-filled lines below. Then race down the cattrack to Abracadabra, where short, pillowy, completely fresh lines lead you through the snow-covered trees. But please, take your time, even on a Saturday after the storm of the season brought 55 inches, Wolf Creek does not have lift lines to fight through. This is the way skiing is supposed to be.
Admittedly, we were half a day late—the pass opened for the first time after the storm the afternoon prior, but it didn't matter. This is Wolf Creek. Part of what makes those views so enlightening is that there's nothing man-made in site. At Wolf Creek, you're out there. And it's blue collar. It's Oklahoman. It's full of Texas Tech students, stoners chilling in every pocket of trees, and camo—lots of camo. All that is to say: the snow isn't going anywhere.
The morning was sunny, no wind—perfectly still and quiet. We could hear the birds. After another Knife Ridge lap, back on the Alberta Chair, it was just my girlfriend and me. I thought about how this is what we seek as skiers, as lovers of the outdoors. A break from the noise, a moment with no cell service, few people, and no site of roads or development or the vast and quickly encroaching world that has it out for nothing less than our souls. There aren't a whole lot of places like Wolf Creek left.
We saved the snowcat for last. Head all the way down Knife Ridge and Shawn will be waiting for you, or back real soon. He'll throw you in the corral on the back with the drum of diesel and take you up to the top of Horseshoe Bowl, where a field full of powder awaits.
We saved this run for last. We hiked a bit above the drop off point, and, one at a time, sped through cold, clean snow down the open bowl. We popped and yelped and hooted our way through the smoky trees all the way home.
As the day ended, the winds had picked up and the clouds moved in. It looked like it was going to snow again.