All Time: Diamond in the Rough

A winter rejuvenated at Wolf Creek, Colorado

Words: Drew Petersen

Toast bagel. Butter bagel. Grab boots. Drive to hill. Ski park.

The uninspiring 2012 winter made me a subject of routine. The hype surrounding the return of La Niña had only made it harder. Summit County, Colorado, had the worst conditions I had seen in my 18 years in Silverthorne.

On a February afternoon, I stood atop Breckenridge's Park Lane as my phone rang. I figured it was just another call from my boss at Luigi's, the Italian joint where I bus tables, telling me when I had to work that night. Instead, it was photographer Liam Doran with good news. Wolf Creek had received an unexpected 18 inches overnight and it was still dumping.

Hanging on the whim that we might finally quench our thirst for powder, Doran, Ian Borgeson, and I packed the car. About 200 miles to the south, Wolf Creek was a diamond in the rough last winter. It was the only Colorado ski area to hit anywhere near average snowfall, which for them is 465 inches. They opened October 8 with a fresh foot of snow on the ground. I was on the fifth chair that day. Four months later, I was on the road with the same spirit.

The next morning, at our last-minute hotel in South Fork (population 604), an elderly Texan man joined us for breakfast. Over the sound of the morning news, he told us the snow on the pass was the most he had ever seen. Then again, he was from Texas; high hopes and low expectations were the theme last winter.

As we pulled into the parking lot Tuesday morning, the clouds peeled. With just a few inches on the ground, it looked like we were a day late. Regardless, we climbed the quick, five-minute hike to 11,900-foot Alberta Peak, scrounging for any lingering powder.

On the summit, we stood transfixed, amazed at the amount of untouched left from the day before. The snow sparkled like diamonds, as Ullr's paradise unveiled itself.

On that first run, Alberta Peak treated us to long-awaited face shots. As we headed down toward the lift, we tucked into the Waterfall Zone, the last real pitch of the mountain. I quickly teed up a 30 footer and was shocked at how deep the landing was.

On every hit and turn, we burrowed into 24 inches of fresh snow as if to hibernate and escape from the rest of the world. It was light and dry on our faces, the perfect moisture content for landings, but still wispy enough for Colorado face shots.

As the day went on, we lapped the 400-foot-long Knife Ridge Chutes. Even with the great conditions, there were few people to contend with, allowing us to push past our tracks from the laps before. We exploited every cliff and untouched snow patch we could find.

We were blood-hungry, starved by the winter's drought. We had returned to our sanctuary. Smiles covered our faces, a sense of belonging restored in our hearts.