Last week I wrote about some of the improvements you will find at regional ski areas, but I overlooked a few important developments.
Taos Ski Valley, in addition to removing two old chairs up Al’s Run, also took out Chair 6 this summer. The summit lift was rarely used and had aged poorly. Also, additional thinning and glading was undertaken in the Wild West sector, which has become perhaps the state’s premier tree run.
Another significant project nears completion at Wolf Creek: the Charity Jane Express chair. The quad high-speed Doppelmayr chair serves the 900-acre Alberta basin sector. Its base loading station is located downslope and to the east of the existing Alberta chair, and its top is located near Tower 8 of the Alberta lift. It provides skiers coming off the Knife Ridge and Horseshoe Bowl areas to easily return to the Alberta chair and to the relatively new Elma chair that takes one back to the main base area.
It eliminates a sometimes lengthy pole and walk traverse along a catwalk to the Alberta chair from the far eastern portions of the ski area. Load testing is underway and it is expected to be operational before Jan. 1.
The chair is named for the wife of late Southwestern skiing founder Kingsbury Pitcher and the mother of current Wolf Creek CEO, president and manager Davey Pitcher, who grew up in Santa Fe, where his parents oversaw Santa Fe Ski Basin.
Another really cool Wolf Creek project is its move to power all its operations with wind energy. In the near future, it will transition to full solar power, generated on a 25-acre solar farm in the San Luis Valley near La Garita. The ski area’s owners have gone beyond the standard proclamations of concern about global warming by actually addressing their own carbon footprint.
I skied at “The Creek” on Monday with my buddy, Jim Walton, and we had a wonderful time, finding lots of untracked patches and lines in the forests four or five days after the last storm. In fact, we were the only skiers in the entire Alberta sector for the first hour, and skied right onto the lifts all day. Despite the most snow in Colorado and often in the entire Rocky Mountains, the ski area remains so far off the beaten track that crowds are almost never an issue here.
Set atop the Continental Divide, it is the beneficiary of local geography and wind patterns that trap storms from the west and north against nearby 12,000- and 13,000-foot peaks. Record years have seen up to 75 feet of fluff fall on Wolf Creek Pass, and the high elevation keeps much of it on the ground. This year, it has received 92 inches to date, and opened on weekends on Oct. 13, its earliest opening since 2011.
There are numerous restaurants scattered around the mountain for convenient and good dining options, a large on-slope rental operation, plus a good ski/snowboard school, and extensive calendar of special event. In fact, something special is happening almost every weekend — fun races, competitive events, locals’ discounts (and everyone is considered local here), clinics and workshops.
These events are supplemented by events organized by the ski area’s closest town, Pagosa Springs, where most New Mexicans choose to lodge.
Some of the premier events scheduled this winter include the Pagosa Paws Sled Dog Races on Jan. 19-20, Winterfest on Jan. 25-27, the DUST2 Fat Bike Race on Feb. 10, and the Moonrise Cross-Country Ski Social on Feb. 17.
The town maintains numerous groomed Nordic trails in and around town, and there are a handful of accommodations that include heavenly on-site mineral springs. There is nothing like a soak in these magical waters to revive a pair of spent, powder-pushing legs!
My favorite is the low-key, inexpensive Healing Waters Resort and Spa, set right over the main mineral gusher.
Here the snow lies draped over the valleys, the glistening streams and forests in a seemingly perpetual state of white winter. Can’t you hear those snowflakes calling?
CONDITIONS and EVENTS
Wolf Creek reports a base of 35 inches and is 100 percent open. On Saturday it hosts one of its many Fun Races. These races are free and open to skiers and boarders of all ages and abilities. Registration is from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. in the Raven’s Grill at the top of the Raven Lift. Skiers/boarders can also sign up on the top of the course after 11:15 a.m.
Ski Santa Fe has a 29-inch base, with 63 of 89 runs open. Enjoy the bluegrass tunes of Kitty Jo Creek on the Totemoff’s deck Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is also a “Learn to Ski” weekend, with a two-day lesson package deal.
Taos Ski Valley has a 31-inch base, with most of its frontside runs open — including a handful of expert slopes like Al’s. The ridge is not yet accessible, and only one run, Rubezahl, is open on the backside. The resort hosts Demo Days on Friday and Saturday, and the 23rd annual Brewmaster’s Festival is held on Saturday in the Resort Center. Admission is $35.
Sipapu, with a 20-inch base, has 18 runs open; Red River reports a 24-inch base and opens for daily business this Saturday.
Angel Fire has a 20-inch base and will open with limited terrain Saturday; Pajarito has a 16-inch base and plans to open Dec. 22; and Ski Apache has a nice 27-inch base but only four runs open.
Crested Butte has a 31-inch base, with snow falling as of Wednesday. There are nine chairs spinning and 69 runs open.
Telluride has a 31-inch base and 41 runs open. Monarch has a 30-inch base with 53 of 62 runs available. Purgatory has 23 inches and 25 runs open.