Wonderful Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek:  The Snowiest Ski Area in Colorado

Wolf Creek: The Snowiest Ski Area in Colorado

It’s terrific how quickly you can throw yourself into another season.  It’s been feeling like winter here in Colorado for nearly two weeks, every since a big November storm dumped two and a half feet of snow on a good part of the Rockies.  That’s just how I like it:  sunny and warm until mid November, then boom, hello snow.

I have much to write about my stay at The Broadmoor, but I’ll save that for later since right now I’m too excited about the start of ski season.  Our mountain, Telluride Ski Resort, opens tomorrow and I can hardly wait.  I already have the ski bug, especially after having whetted my appetite last week at Wolf Creek, a low key, family owned and operated ski area, known to be consistently endowed with the most snow in Colorado.  Tucked up against the Continental Divide, our nation’s backbone, Wolf Creek typically opens early November (sometimes even by Halloween) with a more than respectable base made up almost entirely of natural snow.

By the time we left Colorado Springs, Steve and I were eager to hit the slopes.  I had located my equipment in my secondary storage unit (read about my packing dramas here) and aside for the need of a good ski waxing, I was good to go.  (The bikini wax had, of course, been taken care of before heading out on our trip.) Since we were approaching Wolf Creek from the northeast, we decided to locate a nice place to stay in South Fork, a quaint and quiet little town, probably best known for its fly fishing during the summer months.  My Internet research pulled up Arbor House Inn, an elegant bed and breakfast on the Rio Grande river (which actually begins just a short drive up the mountain at the top of the Divide).

One of Several Well-Dressed Tables at Arbor House Inn

One of Several Well-Dressed Tables at Arbor House Inn

Hosts Keith and Laurie and Their Pups

Hosts Keith and Laurie and Their Pups

Steve and I could not have been more enchanted with our choice.  I do think you can judge a book by its cover—at least most of the time—and you can also confidently select a place of lodging by its Web site.  Sure, there’s always a chance for surprises but seasoned travel researchers generally know how to separate the good from the bad.  We had nothing but delightful surprises at Arbor House Inn.  In fact we were amazed to find such a polished establishment in the middle-of-nowhere-town of South Fork.  Plush robes, candles in our room, well-stocked coffee and tea stations both in our room and in the inn’s dining room, candles at breakfast—there isn’t a detail passed over in this delightful inn.  A sumptuous breakfast, overlooking a bucolic river scene, completes the romantic tableau that innkeepers Keith and Laurie Bratton have created in this little haven of peace in southwestern Colorado.  Indeed these fine hosts are as gracious as their surroundings.  And if you’re a dog lover, you’ll enjoy their two adorable Dachshunds as well as Chloe’s Corner, a charming room decorated with portraits of all our favorite canine ancestors.  I love a place with a sense of humor and whimsy!

Chalet Swiss in South Fork

Chalet Swiss in South Fork

Second big discovery:  Chalet Swiss, a lovely restaurant and bar, located just across the street from Arbor House Inn.  In truth, I had been to this Euro-owned and operated bastion of tradition a couple of times before but it was fun to re-discover it with Steve, an Italian, who greatly appreciates fine dining without a bunch of fanfare.  (This is actually very European.)  Owner and Chef Fredi Brechbuehler presents specialties from his native Switzerland including Cheese Fondue, Raclette and Schitzel along with more traditional dishes such as Colorado Lamb Chops Provençale and Chicken Mushroom Fettuccine.  It’s all perfect fare for pre or post recreating on the mountain.

It was tough pulling ourselves away from Arbor House Inn, even with the excitement of heading out for our first day on the slopes.  Our enthusiasm mounted, however, as we embarked upon the climb to Wolf Creek Pass, a mere twenty-minute ascent that would take us to an elevation of 10,857 feet.  In some respects it felt like I was coming home since I skied Wolf Creek a whole season when I first moved to Colorado—Pagosa Springs, Colorado to be exact—nearly eight years ago.  (I can’t believe it has been that long.)

Celebrating its seventieth year, Wolf Creek epitomizes the sort of ski resort that many of us remember from childhood, the kind of mountain where lunch and lift tickets remain affordable and pretension of any kind feels out of place.  Steve and I were thrilled.  It took me a bit of doing to get going but once I heated up my boots beneath the blow dryer of the Ladies’ Room, I was ready to start my ski day.  (Hint:  Don’t ever leave your ski boots in a frozen car overnight, something I know better than to do but hey, we’re all rusty at the start of the season.  Also, it’s best to cover your boots or put them in a boot bag in storage since I found mine to be loaded—well maybe not loaded but bad enough—with mouse turds!)

Wolf Creek Powder Day

Wolf Creek Powder Day

We hopped on the Raven Chair, Wolf Creek’s high-speed quad, an addition since I was last here, and began our day of skiing.  Our choice of cruisers felt limitless since the whole mountain was open and coverage throughout was excellent.  My ski conditioning workouts had paid off and Steve and I were able to ski run after run until we finally decided to stop for a bite to eat (I recommend the green chili stew here) and gulps of much-needed water.  I let Steve ski the Alberta Lift—the part of the mountain where you find the most challenging terrain—the rest of the afternoon while I did more laps on the blues.  It’s best to break yourself in slowly early season, at least for a cream puff like me.

Tomorrow I get to test my legs again on the slopes.  But this time, it’s here in T-ride, on the very slopes I can spot right out my window.

Thank you, Wolf Creek, for the primer.  Now it’s time for the big league.

Wolf Creek Ski Area, Pagosa Springs, CO, 800-SKI-WOLF (754-9653) and 970-264-5639, www.wolfcreekski.com

Wolf Creek offers a dozen or So Locals’ Appreciation Days on Wednesdays throughout the season.  All-day adult lift tickets are priced at $31. and no special I.D. is required.  The regular price is $52. most other days.

Arbor House Inn, 31358 West Highway 160, South Fork, 888-830-4642 and 719-873-5012, www.arborhouseinnco.com

Chalet Swiss, West Highway 160 across from Arbor House Inn, 719- 873-1100

If you are approaching Wolf Creek from Pagosa Springs and the southwest, you may want to consider Canyon Crest Lodge, another bed and breakfast.  I stayed here many years ago and found it to be very nice.  Valerie, an Englishwoman, is your host at this off-the-beaten-path establishment.
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