Wolf Creek, Colorado

Wolf Creek’s base lodge sits at 10,000 feet. The resort itself straddles the Continental Divide on Highway160 in Southern Colorado, between Pagosa Springs and South Fork. The lifts top out another 1,600-plusfeet up on peaks high enough to see 100 miles into New Mexico.

Wolf Creek Pass has been made infamous by country-music songs describing it as a graveyard for runaway trucks. Indeed, the canyons it crosses arelittered with the twisted and crumpled remains of cars and semis that failed to heed the signs posted at thesummit-“WARNING: Steep as hell for the next ten miles. Slow down, stupid!” (local author’s interpretation).Take heart, though. Most people make it to Wolf Creek without crashing into the gorge-unless an avalanchegets them. There’s plenty of snow in the area, that’s for sure. Wolf Creek gets the most of any Coloradoarea, averaging nearly 500 inches each season.

Wolf Creek is one of the few resorts in Colorado that’s managed to prosper without corporate mega-development. The Pitcher family took over Wolf Creek in 1976 and runs the area much as it did then-without executives imported from Madison Avenue. The oldman, “Pitch” (CEO Kingsbury Pitcher), was born 79 years ago in the mining town of Silverton-39 milesaway as the crow flies, 140 miles by paved road. His two sons run the operation: Davey is the mountainmanager, and Todd is responsible for much of the planning and the facilities (one of his relatives describedhim as “the guy who runs the sewer plant”). Pitch’s daughter Noel runs the food and retail operations, and hisdaughter-in-law, Rosanne (Davey’s wife), takes care of marketing and public relations. At least three peoplenot related to Pitch help load lifts and park cars, but no one’s sure which three (actually, Wolf Creekemploys more than 190 locals each winter).

Wolf Creek’s four chairlifts service some of the deepest and steepest terrain in North America. And no one, not even Colorado’s huge mega-resorts, challenge its claim to the most snow in the “Mile High State.” Early season conditions at Wolf Creek are legendary. No, theydon’t crank out a foot of machine-made snow for October press releases. They have, however, opened withmore than five feet of powder in time for Halloween, and excellent riding by Thanksgiving is all butguaranteed. There are plenty of great groomed trails as well as lift-accessible treeriding on Wolf Creek’s1,000 ridable acres, and even better offerings for riders willing to hike; the hardy can access thebackcountry through gates on the area’s boundaries designated by Wolf Creek and the U.S. Forest Service.Remember that once you cross the boundary, you’re on your own. If you aren’t talented or experiencedenough to survive on snow-covered flanks of 13,000-plus-foot peaks that slide on a regular basis, don’tride there! Besides, there are loads of fantastic challenges within Wolf Creek’s boundaries. The KnifeRidge and Waterfall areas are revered for their steep powder chutes and cliff bands. The resort has evenbuilt a staircase so snowboarders and skiers can drop in from the very highest point on Knife Ridge. Thesesteeper sections on Wolf Creek’s eastern side don’t funnel you into a lift line. Instead, you hitch a ride out onthe snowcat that runs back and forth from the resort to the pick-up zone. If you time it right, you can rideinside the cat. But most people think it’s more fun to be towed behind the cat by the drag rope along withdozens of your new best friends.

Locals are concerned that too many tourists may inspire the Pitcher family to develop Wolf Creek into a theme park. Nevertheless, realizing its importance to the local economy, they have kindly provided the following directions to the resort: Take I-70 east from Denver. Left at Kansas.Right at the intersection with I-80. Go straight through Des Moines. Left at the Texaco station … -Jack Turner