Saturday, March 24, 2018

A Californian in Wolf Creek, Colorado

Skiing and surfing share a number of similarities.  The feeling of gliding, the requirement of water (albeit frozen vs. liquid) and the chasing of the conditions requiring one to be opportunistic.  When I learned my brother-in-law was getting married in Santa Fe, the ski trip wheels began to turn in my brain . . .

One of my favorite flights to take is SAN to ABQ.   In 90 minutes, we were transported from the hustle and bustle of SoCal to the mellow vibe that is New Mexico.  Southwest is the airline to take if skiing; the first two bags are free; and a ski bag and boot bag count as one piece of luggage. 

On Thursday we flew in and my big decision was whether to upgrade from a SUV with front-wheel drive - why make such a vehicle - to one with AWD.  I hemmed and hawed a bit with the Avis dude, as we talked about how he used to race motorcycles, and he cut me a deal.  We drove up to Santa Fe, and checked in at La Posada, an eclectic hotel, consisting of multiple separate buildings. La Posada has mandatory valet - can't stand mandatory valet.

On Thursday night, my wife mentioned I should go skiing on Friday at Ski Santa Fe.  What was I thinking!?  I hadn't even thought of that.  Why not?  Better than Meow Wolf.  Ski Santa Fe sits about a 40 minute drive from Santa Fe itself.  It has one of my favorite bars, called Totemoff's, which is only accessible by chairlift - I favor barriers to entry.     

The night before a couple of inches of hail-like snow fell on the mountain.  It helped give a little freshness to otherwise poor conditions.  It wasn't crowded and I had fun, but half-a-day was enough.  Saturday was the wedding and Sunday morning I was off to Wolf Creek in southern Colorado.

The trip from Santa Fe to Wolf Creek is an interesting one.  Unparalleled vistas are juxtaposed against dilapidated shacks abutting the road.  On the way up to the mountain, it began to snow.  Good call on the AWD upgrade.  I was on the lifts by 11:00 a.m.  Visibility at points was non-existent, so I stuck mostly to the groomers, which had a foot of powder.  After skiing Santa Fe, which has no wireless service, I finally broke down and got Spotify, so I could store my favorites to my phone and listen to them while skiing.  So glad I did, plus there's a $15.99 family plan, which I didn't know about.  First up, Unforgettable Fire. 

Around 2 pm, I overheard a woman who was leaving remark "tomorrow will be great!"  Yes, but right now it's all-time - why not ski it?  The answer: barriers to entry, people want to ski easy under blue skis and miss out on that feeling of becoming one with a mountain in a snowstorm, hearing only the "tink-tink" of the lift, as the snow muffles noise. 

Wolf Creek was filled with people from Oklahoma, apparently the whole state was on spring break.  I liked the Oklahomans, who were friendly, readily admit they were not the best skiers and tended to stay on the beginner lifts.   

That evening, after wiping off 8" of snow from my windshield, I headed down to Pagosa Springs, where I was staying. Both Ski Santa Fe and Wolf Creek sit in the middle of national forests.  As a result, there are no lodgings near the mountain and it gets a bit old driving back and forth - especially when its snowing.

Even with AWD, my Ford Edge SUV went into two slides.  The first was because I moved from the somewhat plowed right lane into the covered with 4" of snow lane and slid for a few seconds before regaining control.  That one was fine, as I had a 1/2 mile of runway.  The second was a bit more precarious, a hairpin turn that I was taking around 20-25 mph and following two cars.  The SUV went into a slide and I had visions of slow motion crash into the concrete rail.  I regained control, but the euphoria of the day was somewhat dampened, and not counter-balanced by a shot of adrenaline as my body had none left to give. 

That night I stayed in the High Country Lodge.  My rating system for lodging is would I stay there again.  I wouldn't.  Don't advertise Wi-Fi if it's unusable.  By accident, I only booked one night, so I took my chance and spent the next night at Hillside Inn.  It was a bit beat-up, but had better Wi-Fi and I would stay there again.

The second day at Wolf Creek was the closest thing I get to a religious experience.  I spent the entire day on the mountain and mostly on "Alberta", the 12 minute (very slow) quad lift that services tons of tree skiing.  It was empty.  I never waited in a lift line and had fresh tracks through powder all day long.   

To the left is Alberta Peak; to ski this requires a hike
Later that day, I was told by two locals this wasn't even any good.  Like surfing, there are always those who like to say it was better yesterday.  I responded that my home mountain was Mammoth, which got a lot of snow, and a foot and half of untouched powder is always good.  "Yea, but the snow at Mammoth is heavier."  Whatever.  The 5' of 'heavy' powder that just fell at Mammoth is fine with me.  Outside the ski shop, there were a few chairs made with old skis, including the Dynastars I rode when I was 16.

On my final day, it was difficult to get out of bed.  My quads were shot and I was in general pain. Get to the mountain was my mantra; ibuprofen was the other.  Once on Treasure lift, knowing this was my last day, my last few hours, I caught a second wind.  From Treasure, the "Face" can be accessed.  It's a steep, mogul filled section, that is difficult, but not extreme.  For the Oklahomans this was the crucible, as I was asked multiple times if I skied the Face.

The "Face" - Fresh Tracks on Monday morning
On Sunday, as I rode the lift over and over, I watched a snowboarder beneath the lift build a short ramp on the edge of a steep drop with an orange shovel.  I took that ramp 30 times over the next three days, launching myself 10-15' into powder, which tones down the punishment the body takes when skiing, and for me, makes me feel 28.     

Surprisingly, the Face, on Tuesday, two days after the storm, was still not skied out.  Although, the snow got soft by 11:30, with the tops of the untouched powder melting.  Exiting Treasure to the right leads to the option of a steep glade of trees.  It was largely untouched.  Game on.  I stayed on Treasure, a 5 minute ride versus the 12 on Alberta, taking 20 rides in under 3 1/2 hours. My penultimate ride of the day, I took a wrong turn and had to take the Elma lift.  Riding up, I knew I was done.  My legs had no strength left.  Time to head back, time to go home.

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