From the Bonanza Chair, head for Powder Puff as a nice, reliably groomed run. The lower section is a green run, and can also be accessed by unloading the Raven Chair.
Last but not least, Charisma is one of the best cruiser runs Wolf has to offer. Accessible from Raven Chair, or from Bonanza Chair using the Charisma Crossover cat-track.
Intermediate Trees and Powder Day Runs:
Looking to get a feel for what glade skiing is all about? Pitch's Gate and Serendipity are lightly treed, easy pitches that are good places to get your bearings in tree skiing.
Here is Serendipity, but both are pretty indistinguishable from another. Note: heading too far skiers left on these runs will put you into the experts-only Waterfall Area. If you have strayed too far left, you will know it when the slope rolls over into much steeper terrain. If this is you, don't panic, just traverse skiers right. There is a cat-track from this area that you can follow skiers right to intersect the Alberta Lift line- just follow it until you find terrain you are more comfortable with.
Both Pitch's Gate and Serendipity lead to Alberta Lift, but Pitch's Gate is one of the easiest ways to get into the Alberta area from the Treasure Chair. Just take Navajo Trail from the top of Treasure Chair, and follow it past Glory Hole until you see the sign for Pitch's Gate skiers right.
S'Wonderful and Flim Flam, served by the new Elma Chair, are another pair of good intermediate runs that lead to Alberta. Access them by taking Navajo Trail, Glory Hole, or Summer Day from the top of Treasure Chair, and about 2/3 of the way back to the base area, just past where the orange ropes for the Waterfall Area ends, you will find these runs. These runs are short and sweet.
Other Ungroomed Intermediate Terrain of Note:
Thumper- generally great moguls, accessed off of Raven Chair.
Treasure and Windjammer- Both runs can be accessed from both the Treasure and Bonanza Chairs. These will mogul up between storms, and will be reset during storm cycles. The final pitch into the base area is the steepest part of each run, so if what you can see from the base looks good, go get it.
Here is Windjammer on a signature Wolf Creek deep day. The little dot in the picture on the left side of the run is the head and shoulders of my wife learning about 3:00 PM faceshots.
Silver Streak is accessed from the top of Treasure Chair. The top is a rowdy pitch shared with Alberta Face, but the Silver Streak side is a bit milder than the face. Get to the milder side by skiing down to the intersection with Navajo Trail, and then making a hard skiers left. Down off the headwall, the run becomes a mild groomed cruiser similar to Tranquility.
Avoid these Blue Runs:
Bonanza Trail: is a cat track its whole way. Only useful if you intend to ski Treasure or Windjammer runs from the Treasure Chair, but are not comfortable skiing Treasure Falls. These runs are better accessed from Bonanza Chair. For the blue runs underneath Treasure Chair, use Silver Streak for better access.
Coyote Park Trail/Lower Sleeping Beauty/Camino Del Monte Sol/Lower Simpatico/Lagerfest: These are also minimal pitch cat-tracks that exist only to make for easier access to to and from expert terrain. Attempting to "ski" these trails will leave you hiking in several spots and will generally make you unhappy.
Okey Dokey/A-Way- this is actually a road that in the Summer leads to Alberta Park Reservoir. Its a road. It is flat, you will get stuck. This is a good way for cross-country skiers to access the cross country trails, it is a terrible way for passholders to try to get to Alberta Lift.
Lower Posey: A "blue run" that is really only accessible from some very rowdy expert terrain. It is unmarked. Do not try to find and ski it, as it is not a cut run and the flatter portion of the mountain the trail map references as this run has chutes and cliffs on both sides. I've run into people in way over their heads skiing into this area trying to find the "easy" part. I really wish Wolf would remove this from their trail map, or relabel it as a black run just so people do not get the wrong idea.
4x4: Do not ski this run unless you are parked in the 4x4 lot and you are ending your day. This run is not lift served, a fact that is not generally marked on the sign for the run!
Make your way down the right side of Alberta Face. Do not follow the chairlift down, as the goal is to head skiers right to Alberta.
At the base of Alberta Face, enter the trees on the right side. You have just found the Patina run. It is mildly pitched with nice trees, and more often than not will be untracked late into the day.
Continue to make your way skiers right. You goal is to exit onto the Tranquility run, immediately cross over this run (right side again) to reach Summer Day, and then stay skiers right, looking for Waterfall Gate 6.
Gate 6 serves a South facing exposure, and its best early on a powder day before the sun bakes the snow. Due to the sun exposure, this area can remain bony until Wolf has a 70-80" base. Gate 6 serves pretty mild terrain by Waterfall standards- no chutes, no cliffs, just steep trees or open areas.
Make your descent, and follow the cat track to the Alberta lift. You will likely face some skating on the runout on a day with sticky snow- the general rule at Wolf Creek is you enter every cat-track in Alberta at cruising speed!
From the top of the Alberta lift, the Knife Ridge hike looks very compelling. Hold off on hiking- the Knife Ridge lines will be good for days. Instead, the expert has two choices- head skiers left and into Waterfall Gates 1-5, or head skiers right to the Numbers Chutes and Area 54.
Back to Waterfall
Head down the lift line until you reach the cat track a few hundred feet below (you can also follow this cat track down from the lift if you don't feel like skiing the lift line). This cat track is called Park Avenue. Take Park Avenue, and after several marked runs, you will see the Waterfall Gates on your right side.
From this side of Waterfall, staying skiers right generally makes for easier terrain, while venturing skiers left leads to tighter chutes and cliff sections. Unless you are VERY confident in your ski ability, start with Gate 1 and aim downhill for Jaybird and 52* Trees. These are two steep, treed, and fun runs, but lack the mandatory chutes found deeper in the Waterfall Area. Here is Jaybird in early-season conditions.
Gate 2 starts to chute up. Here's a picture of Gate 2 terrain:
Gates 3-5 is where stuff starts to get serious. Almost all of the lines in here are either 10-50' cliff drops or 40-50* pitches with ski width chutes. Be warned- it's common for novice skiers/boarders to come through the chutes sideways and scrape them to rock. It is best to hit Gates 3-5 early on a powder day to try and avoid this.
Gate 3-5 terrain:
Alberta- Skiers Right
This area is the bread and butter of a Wolf Creek powder day. This area is basically a giant playground of widely spaced trees, some very, very steep sections, and some cliffs and chutes to round things out. This is a very large area with very few people skiing it. Not only is untracked lines the norm in here on a powder day, but if you go further out from the lift, you will find areas where you can't even SEE tracks even well into the afternoon ( and the next day, and the next...).
Head down the lift following the cat track to the right. Pass the turn off for the Park Avenue cat track. You are now on Coyote Park Trail, also known as "the upper track."
You will shortly pass the trail markers for Shazam and Tsunami. These trail markers attract a lot of traffic, and unless it is early on a powder day, it is a safer bet to continue on.
Find a good looking spot in the trees, and turn in. Forget about trying to locate a specific run- there are no good waypoints in the trees, and its difficult bordering on impossible to find specific lines- I was talking with a ski patroller who told me after a decade skiing in this area, he still has trouble finding his way to specific areas. Instead, embrace the spirit of adventure, point the skis in, and be ready to ski whatever you run into.
There are a few general characteristics of this area that almost all lines share. You will drop off the cat track and enter a flat/minimal pitch area with some rollers. On deep days, following somebody else's track through this area is highly recommended. There are plenty of places to find yourself stopped and needing to pole.
You will ski about 300-1000 feet in distance this way, and then the hill will sharply pitch in. This pitch varies from steep, to very steep, to 30' cliff. Unless you are MUCH ballsier than me, don't ski up to the pitch balls to the wall, lest you find yourself hucking cliff to tree. Stop up top, take a breath, and make sure what lies beneath you is what you want to ski. Almost all of the cliff areas in this area have gentler slopes on either side, so if you don't like what you are looking for, traverse over a bit until things look better.
As you ski this area, you will notice little red diamond signs hanging from a rope hung between two trees, about 20 feet in the air, with numbers on them. Find a sign? Congratulations- you have found one of the Number Chutes. These are hung to help orient skiers and ski patrol. Take note of the chute number- if you find you don't like the terrain around that chute, next time if you find yourself approaching the same number, you can traverse away while still above things. Personally, I'm not a big fan of Chute 8 (is mostly 15' cliff with a chute that gets easily scraped to rock), but really like Chutes 7 and 9 (and most of the others). Here's standing up on top in the Chute 7 area. Whenever I look down at lines like this, I have to shake my head at people saying Wolf is flat....
The steep part is normally about 300 vertical feet, then the pitch scales back and you enter what I have nicknamed "Hero Meadow."
This section is not terribly challenging, but is FUN. Deep snow, a handful of trees (and quite a few saplings), and lots of easy pillows and other small drops here and there. If the steep section shook your confidence a bit, this is where to get it back.
Most lines in the Number Chutes area will continue on to a section that is a bit steeper, but less so than the chute section, with a bit tighter trees, before you hit the cat track, either Lower Simpatico or Lagerfest, depending on your line..
You want to take the first cat track you reach that is descending to skiers left! There is a lower cat track- Camino Del Monte Sol. The problem is, the lower cat track has a section that needs to be hiked to get back to Alberta Lift. The hike is quite minor, but skiing from this area, it is a very short descent between the cat tracks and generally NOT worth it.
Ski back down to the lift and take another lap!
Wolf Creek Hike-to Terrain
So you've taken a few laps in the Waterfall Area and Numbers Chutes, and want to change things up with an epic faceshot run. Maybe its a few days after the last storm, and you still want to grab some fresh snow. Time to take a hike!
Knife Ridge and Horseshoe Bowl
Knife Ridge leaves an impression on people- there are almost as many go-pro edits of people walking up the Knife Ridge Stairs as people dropping into the chutes.
To start the Knife Ridge hike, take the Alberta Lift, and instead of going left exiting the lift, go right into the small staging area for the hike.
The hardest part of the hike is the bootpack trail to the top of the ridge. It is steep and the bootpack has a tendency to be set with some GIANT steps. Still, even taking your time, it is only about a 2 minute hike to the Ski Patrol shack on the ridgeline. Hiking West on the ridgeline will set you in motion towards the shoulder of Alberta Peak, where Step Bowl is located, but first lets talk Knife Ridge. Take the ridge East for a few hundred feet, and you get to the stairs.
Take some time to admire the view. At the end of the stairs, you get to Knife Ridge Chutes. These are some of the steepest lines in Colorado, and in almost all places, have a very tough flat-to-60* pitch cornice entry. Because of the steepness, until the base is around 100 inches, these remain bony and skiing them generally requires straight lining between the rocks- With more coverage, the lines become easier to not get punished for making turns.
If you are hesitant to drop in right off the stairs, you then need to click your skis on and ski one of the sketchiest traverses ever along the top of the cornice. It's just you, hanging several feet off the actual mountain on top of a cornice, and 45*+ slopes on BOTH sides. :)
Lines gradually get more manageable as you hike/skate East. You will reach a small hill that will descend into a saddle, and the ridge line starts to show trees. The trees are the Dog Chutes area.
Before deciding to pass these trees and hike to Horseshoe Bowl, take a close look at tracks heading into Dog Chutes. From the top, it looks like tight trees in steep terrain, which scares most people off. However, the tight trees only last for about 15 feet before it opens up into beautiful open slide paths.
So, if you are seeing a ton of tracks to Horseshoe Bowl, and none into Dog Chutes, reconsider the hike to Horseshoe.
Continue past Dog Chutes, and you will find yourself climbing again. On some days, Wolf will run a snowcat here to drag you up to the top of Horseshoe Bowl, but don't count in this- the service can be sporadic even on days where they intend to run it.
Expect the hike to Horseshoe Bowl to take about 20-30 minutes from the Alberta Lift.
Its a beautiful bowl, moderately steep, and wide open. In case you are wondering, the black pipe things along the ridge are avalanche boomers (Gazex)- propane is ignited in the tubes, creating a large booming explosion, and the sound and pressure wave is directed down at the snow- cheaper than explosives and can be remotely fired.
One last thing- People normally consider Horseshoe Bowl to be the end of the hikable terrain East of the Alberta Lift. Wrong! One of the safest bets for untracked snow, even long after the last storm has passed is to keep hiking along the ridge PAST Horseshoe Bowl. Up here you will find a patrol shack, Sleeping Beauty, and Voodoo Bowl. If there is not powder on these runs, there is not powder anywhere.
Finally, if you are really inclined to take the path less traveled, you can continue down the ridge line past Sleeping Beauty and Voodoo Bowl to Spooner Hill. However, Spooner Hill is treed intermediate terrain that requires a very, very long hike to reach (and another shorter hike back out!). It is still within ski area boundaries and patrolled, but few would call it worth the trek (Wolf Creek has announced that lift service to Spooner Hill is in their expansion plans).
Access Step Bowl by hiking up the ridge from the top of Alberta Lift, and making a turn towards Alberta Peak at the ski patrol hut (Knife Ridge Outpost). You can also continue up the ridge all the way to the top of Alberta Peak, but the hike is easier from the Treasure Lift side of the peak.
Step Bowl is one of the few areas of hikable terrain I find underwhelming at Wolf. The hike is a steady uphill, and can often be difficult as wind tends to obliterate the bootpack. It is a steady climb, and while it is a safe bet the snow will be soft, it is rarely truly untracked. In fact, untracked means the bootpack to access will also need to be established, making it a lot of postholing pain.
Step Bowl is not terribly difficult with a pitch equivalent to a moderate black run. The trees at the bottom of the bowl are moderately pitched, widely spaced, and are perhaps the best part of the run.
Hike-able Terrain- Treasure Lift to Alberta Peak
This area contains some of the best hike-to terrain at Wolf Creek. These are the largest bowls at Wolf, and range from moderately to very steep. Everything out to Boundary Bowl is accessible with skating- no ski removal required.
From the top of the Treasure Chair, exit the lift to the left, and look for the trail continuing along the top of the ridge. The first several bowls are very easy access, but have a lot of space to find fresh lines.
Prospector Bowl is accessed from the first few hundred feet of the hiking trail. It has a mildly steep pitch, but is very limited in vert before hitting the rest of lift-served terrain. Its best during a storm cycle if you want a quick skate to get an extra few turns of the goods.
Glory Hole Bowl is also mild in pitch, and has a bit more vert. its about a three minute skate to get here from Treasure Lift.
Boundary Bowl is so named because for many years before the Alberta Lift expansion, this was the boundary of the ski area. It is a bit steeper than the bowls you pass to get here, and has significantly more vert before running back into Navajo Trail.
The below picture is looking from Montezuma Bowl back towards Boundary, Glory Hole, and Prospector Bowls.
Continuing to hike past Boundary Bowl, you will pass another access gate and start climbing towards the Alberta Peak summit. Its a mild climb, but will take about 20-30 minutes from the top of Treasure Lift.
But first, you pass Montezuma Bowl, which consists of STEEP lines between large rock outcroppings. Not quite tight enough to be called chutes, but no traversing, either.
One of my favorite ways to put together a top-to bottom run at Wolf is to hike Alberta Peak, come down skiers left through Montezuma Bowl, cut across the Park Avenue cat track into the Waterfall Area, then down to Alberta Lift. It doesn't take a huge storm to make the descent untracked the whole way.
The peak gets quite a fair bit of traffic, but it really nice to hit up the afternoon or day after a powder day, and is a must-do for an experienced skier visiting Wolf. The view from the top is stunning.
It's steep, but is still one of the mildest slopes rated double diamond on the mountain. Any solid advanced skier should have no problem. Watch the snow coverage when first starting your descent- the peak can get wind scoured up top, and there can be jagged rocks just under the snow.
Exhibition Ridge and Bonanza Bowl
These are great. They are a short, easy skate (no ski removal required) from the top of Treasure Lift, or a 5 minute hike from Bonanza Chair. These are short but very steep pitches that tend to hold snow despite being easily visible from most of the resort because everybody is over getting the goods in Alberta. The worst thing that can be said for this area is once you hit the Bonanza Trail cat track below you, your only advanced run options are short vertical sections of Holy Moses and Rock 'n Robin.
Other Advanced Terrain of Note-:
Don't forget the trees!
The tree skiing in Alberta is amazing, but there is also great tree skiing in the "conventional" side of the ski area, and these areas hold untracked snow well because the expert skiers get drawn to Alberta Lift. Holy Moses Trees is just skiers left of the Poma. Its as steep as Alberta Face, but with nicely spaced trees.
Gun Barrel Trees are located skiers right of the Gun Barrel Trail, but skiers left is nice too, if more mildly pitched. The below picture is skiers right.
Good trees can also be found underneath Blueberry Hill- just keep headed down the fall line skier's left of Star Wars.
Pretty limited mogul skiing here as the amount of snow compared to the amount of skiers generally doesn't allow them to be cut, but a few places are reliable.
Gyro (Alberta Lift Line)- Above Park Avenue there are moguls on all but the deepest powder days. On non- powder days, the lift line under the Park Avenue cat track will also bump up, reflective of how many Alberta skiers come straight down the lift line.
Gun Barrel (pictured below) off of Raven Lift also sees a lot of traffic and will bump up nicely.
Lower Treasure, Windjammer (both high intermediate runs), Lower Holy Moses, Poma Liftline, and Rock 'n Robin should have bumps most days. All of these runs can be accessed from either the Treasure or Bonanza Chairs. Here is Rock 'n Robin.
Thumper (Raven Lift) gets groomed only a few times a season, and can have the longest sustained bumps in the area.
The D. Boyce Poma Lift
Just a note about the Wolf Creek's oldest operating lift- yes, it does operate (more on that below). The lift is a "high speed" detachable pomalift, which runs slightly faster than a fixed grip chairlift- Up until the 2013-2014 season, this was easy to see as the Poma outpaced the old Treasure Chair which is now a high speed quad (considerably faster than the Poma).
The lift is named after Dick Boyce. The Boyce family was one of the founding families of the ski area, who helped oversee the incorporation of the area to provide funding for lift construction when Wolf Creek ski operations where moved to the new site (for more information, visit the History of the Wolf Creek Ski Area link in the resort section of this site).
You can expect to find the lift in operation only on Wolf's absolute busiest days- Christmas to New Years, Presidents weekend, Spring break. The lift will also operate when winds are too high to allow operation of the Treasure Chair- the Poma still allows access to the mountain.
The Poma loading area is not accessible from the base and can be quite tricky to find. The easy was is to ski Holy Moses- you will ski right to it. However, if you really want to ride the Poma but do not want to ski advanced terrain to get there, take Windjammer and keep to the right. If you do so, you will find the rope line that blocks off the beginner area (Nova Chair) from the rest of the mountain. Follow the cat track above the ropeline, and it will lead you right to the Poma.
Expect a challenge to successfully ride the Poma all of the way up. The Poma track is NOT GENERALLY GROOMED. The Holy Moses section that the Poma ascends immediately after boarding is very steep and wild, as is the climbs over the headwall at the Summit. Expect to hang onto the pole for dear life as you are pulled over moguls, get lurched around, get pulled into the air by a 5" disc in your crotch, and other fun events.
Before the Treasure Stoke high speed lift days, it was theoretically faster to take the Poma than the Treasure Chair. This advantage is now gone, and from an efficiency standpoint, it is faster to take the Poma only in very rare situations where the Treasure Stoke line is huge. In addition, as riding a Poma lift has largely become a skiing dark art, the queue tends to build up because the Poma operator needs to instruct most riders on how to load and stay on the lift (don't sit on it!). Maybe 50% of the riders make it to the top of the steep face just beyond the loading area, and maybe 20% more fall off before the summit. Fun times!
Wolf Creek has an ambitious expansion plan underway at the ski area. For more information, watch the video below.
Note- after receiving feedback, Wolf Creek decided to eliminate plans for the "Storm Lift" referenced in the video, and instead decided to replace the Treasure Lift.
For the 2013/2014 season, Wolf Creek replaced the fixed-grip triple Treasure Chair with the new, high-speed quad Treasure Stoke lift on the same alignment. With this lift, most of the terrain of the conventional ski area is now serviced by high-speed lifts, making it much easier to get more ski vertical in each day.
For the 2014/2015 season, Wolf Creek is refurbishing the removed Treasure Chair and installing it as the Elma Lift. This lift will run from the Alberta base area generally up to the intersection of Flim Flam and Navajo Trail. This lift will eliminate the need to return the the main base area using the Park Avenue cat-track, which is slow going on sticky snow and/or powder days. This lift will also allow the Waterfall Area to open independently of the remainder of the Alberta Lift terrain on avalanche mitigation days.
Eats- In Pagosa Springs, Riff Raff Brewing Company offers excellent beer brewed on the premises, and truly inspired burgers and other pub fare. The Cabrito burger (goat meat) is amazing, followed only by the lamb variant. The beer on tap changes seasonally, but it is hard to go wrong with "Stepchild American Red," their flagship. Definitely grab their wet hop if you are lucky enough to be in when it is on tap. Their chili beer is usually on tap and is generally great, but changes depending on what chilis are available for harvest. It is hard to have a bad meal here and harder to have a bad drink.
Kips Grill is another quality casual restaurant, offering Baja-style tacos, burgers with Southwestern-leaning toppings (buffalo and elk burgers available), and other assorted fare. Another place that makes it hard to get a poor meal.
The Peak Deli offers "Killer Burritos" (breakfast) that live up to the name, along with a large assortment of very tasty deli sandwiches. Another place that we have yet to have a bad meal.
Alley House Grille- comes highly recommended for Steak and Seafood.
Farrago's Market Cafe- offers tasty pizza and panini style offerings.
Sorry- no South Fork recommendations yet- I live on the Pagosa Side and don't have enough dining experience on the South Fork side to comment.
Soak- Pagosa has three Hot Springs soaking choices, all located in the center of downtown.
The Springs Resort and Spa- Is the fanciest, and as such is the most expensive. The resort has many, many smaller pools, with different temperatures. It is fun to experience the different pools, less fun to walk from pool to pool on a winter night.
Healing Waters Resort & Spa- Consists of a medium size warm pool and a jacuzzi-sized hot pool outdoors, and indoor baths as well. The most basic offering in town, but also the cheapest.
Overlook Hot Springs- This one is a little different, it consists of five nice baths on top of one of the downtown buildings! Great views and reasonable pricing, but this is a soaking rather than swimming experience.