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Wolf Creek vs Steamboat (Mid December)

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Planning a mid December trip.  Flying into Denver airport.  We are mostly beginners with a couple intermediate skiers in the group.

 

We prefer to go to Steamboat, but have Wolf Creek as a back up.  From the snow reports it seems Wolf Creek had lots of snow in the few years that Steamboat did not.

 

Is Wolf Creek hard to get to in mid December?  I know it's a 5 hour drive, but is it a brutal 5 hours with kids?

 

None of us have skied in powder before.  Is Wolf Creek too much?

post #2 of 10

It just depends where the snow falls.  Make the call the week before the trip.    You'll likely have no trouble finding accommodations, as between T-day and Xmas is low season.

 

If Wolf Creek is the call, consider breaking up the drive by staying in Salida and maybe skiing Monarch on one or both ends of the trip.   If the snow is good at Wolf Creek it likely will be at Monarch too.   Rent fat skis if you are lucky enough to hit a powder day!

post #3 of 10

Well if you prefer to go to Steamboat, go to Steamboat.

Both can get walloped by big storms and get roughly the same amount of snow.

From a vacation mindset, they are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and you will likely find SB to be way more accommodating, comfortable and entertaining.

post #4 of 10

Just keep in mind that there isn't a lot in Pagosa Springs. Any none skiers and pretty much the only thing for them to do is the hot springs which is nice for one day but not multiple.

 

There also isn't a whole lot of intermediate terrain at Wolf Creek. I'm sure anachronism will pop in shortly and give you a complete run down

post #5 of 10

Make the call the DAY before you arrive.

post #6 of 10

You know ski season is on the way when these kinds of threads start popping up again.  :D 

post #7 of 10

The drive from DIA to Pagosa (assuming you stay there rather than South Fork) can be a bit of a bear if the weather is bad and maybe even a big bear. Not a lot of issues with pass crossings except the last one, Wolf Creek Pass. Unfortunately that one has to be crossed at the end of your drive so start early.  Wolf Creek Pass closes pretty regularly so it might be safe to make a reservation in South Fork in case you can't get over the pass on your arrival. The rest of your drive is in pretty open high desert which is usually fine unless it is snowing and blowing and then it can be an exhausting drive.

 

Honestly I do not recommend you make the drive. Yes it often has the best early season snow but I think you will find the areas closer to Denver adequate and they have much more terrain suitable for your party and don't require a 6 hour drive which can definitely be sketchy in bad weather.

post #8 of 10
If you have tolerance for the long drives with kids this is actually an intelligent question. Both areas have good early season snow records, and more importantly are not much correlated with each other. Therefore you would be quite unlucky to find both of them bad at the same time. You have to be willing to make the call last minute as Shredhead suggested though.
post #9 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hitman View Post
 

Planning a mid December trip.  Flying into Denver airport.  We are mostly beginners with a couple intermediate skiers in the group.

 

We prefer to go to Steamboat, but have Wolf Creek as a back up.  From the snow reports it seems Wolf Creek had lots of snow in the few years that Steamboat did not.

 

Is Wolf Creek hard to get to in mid December?  I know it's a 5 hour drive, but is it a brutal 5 hours with kids?

 

None of us have skied in powder before.  Is Wolf Creek too much?

 

Hey guys, it is easier to find these threads when people page me instead of just mentioning my name... ;)

 

My @.02...

 

Not that I want to steer you away from Wolf Creek, but for a Mid December trip (where you are buying place tickets before the snow is on the ground) I think the obvious answer is Steamboat here.

 

Here is why.

 

1. Wolf Creek has almost no snowmaking. Without natural snow, they can get the 200 foot long bunny hill open. That is it.  Snowfall can be volatile down here- so expect ridiculous conditions one way or the other, but if in a bad way, ouch.  Steamboat has a much better snowmaking system, so the worst case is much better.

 

2. Wolf Creek is utterly lacking in groomer cruiser runs, usually the bread and butter of beginners and intermediates. Charisma and Powder Puff are basically it. Tranquility has a decently pitched upper section, a decently pitched lower section, and low beginner green pitches between.  Almost all Blue terrain served by the Treasure lift is missclassified and is really green terrain.  The upside for your group is there is more terrain that your beginner skiers will be comfortable with, the downside is that an intermediate skier that is not comfortable getting their feet wet in powder and/or trees is going to be utterly bored. Wolf does have some pretty fantastic mellow tree runs though. Flim Flam and Serendipity are great, but never ever groomed.

 

3. If you aren't a powder skier, you take away the biggest reason to come ski here. The problem is that because of grooming capacity AND management philosophy, you will see much less grooming on a powder day than you are used to.  During storms, most groomers are used to groom in the traverses to open up more of the mountain for the powder skier- During a storm cycle, you can expect the bunny hill (Nova lift) to be groomed, and Bunny Hop off the Raven lift. Many powder days, that is it.  Other mountains make sure that the beginner terrain is groomed right before opening to ensure that the are opens with something that is not hip deep in powder, not Wolf. I've had faceshots on Bunny Hop because they groomed it in the middle of the night and by 9:00 it had several feet of snow on top. Its just how they roll here.   

 

4. For the above reason, assuming it snows, Wolf Creek is probably not the place to break your powder cherry. A good place to do so gives you 6" on top of lots of groomed slopes. The snow at Wolf likes to come 60-100" at a time, completely obliterating the opportunity to learn without just wallowing. If you do get a nice 6" storm, there isn't a lot of grooming underneath it. Steamboat both grooms a lot more, has much more terrain that is well suited, and if I'm not mistaken, tends to have more smaller storms. Even if you get so much snow as to overwhelm you at Steamboat, there will be lots of stuff groomed. The lower mountain at Steamboat will also get much less snow than the top, which helps too- at Wolf the vertical is much less, so you don't have the option to move down in elevation to seek slopes that aren't as deep.

 

That said, Wolf Creek is not quite so bad to get to from Denver as many are thinking. The 5 hour drive part sounds like staying in Pagosa Springs (Most people stay there because it has much more in the way of restaurants and things to do at night- like the hot springs!). You can cut that down to about a 3.5-4 hour drive by booking one night on the South Fork side.  The next morning, pack up, drive to the ski area, and then head down to Pagosa that night.  Probably repeat for the drive home.  Be aware that the ski area is about 1/2 hour from Pagosa and 20-25 minutes from South Fork. There is no lodging at the ski area (you know this part, right?). The pass is usually snowpacked in the winter- an AWD/4x4 is STRONGLY recommended. The South Fork side can be hairy in snow- the road is much narrower. Going up, the Pagosa side has 2 climb lanes, going down, there are 2 descent lanes on the Pagosa side most of the way. Pagosa side is friendlier. When snow is heavy, expect 45 minutes to get to Pagosa and similar for South Fork.

 

Wolf Creek is a very cool place, but I recommend people have some experience in skiing powder and are looking for an ungroomed experience.

post #10 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by anachronism View Post
 

 

The snow at Wolf likes to come 60-100" at a time

 

Yes please.

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