A Report From The First North American Ski Area To Open.

Wolf Creek, CO, opening weekend end of October. “Fall conditions”. Credit: John Farley

After the big snowstorm that dropped two feet of snow at Wolf Creek from Sunday, October 25 through Tuesday morning, October 27, Colorado’s Wolf Creek became the first ski area in the United States to open on Wednesday, October 28. 

I skipped the first day to avoid the likely first-day crowd and to preserve social distancing, but did ski both Thursday and Friday. 

Because of COVID, during what they are calling the “pre-season,” it is really all about skiing and nothing else at Wolf Creek.  There is literally nothing open except the lifts, the ski runs, and the restrooms.  No lodge, ski rentals, lessons, food service, or ski shops.  Just skiing. 

Since I knew that on the first days I would be in shape for nothing like a full day of skiing, I decided both days to head up around mid-day in hopes of getting a close parking spot where some early bird left.  Since I would have to get into my boots at the car with no lodge open and then hike up to the lifts in my boots, it seemed to make sense to get as close a place as possible.  (Note – at Wolf Creek it is a bit of an uphill hike from the parking lots to the lifts, particularly since the lift with the lowest loading area is not running yet.)  My strategy worked out nicely as I got good close spots both days, though I was still huffing and puffing by the time I got up to the closest lift to the lots.  Of course, with Wolf Creek’s base elevation of around 10,300 feet above sea level, it is easy to huff and puff.

But once I got to the lifts, it was well worth it.  It was a beautiful day with good fall skiing conditions both days. (Note: fall skiing conditions are about the same as spring conditions, except that it is fall instead of spring.)  About 40 percent of the terrain was open, including two chairlifts serving a variety of top-to-bottom runs. 

On Thursday I had a chance meeting on the slopes with Girard, the new president of the Gray Wolf Ski Club, a 900-member club for over-50 skiers based in the areas around Wolf Creek.  I told him it was about the third time I had spoken to any fellow member of the club in person since the pandemic started.  Very strange times we live in. Girard and his wife Becky, who was elsewhere on the hill and I did not see, lived about 15 miles from us in southern Illinois, but we never met until we all retired to Pagosa Springs.  I always tell them that is their fault, because for some reason they never belonged to the St. Louis Ski Club, of which I was a member for 30-plus years and am a past president.

Regarding COVID-19 protocols, in addition to the aforementioned limitation in amenities, masks are required for everyone in the parking lots, the base area, and getting on and off the lifts.  However, it is OK to pull them down when actually skiing.  Wolf Creek does plan to open additional amenities such as rentals, lessons, food and beverage service, etc., but the date for this has not been determined.  However, the ski area itself is now open daily for the season.

You might wonder how far some people are willing to travel to ski the first and only ski area open in the United States.  Apparently pretty far.  On the two days I skied, I saw cars parked near mine from Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Ohio.

Over last weekend, I had a Facebook messaging discussion with another Gray Wolf member who went up early Friday and encountered icy conditions as a result of the melt-freeze cycle and limited early season grooming.  That was when I realized my strategy of going up mid-day had another benefit. By the time I got there the sun had softened up the snow and the conditions were much better than earlier.  This was likely more true on Friday than on Thursday, due to the warm sunny weather that began Thursday and has continued since.  Although the conditions were very good by the time I got up there, it was evident that the snow will not hold up for too long unless we get another storm, as rocks and bare spots were starting to appear here and there and the afternoon temperatures were warm.  Fortunately, there appears to be another big storm coming this weekend, with the possibility of two to three feet of new snow in the San Juans.  And the trend to colder temperatures and the switchover from daylight to standard time should both help to reduce any further tendency for icy conditions in the morning when the ski area opens.

[Late-Breaking Update: As of end of November, Wolf Creek is now offering private (five people) ski and snowboard lessons, reservations required. Also, Wolf Creek has now received a cumulative total of 91 inches of snow and has 98 percent of the terrain open with all lifts operating.]

 

2 Comments

  1. Wild Mountain in Minnesota actually opened first in North America. October 19th, 2020.

  2. John Farley says:

    Wow, Gustave, I don’t think anyone out here knew about that. Wolf Creek certainly thought they were the first. At least they were the first in Colorado. As an update to the article, Wolf Creek is now offering rentals, has opened its ski shops, and is allowing outdoor dining at one lodge. All with appropriate social distancing and masks required, of course.

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