Beta: Wolf Creek is down-home, laid-back, and out there. It's 22 miles from the nearest traffic light, and the only bar at the base has a last call of 4:30 (yes, that's p.m.). The first weekends see only a couple hundred season-pass holders, local college kids, and the obsessive few who drive six hours southwest from Denver to avoid the Summit County stampede. Sitting high on the Continental Divide, with storms rolling in from the south and west, Wolf Creek's exposure is better than a blonde Alabaman's on American Idol 2.
Opening Dates: Usually, it's the first week of November, but last year, locals got lucky: Day one fell on Halloween.
Early-Season Snow: No big guns here; every flake is au naturel. The season usually kicks off with 50 to 60 inches of featherbed fluff.
Terrain: The whole right half of the trail map (500 acres and four lifts) is fair game. The steepest early November shot is broad and treeless Alberta Face, about 60 turns long, off the Treasure Chair.
Biggest Early Season: The 1998-1999 preseason was looking bleak until Friday, October 30, when 59 inches dropped in a day and a half. The rest of the state got squat.
Deals: Depending on available terrain, lift tickets can be as cheap as ten bucks. When there's more to ski, the prices edge gradually to $43. There's no place to crash at the base, but you can find a pillow, lift ticket, and breakfast for as little as $65 (per person, double occupancy) at the High Country Lodge in nearby Pagosa Springs (highcountrylodge.com).
Plan B: Grab a rod. The San Juan River flows through Pagosa Springs, and you can fish just about any of it. Or soak in the hot springs near the Post Office on Hot Springs Boulevard.
Nightlife: In Pagosa Springs, head for the Bear Creek Saloon & Grill for pool, a Fat Tire amber near the fireplace, and live rock on weekends.
Info: wolfcreekski.com, 800-754-9653