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Ski Resort Life

Independents Day: Wolf Creek, Colo.

The southwestern ski area is known for deep snow, fun terrain, and making every visitor feel like family.

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Deep in the heart of Southern Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Range lies one of the country’s most proudly independent resorts. Family owned and operated since 1976, Wolf Creek Ski Area has built itself into a perennial favorite for locals and visitors alike, returning year after year for the area’s hallmark steeps and legendary snow accumulation.

The mountain itself boasts a family ski zone, a myriad of bump runs, pitched carving runs, steep gullies, and a pucker inducing knife ridge for those looking to test out their hop turns. Dropping a mere $76 for a day ticket ($39 for kiddos) grants access to a series of nine lifts that shuttle skiers around the hill and still leaves you money left over for a substantial lunch and après budget. And despite the area’s modest 1,600 acres footprint, there magically seems to never be a lift line or holdup while lapping the goods.

Skiing powder at Wolf Creek
Duncan Adams blasts through the backcountry. Photo credit: Jeff Cricco

This is, of course, all by design. Davey Pitcher, who took over the ski area from his father 30 years ago, has worked diligently to keep Wolf Creek a skier’s mountain and devoid of the crowds now endemic to so many other ski resorts. Though the Forest Service has recently granted Wolf Creek development rights for larger lifts and greater uphill capacity, Pitcher has declined the construction in favor of bolstering the key attributes that favor the individual skier’s experience, and leaves that unique sense of an independent, uncrowded, friendly area, helping visitors easily focus on what matters: the skiing.

Running the famed ski area, though, hasn’t always been easy. A few lean seasons coupled with threats of a neighboring large investment have made it harder for Wolf Creek to thrive. Texas billionaire and real-estate mogul Billy Joe “Red” McCombs has spent years attempting to construct a large hotel complete with restaurants and amenities to match the ski area’s growing crowd and make Wolf Creek into a full resort. While talk of the proposed development has been slowly quieting over the last few years beneath Forest Service permitting woes, it remains a hot button topic for locals and visitors alike.

Among the large volume of public comments against the resortification of Wolf Creek, Pitcher and his team have kept relatively quiet, and have simply kept working to keep their family-owned ski area true to what the family values most. Pitcher can still be found behind the controls of a snowcat while his kids sling tickets at the base, and more family members dot the staff from lift ops to marketing. While cognizant of the potential payout from selling to a larger resort conglomerate and the potential for rapid growth, the Pitchers remain direct. Wolf Creek is a family business and will remain one.

Taking a break at Wolf Creek
Wolf Creek’s legendary powder and welcoming vibe make it one of the state’s most authentic ski areas.Courtesy of Jeff Cricco

It’s this close-knit family ownership, focus on the core skiing experience, and the dedicated fans that have helped the homey area not only persevere, but continue to grow and establish itself as a major player in an increasingly consolidated ski market over the years. No doubt that many things have changed at Wolf Creek since its opening in 1938, but two things remain the same: the snow is deep, and the owners treat everyone who visits like cherished family.

How to Get to Wolf Creek, Colo.

The two closest airports to Wolf Creek are both regional—San Luis Valley (65 miles) and Durango-La Plata (80 miles)—and are served by United and American. By car, the ski area is about 250 miles from Denver and 225 miles from Albuquerque. Be sure to check for road conditions, as Wolf Creek Pass can be hazardous during winter storms.

Wolf Creek Skier Stats

  • Skiable acres: 1,600
  • Annual Snowfall (inches): 430
  • Summit Elevation (feet): 11,904
  • Vertical Drop (feet): 1,604

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Originally published in the January 2020 issue of SKI Magazine. For more great writing delivered directly to your inbox, SUBSCRIBE NOW.