Opening Day 2011-12: Wolf Creek

My alarm was set for an usually early hour for a Saturday morning, but it wasn’t the sound of my alarm that woke me up, but rather cheers and excited chatter in the hallway. In my half-sleep, from my unfamiliar bed in room 202, I couldn’t really make out what they were saying, but I heard the word snow in just about every sentence.

I rolled over, turned of my alarm, and fired up my email. Nothing exciting enough to keep my attention, so I hopped out of bed and walked straight to the window. I pulled back the curtains and in the darkness saw the twinkle of snowflakes and the bright white dusting of snow covering just about everything. I blurted out “SNOW!” even though Evan was still sleeping.

snow parking lot south fork

I knew, as did everyone else, that if it was snowing in Southfork, at the eastern base of Wolf Creek Pass, then it must be snowing even harder at the summit, or more importantly at Wolf Creek Ski Area.

Putting on my ski clothes this morning didn’t have the same awkward feeling that it seems to have at the beginning of each season. There was something different about this “first day,” but it wasn’t clear just what yet.

After a sparse free breakfast and some weak coffee at the hotel, we packed up and got back on the road for the 20-minute drive up to the ski area.

wolf creek sign

The views were incredible on the way up the pass, deep dark green of the evergreen trees, fiery yellow of the recently changed Aspens, and the bright white of a fresh dusting of snow. As we neared the top of the pass, I realized this was not a typical “opening day.” It was actually winter tucked away in Southwest Colorado. I’m talking snow banks, roads sanded, white in every direction and the prominent color on the peaks. I even put the car in to 4-wheel drive.

wolf creek pass view 10/8/11

Pulling into the parking lot it was obvious that the ski area had received more snow, probably 6-8 inches overnight, to bump up their snow total from the 36-inches they reported earlier in the week. It was also quite obvious that some of the cars, not resort vehicles, had been there for the majority of the night.

With a little more than an hour before the lifts would turn for the first time in Colorado for the 2011-12 season, I settled myself into a tight spot in the main office at Wolf Creek and got to work. After all, I wasn’t here to ski, I was here to work.

Time ticked away, plans were set into motion, timing was confirmed, photographers and videographer’s had their shot lists, the social networks were being stoked, it was nearly go time.

By looking at the crowds at the ticket window or the lines forming at the lifts, you would never know that Wolf Creek was tucked into a fairly remote corner of Colorado. With 24-hours notice, people had come from all over to be part of this day. I heard everything from Amarillo to Albuquerque and Denver to Durango.

wolf creek ticket window crowd

bonanza lift line wolf creek

As planned, the Bonanza lift loaded it’s first chair at 9am sharp.

First chair in Colorado of the 2011-12 season. Photo: Jack Dempsey

Shortly after, people were enjoying what many described as bottomless powder on their first runs of the 2011-12 season. My statement cannot be confirmed, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that conditions like this are unprecedented.

Ten or so minutes later, Treasure Lift loaded it’s first chair. Again, something that isn’t common for an opening day, more than one lift running. Matter of fact, Wolf Creek had three lifts running and 50% or more of their terrain open. Early season conditions existed, but I’ve seen worse conditions and more bare ground in January.

Colorado Ski Opening Wolf Creek

Photo: Jack Dempsey

Wolf Creek Opening day

Lifts were turning, the sun peeked out at just the right time for perfect photos and videos to be taken and now it was time to spread the word.

Wolf Creek Opening

We headed back to the office to a continued frenzy of activity and uploaded photos, sent e-blasts, edited video footage, and updated websites. Hey, everybody, we are skiing, powder skiing, here in Colorado and yes, it is October 8th!

Finally at 11:00am or so, Evan and I made it out for our first run of the 2011-12 season. I was still in disbelief. Was I really skiing powder, deep, light, fluffy powder, on October 8th, in the Northern Hemisphere?

Steph Evan wolf creek opening day

I am pretty sure that I hucked a little rock drop on my first run before I had even made an actual turn yet, but I’m still not sure if any part of today was real. And no, I’m not trying to say I’m badass, I’m just trying to point out how incredible the conditions were.

wolf creek opening 2011

Throughout the day the conditions held and I found myself in awe and nearly giggling down every single run. At each rest break, Evan and I would look at each other say “seriously?” sometimes it was out loud, other times only an expression was needed.

Evan Wolf Creek Opening

On my last run of the day, I considered hiking (um, yes, hiking on opening day!), but thought I’d save it for the next run. Two turns later, I conceded to my legs that there would not be a next run. I would have to save the hike for another day, after all, I have months of skiing ahead of me.

My body was confused. After all, it had no easy groomers, no weeks of one or two runs a day, no easing into ski season, just full-steam ahead into mid-season conditions and powder skiing.

On our long drive home today, I noticed my shins felt bruised, my big toes were jammed, my calves were cramped, my knees ached, and I had fatigue in my legs that can only be caused by skiing powder.

Bring it on, winter.

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