Enter the Snow Vault

Thirty-three feet a year. That's all you need to know.

Nov 1, 1999
Outside Magazine
Kingsbury Pitcher's wife forbids him to snowboard. At 80, Kingsbury has had decades to hone his independent streak as the owner of southern Colorado's Wolf Creek Ski Area, one of the first resorts to welcome snowboarders. But on this issue he seems to be out of luck. "I'd catch him playing around with my gear a few years ago," says his 26-year-old grandson Kalei Pitcher, a former sponsored rider. "But now she won't have it after his hip replacement."

Pitcher and his resort were virtually going it alone at first. Snowboarding took nearly a decade to earn acceptance from most ski areas. (At this point the only antiboarding holdouts in the U.S. are Alta, Aspen Mountain, Mad River Glen, and Taos.) But Wolf Creek's freakishly profuse 465-inch annual snowfall (the most of any Colorado resort) and steep backcountry terrain (1,604 feet of vertical drop) earned it high marks from snowboard pioneers who trekked to contests there back in the eighties. These days Kalei and top pros like Todd Richards and Kevin Jones can't get enough of Wolf Creek and its consistently bountiful early-winter conditions. "I'd rather just stay here," says Kalei, "and know I'm going to get it good."

Good is most definitely an understatement for Wolf Creek's enormous annual snow crop. It lies in a horseshoe-shaped cluster of mountains in the San Juan Range that serves as a dumping ground for moisture-rich clouds as they race out of Baja across the southwestern United States and smash into the Continental Divide. Wolf Creek encompasses just 1,500 acres, with 30 miles of trails, but the quality ride more than compensates for the mountain's diminutive quantity: It's riddled with gladed runs that break out into the deep landings of bowls and cliff drops. Knife Ridge, a patrolled, 500-acre backcountry area where radical behavior is encouraged rather than cited, will soon have lift access (pending Forest Service approval), adding considerably more expert acreage to Wolf Creek's mix.

After eight hours of spinning heelside off basalt ledges, your knees will inform you it's time to pack it in. Wolf Creek lacks overnight options, but The Spring Inn, a hotel and spa just 24 miles down the road in Pagosa Springs, provides healing waters. While the Bogner-suited crowd up north jostles for macchiatoes, you'll be woozily ensconced in a hot tub, anticipating the next day's glorious powder run and hoping to bump into Kingsbury, off fiddling with one of Kalei's old freestyle boards on a far-off knoll where Mrs. Pitcher can't find him.


Wolf Creek (800-754-9653) is an hour's drive from Durango, five hours from Denver. Lift tickets cost $37 for a full day, $27 for a half-day. Soak your mogul-throttled bones at The Spring Inn (doubles, $77; 800-225-0934).