If you’re lucky enough to work at the right place, you just might get a holiday every time it dumps. Welcome to Pagosa Springs.
By Brandon Mathis
It’s time to tell your boss you need a powder clause. That’s right. One that says if it’s dumping, you’re going skiing. When it stops, you’ll come back to work.
Pagosa Springs, population 2,000, is a quaint community at the western foothill of Wolf Creek Pass. It’s known for the inviting hot springs The Springs Resort and Spa (at more than 1,000 feet deep, they are the deepest hot spring in the world) with 19 different pools of various temperatures cascading down to the banks of the San Juan River. In fact, the town itself uses the geothermal-heated water in a closed system to save energy for many city buildings.
But Pagosa is also home to Wolf Creek Ski Area, a down-to-Earth family-owned and -operated mountain that has no lodging, few restaurants, little shopping and zero glam. What it does have though, is snow. And lots of it. In fact, every year Wolf Creek gets the most snow in the state: nearly 500 inches. And skiers love it.
The Powder Clause
“The local ski culture pretty much revolves round powder,” said Jeff Greer, owner of Summit Ski and Sports in Pagosa. “When there’s a storm cycle, people have the powder clause and they just quit working and then ski powder, and when it’s done they go back to doing whatever they do.”
Greer, who’s been serving Pagosa skiers for 40 years, said the “low key vibe and affordability” keeps locals happy and visitors coming back. He also said the southwestern flow of stormy weather helps, bringing cycle after cycle to the Southern San Juan Mountains. Check the reports: The place gets hammered. Even in low snow years, the “Creek” breaks records. In February 2018, when other resorts were struggling to make snow, 160 inches fell at Wolf Creek.
Rosanne Pitcher, co-owner of Wolf Creek Ski Area, said the resort benefits from its location. Perched as an arcing knife-edged ridgeline reaching 12,000 feet, storms swoop in, hover and dump.
“The formation is that it’s along the ridge, so we actually have 1,600 acres spread out across going east to west with some great northern exposures that always keeps our snow really good,” Pitcher said.
While the small operation lacks the glam of bigger resorts, for Pagosa Springs, that’s just fine. And even when it does get crowded on holiday weekends, locals know where to go.
“It is a skier’s mountain,” Pitcher said. “We don’t have the 4,000 feet of vertical where you have these super long runs, but we do have it where every time you go out you get a different line down. And you get into areas that people haven’t been into yet and have some great turns.”
The Pitchers – Rosanne and Davey – recently added a new lift on the mountain – The Charity Jane – that will serve as connector for advanced skiers coming off the Horseshoe Bowl by avoiding the slog back to the bottom of the popular expert terrain serving Alberta chair, and open up some 55 acres of giggly fun low angle terrain for everyone.
But it’s not just skiing. With a growing popularity of fat biking, Pagosa Springs has found a niche in winter cycling. With good snow the U.S. Forest Service grooms trails that create a system specifically for fat biking.
“They have more groomed trails than any other county in Colorado,” said Jim Hayes, owner of The Hub, a cycling and stand up paddleboard shop in downtown Pagosa. He said more groups of fat bikers from around the region are coming for winter mountain biking.
While America’s favorite vacation is wrapped up in shopping and multiresort punch card passes, things in Pagosa are a little different. Greer said it’s the hot springs.
“Lots of towns have hiking, biking and skiing, but when you add the “‘ing” in springs on it, it makes it a nice, relaxed complement to the outdoors, for sure.”
The 411: Get fed, go shred, enough said.
Breakfast: The Peak Deli’s Killer Burrito is indeed a hunger killer. Your choice of meat, add green chile or salsa for $8 and you’re good to slay the mountain.
Lunch: The Ono Burger at Wolf Creek Lodge and Pathfinder Bar. Trust us on this one. We now associate grilled pineapple cheeseburgers with bottomless powder face shots.
Dinner: Kip’s Grill has the best street tacos this side of the Continental Divide. Need a warm up? Go for the Dos Dynamite Diablos: Hatch green chiles stuffed with mozzarella and top sirloin. You’re welcome.
Libations: Riff Raff Brewing Company is conveniently located right in town, so you’re good to wander back to the lodge after a few 6.5 percent Hopgoblin IPAs.