After one of the more enjoyable ski trips of my life in the middle of January to Silverton and Purgatory (what I dubbed the Southwest Swing)Ive been looking for a good weekend to revisit that part of the state and check out more of Colorados southwest ski areas. The opportunity presented itself last weekend and I decided to check Telluride and Wolf Creek off my bucket list.
The weekend started early Friday morning (so I could duck out of work early without feeling too guilty). I cajoled two friends into coming with me, so I picked them up at 2pm and hit theroad by 2:15.
First stop on the trip: Telluride, a little town nestled in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, famous for its steep and expert skiing and summer festival lineups. I made my first ever trip to Telluride this past summer for the Bluegrass Festival and knew I needed to get back in the winter after looking at the mountain from town, elevation 8,750. The Thursday night before our trip brought 8 new inches of snow after a bit of a dry spell so we were looking forward to finding some leftover powder stashes. After some heavy traffic out of Denver and off and on snow through Glenwood Springs, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset driving through Grand Junction and were able to snack long enough to make it to Telluride for dinner.
At 8:15 p.m we pulled into the Mountainside Inn, a ten minute walk from the center of town and a five minute walk to the mountain Gondola, and headed straight for Brown Dog Pizza, which was still packed. After ordering a bit too much food (our eyes were way bigger than our stomachs after six hours in the car) we went to the New Sheridan for a few drinks and games of pool, which we managed to not lose too badly.
Saturday morning, we woke up at 7:30 to a four inch snow report. We hopped on the 15-minute Gondola ride to Mountain Village and then headed to the Plunge (#9) lift for a few warm up runs. After two quick runs, which also happened to be two of the steepest and breathtaking warmup runs Ive ever taken, we headed to Apex (#6) and Gold Hill (#14) lifts.
After a few great laps bouncing in and out of tree and mogul runs and pockets of foot-deep powder, we headed off to the backside to the Revelation lift (#15), which besides providing open powder runs also had some intimidating views.
With legs and lungs a little tired, we opted for an outdoor, sitdown lunch at Bon Vivant, which is located at 10,550 ft. No matter where you eat on the mountain, youll be eating at altitude with Alpino Vino sitting at 11,996 ft and Guisippis at 11,885 ft. At Bon Vivant Id highly recommend the cheese plate, the Bonparte and if you have any room left over, a crepe to reward yourself.
In the afternoon we decided to do a little hiking in search of more powder and spent about 20 minutes hiking to the top of Mt. Baldy off of the Prospect Express (#12). We were rewarded with more great views of the Telluride valley, some nice glade tree skiing and a faceoff with a Porcupine (unfortunately we couldnt get our phones out to capture the encounter) before wrapping up the day with a few cruisers and some aprs at Tracks in Mountain Village. One of my friends tracked the days progress on Strava: 23,091 vertical feet and 31.4 miles covered, not too shabby!
Then we were back in the car on our way to ski area number two of the trip: Wolf Creek. On the way to Pagosa Springs, which is 30 minutes from Wolf Creek and where we had an AirBnb for the night, we drove past Hesperus Ski Area. Hesperus is the newest edition to Colorado Ski Country, where you can use your 5th or 6th Grade Passport or Gems card to enjoy some of their famous night skiing, just 11 miles outside of Durango.
Passing through Durango we stopped for dinner at El Moro Spirits and Tavern. El Moro is known for their specialty cocktails and homemade sausages and is actually the site of some little known Durango and Colorado history. In 1906, two local law enforcement officers: US Marshall Jesse Stansel and Durango Sherriff Williams Thompson got into an argument in El Moro, a salon at the time, followed by a gun fight outside, with Thompson dying from his wounds. Sherriff Thompsons photo hangs on the wall in El Moro. If you make it there, Id suggest the skirt steak with the bacon green chili fritters as an appetizer.
Eventually we made it to Pagosa a little after 10 pm and while we wanted to visit the Pagosa hotsprings, we ultimately opted for some sleep.
In the morning we stopped at Pagosa Baking Company for breakfast burritos and sandwiches only to find the Wolf Creek ski report on the board: one new inch and four inches in the past 48 hours. Thirty minutes later we pulled into the Wolf Creek parking lot at 10,300 feet. We just so happened to be there there on a Local Appreciation Day where anyone can buy a full day lift ticket for $44. We headed straight up the Treasure Stoke lift. After a few runs, we skied and hiked the ridge from Treasure Stoke to the top of Alberta Peak at 11,900 feet in a little under 25 minutes and were greeted with some nice views off the backside. There was certainly more than an inch of snow in the trees below.
Next, in search of more snow, we hiked along the famous Knifes Ridge off the Alberta Lift for about 10 minutes, dropping into Knifes Ridge Gulch 1 & 2. After three laps there and no lift lines, we took Elma lift up and skied the waterfall area, finding some new fresh turns late into the morning.
We stopped for lunch in the base lodge and did two more runs off of Treasure, before heading to the store to buy some Wolf Creek merchandise to remember our trip. We were in the car and headed back to Denver by 1:45 pm. Wechecked the forecast as we pulled out, only to see that up to 16 inches were expected over the next 24 hours... We all agreed that we would be back next year and would try to time our trip better with the snow gods. On the drive back we drove through the San Luis valley, with its snowcapped peaks and the Great Sand Dunes National Park visible in the distance. Through South Park we stoppedat South Park Brewing Company in Fairplay - try the chicken tacos.
In total, we covered 808 miles and spent a little over 14 hours in the car, but thoroughly enjoyed the adventure and the views of the different mountain ranges we passed over. If nothing else, the trip was worth it just to experience something new and see a different part of the state. Luckily, we enjoyed some new snow and were reminded that Colorados southwest ski areas are some of the best in the world. Get out there and check them out, theres still plenty of ski season left!
If you decide to make a southwest swing from the Front Range, I have a couple of tips for you:
- Start your trip with the furthest destination, the drives on the way back will only get shorter.
- Bring snacks so you can stop for meals at your destinations, some of the most enjoyable parts of the trip were spending time in local restaurants learning about and experiencing the towns.
- Take a friend or friends, it makes the trip more fun and memorable.
- Take pictures so you can convince more people to come with you next time!
- If possible: take the Friday off and make it a three day weekend.
Southwest ski area closing dates:
- Wolf Creek Ski Area: April 2
- Telluride Resort: April 2
- Silverton Mountain: April 9
- Purgatory Resort: April 16
Words and photos by Chris Linsmayer.