By R. Scott Rappold
Editor’s note: Field correspondent R. Scott Rappold was assigned to write a story about this week’s huge series of storms at his home mountain, Wolf Creek Ski Area in southern Colorado, which as of Thursday afternoon had dropped 60 inches of snow since Monday. After much pleading and urging, he was grudgingly convinced to come down off the hill. Several threatening references towards his editors have been deleted from the final version.
How many days in a row have I been doing this?
Alarm at 6 a.m., on the road by 7, in line for first chair at 8:15, ski endless powder, stagger home, eat, sleep.
Repeat. Ever feel like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day?”
Except if there was a groundhog at Wolf Creek, it would be buried under a 127-inch base of snow. I can’t remember exactly when the snow began – I think Monday dawned with 12 inches overnight, followed by another 12 for Tuesday, which felt like the best day of the season until Wednesday, when the sun came out for 20 minutes. Thursday saw another 19 inches. It was still snowing heavily when my work forced me off early to write this story.
Wolf Creek is known for getting the most snow in Colorado, an average of 430 inches. It’s located high on the Continental Divide and is well-positioned to be the first resort hit by the massive storms that come out of the southwest, particularly in El Nino years like our current season.
But it’s been a long time since a 5-foot week, which could be a 6-foot week by the time the current winter storm warning expires Friday afternoon. The kind of storm cycle we used to get, one longtime local told me, “back in the day.”
Editor’s note: Scott tried to finish here, claiming he was too tired from the effort of skiing 27 runs on untouched powder Thursday, but we urged him on.
How, exactly, do you ski in 4 feet of fresh powder that hasn’t had a chance to settle?
Very carefully. Or, as a ski patroller told those assembled for first chair Tuesday, “Try not to fall.”
There are the usual lessons for skiing powder: Stay back on your heels. Keep your speed up. Make turns with your whole body. Etc.
Then there are lessons many people learned at Wolf Creek this week: Don’t stop in the untracked powder. Aim for someone else’s tracks on the flatter run-outs. Ski with a partner to help you out of the snow if you fall. Better yet, don’t fall. And if there’s a flatter area that is still untracked at 2 p.m., there’s a reason for that. Stay out.
It’s a bit intimidating when you sink up to your chest on your first turn and snow flies in your mouth and temporarily blinds you. But keep moving, focus on the next turn and keep the skis pointed downhill and something amazing happens. You’re floating down the mountain on a bed of down feathers. The turns are almost effortless in the light, fluffy powder. Chain a few round turns together and the adrenaline pumps. Make an entire run slashing powder and if you could see you, it would look like a ski movie.
When you hit the run-out, hop into others’ tracks, which will probably resemble a bobsled track by lunchtime. Have some laughs by dipping into the powder but get back in the run-out quickly. Back at the lift, brush the snow off your smile, high-five your friends and do it again. It’s skiing at its most purest, and a rare thing indeed for in-bounds skiing.
Rosanne Haidorfer-Pitcher, vice president of marketing and sales at Wolf Creek, said such huge storms aren’t unprecedented. There was the 172 inches in 72 hours back in the mid-90s. And the 95 inches over eight days in 2010. And the 73-inch week in December 2014.
“It takes a lot of work and we depend on all our employees, especially snow removal crews, groomers, lift crew, ski school and base operations who we depend on to shovel out the buildings, walkways, etc.,” she says.
“The challenge to skiers is to stay warm and to not get stuck.”
Wolf Creek wasn’t the only beneficiary of the southern storm track this week. Purgatory Resort picked up 31 inches, Silverton got 11 inches, Kendall Mountain got 5, Hesperus got 25 and Telluride picked up 7. The forecast called for snow to continue at all these resorts through Friday night.
But it was Wolf Creek, a mountain with no posh condos or boutiques but a locals’ vibe and $72 lift tickets, that was squarely in the sights of Mother Nature’s snow guns this week. Several nationally-known ski journalists, photographers and meteorologists were spotted here enjoying the goods.
After a 2017-18 winter that saw just half the average snowfall, followed by a summer of disastrous wildfires in southern Colorado, Wolf Creek has now received 323 inches of snow this winter, nearly 100 more than last year’s entire season. The National Weather Service forecasting office in Pueblo says this week’s snow is the atmosphere responding to an El Nino, a warming of Pacific Ocean water temperatures that impacts weather across the globe. In Colorado, it can mean big snows for the southern mountains like Wolf Creek.
Says Haidorfer-Pitcher, “We are really excited but we are a family who loves snow and feel lucky that we live in a unique location that normally has lots.”
Editor’s note: Scott filed this late Thursday night, with a note saying if we had any questions or edits that is just too bad because he’ll be skiing.
R. Scott Rappold is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience, including 10 at The Colorado Springs Gazette, where he wrote about skiing, hiking, camping and all the things that make Colorado great. He is now a full-time ski bum who writes when he needs money for beer or lift tickets. He lives in Colorado’s beautiful San Luis Valley. Read more of Scott’s stories .