OverviewFirst of all, I want to thank the person from whom I am plagiarizing a big part of this write-up for all the work that they did at the link at the bottom of this section.
Wolf Creek Pass is known for its deep, stable snowpack. In most seasons it has double or triple the snowpack of the northern or central Colorado mountains, and often has a 50-60 inch base by Thanksgiving. Wolf Creek Pass is unique in Colorado in that the best skiing is in the trees. Normally, the forests in Colorado below timberline are too thick to ski through. But at Wolf Creek Pass, in the Rio Grande National Forest, the US Forest service implemented a tree harvesting program, affectionately called the STEP program by local skiers-Selective Telemark Enhancement Program. Instead of clear cutting, the Forest Service removed enough trees to "thin" the forest. To the joy of skiers, the thinning created perfect glade skiing. From a distance, the forests look like any other Colorado forests: thick and impenetrable. But up close and on skis, you can see that these forests are perfect for skiing. Just enough trees to keep the sun and wind out and plenty of space to initiate turns.
Another unique feature of Wolf Creek is that most of the runs start from ridges that run northeast. As a result, you can find excellent runs down the north-facing slopes of these ridges. The north-facing slopes on the ridges are refrigerated snow magnets. Very little sun hits these slopes between November and February, and they are protected from the prevailing winds. The trick to skiing these ridges is to ski down the ridge until you see a good line down the north side and then ski it to the drainage below. Once you hit the drainage, you make a flat traverse back to the ridge and repeat the process. There are dozens of possibilities on all the ridges. You will have to determine for yourself which lines you like the best. And keep in mind that the south faces of these ridges can be good if you get to them before the sun or warm temperatures create a crust.
Finally, there are a couple methods of doing these runs. One method involves skiing from the top of the run all the way down to the exit onto highway 160 (set a shuttle car or hitch hike to get back to your car at the Pass). The other method involves yo yo skiing the top sections of the runs and then skiing back out the Lobo Overlook road to your car at the top of the Pass.
Note - The north side of Wolf Creek Pass is off-limit to snowmobiles according to a voluntary agreement between skiers, snowmobilers, and the Forest Service; the snowmobiles MUST stay on the Lobo Overlook road. If you see snowmobiles, or snowmobile tracks anywhere other than the road, please file a Backcountry Experience Report Document (BERD) on the BSA web site. If you have a digital camera, please take pictures of the snowmobiles or snowmobile tracks.
Link to original write-up.
Route 1: Lobo Overlook
The Lobo Overlook slopes are moderate, open slopes and a great place to practice your downhill turns. Plus, you can combine this tour with the Powerline tour for a longer run.
From the Wolf Creek Pass parking lot, the route follows a drainage north-east up to a saddle. This unmarked trail is usually broken, but if not, follow the right side of the drainage. When the trail reaches the road, turn left and follow the road for about a quarter mile until you come to a powerline going up and left (north-west). Follow the powerline up (or go slightly beyond it) until the slopes open up and then take the easiest way to the top. From the top, ski down the direction you came up. There are many variations depending on the steepness you want. To combine with the Powerline run, ski down towards the powerline from the top of Lobo Overlook. Where the powerline crosses the road, follow the road south towards the saddle and then either head east along the powerline cut, or head up to the top of the peak as described in the Powerline route.
Route 2: Powerline
The Powerline run is a perfect introduction to this wonderful area. The route generally follows a powerline cut starting on an unnamed peak (11,503') north-west of the Radio Tower (11,364') on the north side of the pass. Don't let the powerline feature turn you off to this amazing descent. After a gradual 600' climb, the powerline drops 1,800' back to highway 161 on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass. This is a great tour for beginning skiers because the slope angle is moderate and the powerline cut is, for the most part, free of trees.
Follow the same approach as Lobo Overlook. When the trail reaches the road, it crosses it and heads east, south east (140 degrees) up to the unnamed peak. If the trail is not broken, follow the trail shown on the map. If the trail is broken, follow it even if it doesn't exactly follow the trail shown on the map. There are many variations. When you reach the top of the peak, you will see the powerline. Ski part way down the cleared area, then head east through the trees. Do NOT let yourself get lured down into the valley! You will have to do an occasional traverse, and you will be skiing in trees and along the cleared powerline.
Route 3: Powerline Ridge
You will find much better fall lines by staying on the Powerline ridge until you are at the 11,000' level and then look for ski lines to the north. There are endless possibilities. Pick a ski line, ski it to the drainage, and then traverse back to the ridge and repeat the process.
Follow the same approach as the Powerline run.
Ski down the powerline about 300' and then traverse right until you reach the powerline ridge. This is easier said than done. The trees are very thick in this area and it's easy to get disoriented. Unless you have the route in a GPS, it will probably take some trial and error to find the ridge. In any case, ski down the north side of the ridge. When you hit the drainage, traverse back to the ridge and find another line. At about the 10,000' level, the slope angle becomes less steep and it's more efficient at that point the ski to the drainage and then out the drainage to the highway.
Route 4: The Mainline
The Mainline is very similar to the Powerline Ridge except that it has lower-angle slopes on the north side. This makes it a great place for intermediate skiers, or for situations when the surface snow is fast. This is a GREAT route with runs that seem to go on forever as you slalom between perfectly-spaced trees. Note that if the new snow is deeper than 12 inches or is slow, the routes off this ridge are too low angle to get moving.
Start at the same point as the Powerline run, at the top of the unnamed peak.
From the powerline at the top, ski east, just to the north of the avalanche bowl that drops south to the snow shed on highway 160. You are aiming for one ridge to the skier's right of the Powerline ridge. The Mainline ridge is very indistinct at the top and is heavily forested, so it is very difficult to determine if you are on it. Once you are on the ridge, stick to the north side for the best snow.
Route 5: The Plunge
The Plunge starts out fairly gentle at the top, around 25 degrees. But after 200 or 300 feet, it begins to steepen. The farther you go into the drainage, the steeper is gets. There may be some sections that are between 35-40 degrees. Fortunately, the trees and the deadfall seem to hold the snow in place. However, a few small slides, one that carried a skier down about 50 feet, have been noted in this area. You can also ski all the way down to the road from the plunge area.
From the Wolf Creek Pass parking lot, follow the route to the saddle. When the trail reaches the road, you can turn left and follow the road for about three quarters of a mile (or until you are below the big, open bowl below the Lobo Overlook) or you can start at the top of the Lobo Overlook. From here, there are many options to ski down.
Essential GearSkis, skins, beacon, shovel, probe.
External LinksTo get the Garmin gdb file with track and waypoints, copy and paste the following link into your browser.
http://home.comcast.net/~ski-n-sk8/wolf creek area.gdb
It may look like nothing happened, but a new window will open (you may need to look for it) and ask you what to do with this file. Save it in the folder containing your Garmin gdb files.