Family Trip To Pagosa Springs and Wolf Creek, Dec/Jan

We like to go to Pagosa Springs, CO, and usually go over Thanksgiving. We couldn’t this year due to a death in the family, so we decided to go as soon as school was out in December. That didn’t work out due to my travel schedule, so instead, we decided (on Christmas Eve) to go over the New Years holiday.

I posted a bunch of pictures here on Google+.

We couldn’t get in to our usual place (High Country Lodge, which has nice cabins), so after some quick research and some calls, I decided on San Juan Hotel, which like High Country, is a mixed hotel/cabin. They could put us in Cabin 8 for all except our last night, when we would have to move to a pair of hotels. Kind of a pain, but I counted us lucky to get the accommodations less than a week out.

I was in our Scout Troop Winter Camp until Saturday, and I got back from that around 2200. The next morning we wanted to leave around 1000, and amazingly enough got out around noon. The morning was a blur of last minute packing, showers, stand-up breakfast, and getting and loading the rental car. We hit fast food in Yukon and pressed on west.

A word on our rental car. I rented from Avis, and got a Chevy Equinox. For a full-sized SUV, it had nice room for the four of us for the long drive, but the cargo space was a little short. I filled up the back with bags, and literally tied our skies to the roof, with some cardboard strips padding the roof to protect the paint. If the car had a hitch receiver I would have put our cargo carrier on it. In fact, when we came back, I took the two largest bags, and put them on the roof with the skies on top of them, and I had enough space in back to be able to use the rear view. The Equinox has Bluetooth connectivity for making phone calls (which I really like, BTW), and for streaming music off the phones (which is really nice for the looooong stretches out there with no radio). The Sirius subscription for the car had already expired. The only real complaint I have about the car is that was woefully underpowered. It had a hard time on some of the hills you have to go up as you get closer to the mountains.

We stopped only twice on the way, for gas in Amarillo, and then for dinner in Santa Rosa. We got to Santa Fe around 2100 and checked into the Homewood Suites slightly north of town. I like that hotel. Breakfast the next morning was a little long as the place was full, and there were tons of people eating (lots in ski gear, as the nearby Santa Fe Ski Area was open). If you are affiliated with the Homewood at Santa Fe: please increase your hotel internet bandwidth! It looks to me like you have DSL service, and with several hundred people trying to use Internet, it just doesn’t work well.

And a note on telecom: since the hotel Internet sucked, I tried to use my Galaxy S3 as a hotspot, but the service was between 2G and 3G, not much better than the hotel. When we came down I-40 the last time, we were on T-Mobile, and there were multiple hundred-mile stretches with no service at all. With AT&T, we had voice for 95% of the trip, but little or no data for long stretches, which I was quite surprised at.

We headed out for Pagosa around 1130, and stopped in Espanola for gas and lunch. The drive from Espanola to Pagosa is stunning. There was quite a lot of snow (there is rarely snow when we go over Thanksgiving), and the mountain rock formations never cease to amaze.

We got to Pagosa around 1530, unloaded into our cabin, and headed out for dinner and the grocery store. We really liked the cabin. It had more room than the cabin we usually get, for about $5 a night more. There was also a full kitchen. The wifi coverage was pretty good. The cabin needed some additional lighting around the sink in the kitchen. There was a decent assortment of cookware, but we had to buy some basic stuff like paper towels when we hit the grocery.

Our meals in the cabin were chicken curry and veg the first night, and hamburger beef stew the second night. Both were wonderful after a day skiing.

Our next three days were a blur of skiing at Wolf Creek. We would get up around 0800, have breakfast cooked in the cabin, clean up, drive up, and ski until we were about to drop. The morning temps were all in the high teens or low 20s, and the highs were in the high 20s or low 30s, mostly sunny. I was concerned that the lift lines would be a disaster over the New Years holiday, but the longest I stood in line was five minutes, and that only once. Ian got to ski the Alberta Chair most of two days, but I didn’t; I stayed on the west side and never tired of it. I carried my GPS on Day 3:

Wolf Creek Skiing GPS

One improvement: the Wolf Creek restaurants take credit cards now. It’s about time.

Erin has wanted to try snowboarding for a couple years now, so on the last day of this trip we signed her up for a lesson. She liked it, and wants to do it again. I checked out her snowboarding boots, and they are thick and insulated and very warm. I think they would be good winter boots beyond snowboarding.

A couple notes about equipment. I skied on my Coyote Giant Slalom skis for years. These are 205cm skies. Some years ago, one of the Salomon 547 bindings broke, and for several years I rented. I bought a used pair of Atomics and skiied on those two years. A couple years ago, I found a pair of new Salomon 747s on eBay, bought them for $10, and they matched the mounting holes for the 547s exactly, except for one extra hole which was trivial to drill with the right bit. I used one of the screws from the 547s for each binding, set the DINs, and skied on them at Wolf Creek this year quite happily.

The last set of rentals I skied on were the quite short skies that are popular. I did a speed run at one point, and hit 27 mph. This year, I pointed the Coyotes straight downhill, and hit 41.9 mph! One guy asked me if I was comfortable at that speed, and I would have to say yes. Sort of. I wasn’t even close to being out of control, but it did take some significant effort to make the turns to slow me down. I think that’s the last of my speed record tries…

Speaking of which: I did the speed run on Tranquility, which is one of my favorite trails at Wolf Creek. I did the speed run around 1030 in the morning, so I was warmed up and fresh. I also decided to do it since there was no one else on the run. I took pictures both Wednesday and Thursday on Tranquility, uphill and downhill, and I had the run to myself, which tells you how crowded the place was. Now, there were always lots of people on the west side of the area, but still not that many. The east side, I did many runs by myself or only a couple other people in sight.

Last September, I bought a pair of Nordica boots for Ian on eBay, and moved the bindings on the Atomics to fit his boot, changed the DIN settings, and he skied on those happily. I bought him a set of poles from a place in Pagosa like Play It Again Sports for $14, since I forgot to get him some before we left.

The folks at San Juan Hotel helped us out when we moved from the cabin to the hotel rooms Thursday morning, by letting us move our stuff directly to the room that morning, so we didn’t have to pack it up and haul it up to Wolf Creek. The rooms were large and comfortable. No kitchen, so we had to eat out, but that’s OK. I noticed that no one stayed that night in Cabin 8, so their no-show status kind of sucked for us.

Friday morning came and skiing was over. *Sigh*. We packed up and headed out. The drive out was a beautiful as the drive in. Just south of Pagosa, we saw a group of birds eating a dead deer next to the road, and one of the birds was a beautiful Golden Eagle! It flew off, showing us a massive wingspan. South of Chama, NM, we saw a magnificent Bald Eagle in a tree on the west side of the road. A couple miles farther south, we saw a pair of Bald Eagles soaring.

Several years ago, I saw what looks like a former ski area east of Tierra Amarilla. This is what it looks like from the road, the snow helps:

Ski Area?

I’ve looked at this with Google Earth in the past, and there was little detail. The current GE photography is much more clear, and it looks like ski runs from the interlinking.


It could also be clearcutting, but it doesn’t look right for that. I emailed the county office for the area, but haven’t heard back yet. We are going to the area in the summer, and if so, I am going to drive over there and explore some. The location is below and west of Penasco Amarillo, specifically 36.7026, -106.4701. The drop from top to bottom is about 1000ft.

As we approached Santa Fe, we started seeing a tremendous amount of lenticular clouds over the Pecos Wilderness and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

This is lenticulars over the Truchas range on the west side of the Pecos Wilderness.


And these are over Santa Fe Baldy (on the left) and Lake Peak, which is where Santa Fe Ski Area is located.


We had a short retail stop in Santa Fe, and lunch, and then headed out again. We drove I-25 to just west of Las Vegas. In all the trips I’ve had to New Mexico, I’ve never been on that stretch of road. It runs along the south side of the Pecos Wilderness, and is very pretty.

We stopped for ice cream in Santa Rosa, and decided to stay the night in Amarillo. We got there around 2130, and got up and headed back home Saturday.

Our total mileage for the trip was about 1600 miles. I was very concerned about huge lift lines over the New Years holiday, but at least at Wolf Creek, it was very nice. The perfect weather helped. I’m already looking forward to another ski opportunity. And a summer visit to Pagosa!


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