Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wolf Creek and Alberta Peak

Wolf Creek Ski Area is located in Rio Grande National Forest in southern Colorado. The base area elevation is 10,600ft, and Alberta peak is the summit of mountain range in the area, with an elevation of 11,907 ft. Wolf Creek boasts to have "The Most Snow in Colorado" with annual snow fall of 485"! We went to Wolf Creek for our 2011 ski vacation at the end of the year.

The Ski Trip

After 7 consecutive year skiing at Taos, NM, we decided to make a change. After much deliberation, we eventually decided to go to Wolf Creek. The distance to the ski area from our home is about 800miles, and it take about 14 hour drive. Instead of trying to complete the drive in a day, we took it easy, we took two day time to reach there - stop midway around Amarillo area - on the way to the ski area, we stopped at Dalhart, TX; on the way home we stopped at Amarillo, TX. This made the driving not so demanding any more, in fact somewhat relaxing - we got up on the days of travel at usual time, we arrived at the destinations during day time.

Because of this travel arrangement, we had time to take side trips. On the way to ski area, we took half day to visit Great Sand Dune National Park, which is only about 60 miles from our hotel at Wolf Creek. On the way home, we visited Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Due to the fact that we encountered winter storms in every odd years, Lily paid extra attention to weather forecast before the trip. Because of her diligence, we avoided the two snow storms in the week of 12/19/2011 by delaying our trip for one day; of course it also meant a lot more hassle for her to change hotel reservations . The ski area received about ~ 15" snow fall before we arrived, and stayed sunny through out our stay there - perfect for us to enjoy the ski vacation.


Mountain Peaks at Wolf Creek are about as tall as those at Taos, NM. But the base at Wolf Creek is ~ 10,600ft, and that at Taos is  ~ 9,207 ft, so the relative altitude change at Wolf Creek is about half of that at Taos. The ski trails at Wolf Creek are thus shorter, less steep, but wider than those at Taos. All of us found that it was very comfortable skiing on those trails  - no problems at all at intermediate level trails - the blue trails, which emboldened us to try more difficult,advanced level trails - the black trails. Justin can ski at  black trails, without much difficulty - the rest of the family however had some troubles there.

The first day, Nick was pleased to find two friends from school by chance to ski with. His friends are very familiar with the ski area since they had been there quite a few times before, and they have similar skiing skill as well. Hopping on and off lift chairs with friends, skiing on hidden trails in the woods, racing down the wide trails, he had a fantastic time! Justin spent the day on his own, exploring various trails, and testing his skills on moguls and black trails. This left Lily and I by ourselves, skiing at own pace.

The second day, I had to rest due to fever the previous night. While I read a book on kindle " The letters of a homesteader women, Eillinore Pruit Stewart",  Nick skied with his mom most of the time since his friends left already, and Justin continued his solo skiing - checking on the east side of the ski area at Alberta lift.

I was back in action on the third day. I ordered the kids to ski with us on the first run because Lily wanted to have a family picture on top of the mountain. Right after we had a family picture with snow covered rocky mountains as background, the boys sped away, leaving Lily and I by ourselves again. When Lily took breaks, I skied with Justin a couple of times, once we went to Alberta lift area - had a nice run, once he took me onto black trails and moguls. While he was racing downhills on those trails, I snailed and sweated on the slops.

Climbing Alberta Peak

Lily and I were by ourselves after lunch. One run from the top of treasure lift, I suggested to Lily that we climb the Alberta Peak. With a moment of hesitation, she said "Why not!".

Of course we did not climb the Peak from the base. The climb started at the top of the treasure lift - which has a elevation of 11,775'. A trail on the mountain ridge links the lift stop to Alberta Peak, and it is about a mile long to the Peak.

Warning signs at the trail head reminded us that we were in avalanche area! We left our skis and poles there and started our hike to the Alberta Peak around 1:30pm. The trail was relatively wide, the snow was frozen, the wind at the 11,000' mountain ridge was strong. We moved forward in our heavy ski boots without too much difficult because a good portion of the trial was actually a shallow downward slop.

Half way to the peak, we stopped to take a break and looked around. Wow! We saw blue sky, snow peaks, grey rocks under bright sunshine - snow covered rocky mountains in all directions.  The whole ski area was under our feet; it seemed even the far away blue sky was under our feet.

The final ascend was about 150ft, and very steep - we could not see the the summit from where we stood! The frozen snow made it difficult to have a good footing on the steep slop. Lily decided to stop there. I, on the other hand, kept moving forward, and really started climbing the peak on this final stretch.After about 10 ~ 15 minutes climb, I reached  a  relative leveled section on the slop, where the final orange warning flag was blowing; I saw a boat shaped bleacher under a rock - apparently it was for emergency rescue. The summit was only about 20 feet above me now, and the fianl trail was steeper, the previous climbers' footprints revealed very deep snow. Fearing avalanche and tired, I stopped there, turned around, waved to Lily - who was over 100 ft below me, and declared to myself  "mission accomplished!"

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