Monday, January 18, 2010

When in Doubt, Go West

Wolf Creek Ski Area
Near Pagosa Springs, Colorado

In California, they like to brag about being able to ski and surf in the same day. I never did that -- mostly because we decided to move to Colorado when I finally learned to ski. But how about skiing and headstands in the Sand Dunes on the same day?

J and I like to try out at least one new ski area each year, and we had our eye on Wolf Creek. Why not? It often gets the most snow in Colorado, coming in regular multi-foot dumps. But, it doesn't have a base village or the amenities of the mega-resorts. Even better.

Oh, the other problem is that it's a 7.5 hour drive. But, hey, we have all weekend, right? (Note: *This* is where I 'use my miles.' While I'll happily applaud anyone who simply doesn't drive much at all, I just want to make sure my driving is purposeful and not 'silly' -- that is, if I'm in the car, it's because I'm stoked about where I'm going; but it's not a necessity of day-to-day life). We had been there once before, in summer, also on a 'normal' 2-day weekend, in which we camped, visited Creede, Lake City, Mesa Verde National Park, the hot springs in Pagosa, and Durango; waited for me to ride a century in Durango; then took the long way home through Paonia.

Suffice it to say, the San Juans are awesome, so we want to pack as much in when we get out there.

This time, we made stayed at the "First Inn" in Pagosa, which also lets us buy discounted lift tickets. Wonderfully simple rooms and breakfast, a hot tub, and great management! "Lou," in fact, is a local and part-time prospector; or is he a part-time manager and full-time prospector? After filling up on waffles and cinammon buns on Saturday morning, we headed up to the hill, where we had a primo parking spot:

That's right, you could see the base lift from our car! The runs themselves weren't that long -- but neither were the lift lines. It was a perfect bluebird day -- bluebird weekend, in fact -- and we enjoyed our first turns of the season. Also, I had my BC skis in the car, and since it was nearby....why not? I took my BC skis on a resort for the first time ever. I never wanted to burn a full day on them, in case I was disappointed, but I had nothing to lose. As I got them out, a local guy said he had similar skis, and wanted to try his out, too, but was wondering if the waxless scales on the bottom would affect the ride too much. Only one way to find out!

Great decision, as I had a fun time on mild blues and greens, and fell a few times, as I practiced dropping a knee.

When the day was over, it was time for a soak in the hot springs. Last time, of course, it was summer, and we watched a lightning storm roll in. This time, we tried to avoid freezing our feet and slipping on ice as we headed into the first available pool, afraid to move as our hair froze on our heads. Eventually, I scoped out a path to the hottest pools, and we made our way over there. I threw in a couple dips in the river for good measure.

Next up was Pagosa Brewing company, which is actually up the hill outside of the downtown hot springs area. An outdoor fireplace gave a cozy feel to the entrance, and the restaurant itself was a bit small. It reminded me of Eske's in Taos, which was also small and cozy, but Pagosa beats Eske's with a bit better beer selection, and way better food: I would't have been able to say I had truly lived until that day in which I had a wild Pacific salmon gyro. Yum!

The next day was also perfectly clear and calm, and we decided to hit up the free ski/snowshoe trails at the base of the resort. Again, we were amazed by the ease of parking and friendliness -- this resort would be incredibly easy for skinning up in the morning from the base and earning your turns. Instead, we stuck to the bottom and enjoyed the sunshine.

It was time for the long ride back. Another brewpub was on tap in Alamosa, so we saved our hunger...but it's closed on Sunday's in winter! Drat! Instead, we found a decent Mexican restaurant to fill our bellies, and we headed east, back home, the weekend over...

Or was it? We were in Ft. Garland, it was a nice day out, and Jess hadn't been to the Sand Dunes. We planned on a separate trip there, camping, etc. some other weekend, but it was only an extra 15-20 minutes each way out of our way...why not just spend on hour or so playing on the dunes, taking a nap in the sun?

Or do headstands?

As hoped, Jess's brief taste of the sand dunes made her want to go back again...with a sled next time!

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