I watchd the weather forecast for this storm develop over a week...getting more and more dire. So dire, that I chose to stay at a hotel on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass, in South Fork...because the other side of the pass (Pagosa Springs) tends to close more often during heavy snowfall because of avalanche danger. It took many more hours to reach South Fork...longer drive and snowy roads. At the hotel I didn't park too close to the roof...fearing a roof avalanche.
Driving to Wolf Creek ski resort, you see this status sign near the bottom of the pass...that sometimes requires you to put on chains. But this time...
...the pass was closed on the western side (Pagosa Springs). Gee, I thought...fewer folks to steal powder lines...sounds good to me!
...but many ski resort employees live in Pagosa Springs. Wolf Creek ski resort was severly shorthanded. Bummer. Snow removal was way behind, as well as the all-important avalanche control of steeper ski terrain.
The outdoor grill is a great place to get a burger...on a sunny day. Today it would sit idle.
A few snowcats were preparing a few slopes, but word quickly spread that there were only two ski patrollers present to do avalanche control...and not too many more lift operators either.
On Sunday the few of us that made it up the pass waited for the lifts to start...and waited....
Sunday had only one lift operating due to the personnel shortage. But the west side of the pass would open soon, yes? No. A fourteen foot deep pile of avalanche debris, covering one thousand feet of highway 160 was a serious obstacle to overcome...especially because the debris contained rocks and trees...snow throwers could not be used, only earth moving equipment. The pass is still closed as I wite this.
But at least one lift was operating, and on Monday a second lift was opened because some employees drove 171 miles to get to the South Fork side of the pass from Pagosa Springs. It snowed the entire time I was there. Powder was abundant, with a storm total of five feet.
I was surprised that the steeper runs did not avalanche...although the ski patrol set off numerous explosive charges to test snow pack stability.
On Monday even some of the upper ridges and bowls were open and safe. After lunch, when it was getting a little harder to find untracked snow...I asked the ski patrol where they buried their practice avalanche beacon. They do this as a service to allow folks to keep their searching skills honed. This was the first time I ever used a beacon to search, and it was not too difficult to get an initial signal...but with so much new snow it was very strenuous to move about on the slope to get a precise fix on the buried beacon. If I had removed my skis during this drill...I would have sunk chest deep and flailed helplesslessly.