Wolf Creek becomes first ski area to open in the U.S. this season

Photo courtesy Preston Bass/Wolf Creek Ski Area
Wolf Creek Ski Area opened Wednesday on a limited basis following a storm that dumped 2 feet of snow on the mountain. Conditions are powder and packed powder with very early season obstacles. A complete November schedule should be determined by Sunday.

By Simone Mounsamy
Staff Writer

A dusting in town indicates snow in the mountains. Plenty of Pagosans welcomed this week’s flurries, among them skiers and snowboarders. Wolf Creek Ski Area (WCSA) kicked off the season on Wednesday, Oct. 28.

As of its opening day, WCSA was the only ski area in the U.S. to be open, according to https://www.onthesnow.com/united-states/open-resorts.html. Oregon’s Timberline Mountain boasts America’s only year-round skiing, but was closed as of Oct. 28. 

Preseason skiing

WCSA is in preseason, which implies a soft opening that ensures safety but allows skiers and boarders to get on the snow.

 The preseason plan outlines COVID precautions. It points out that amenities have not yet opened — that means everyone should bring their own water, snack and lunch for the time being. 

In a recent email to The SUN, Wolf Creek stated, “The only thing offered to participants are the lifts and restrooms. No other amenity will be offered such as indoor lodging/seating areas, food service, ski school, rentals, etc. The pre-season plan will allow for access to the lifts only.”

Photo courtesy Preston Bass/Wolf Creek Ski Area

Bonanza, Treasure and Nova lifts are currently open. All major trails have been groomed also, making for 600 acres of open ski terrain.

“We wanted to ensure we got approval from the State and didn’t want to over-complicate the plan,” WCSA President and CEO Davey Pitcher relayed the morning of the opening. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) as well as the multicounty Silver Thread Public Health District have approved this preseason operating plan and the CDPHE is working on approving the plan for a full opening. 

“We’re not sure how long we’ll go with the preseason. We have to make sure we’re operating smoothly and that people understand the guidelines,” Pitcher said.

Photo courtesy Keith Pitcher/Wolf Creek Ski Area

All guests should familiarize themselves with WCSA’s COVID-19 policy and procedures as well as the state’s guidelines and the Colorado dial level showing the status level of COVID-19 in all counties in Colorado.

Go to https://wolfcreekski.com/2020-pre-season-covid-19-plan/ to read WCSA’s full and current 2020 Pre-season Covid-19 Plan. 

Positive survey feedback

A survey was conducted in late August to gather feedback from the community in preparation for the differences this season requires.

Pitcher noted just how useful the feedback was and how that encouraged WCSA’s early opening.

 “Of the 4,900 people that participated about 98 percent said they’d follow any state mandates or regulations as long as they get to ski this winter. That really showed the people’s desire to keep from having an outbreak,” he said.

Pitcher said the survey was “overwhelmingly positive.” 

He added, “The message really is people want to ski and they understand and are willing to work with us and the state.”

Holiday forecast

When asked about possible limitations on capacity moving into the winter, Pitcher mentioned the ongoing uncertainty.

He said, “We weren’t sure if we were going to be mandated to have restricted numbers. We’re going to be careful coming into Christmas. The state chose not to require ski areas to have a capacity cap. We may still do that but need to see how things go.” 

Measures will be taken to maintain control over not bringing COVID-19 into the ski area as well. 

“One thing we’re doing is advertising on the website that the state is requiring if you test positive quarantine may be asked, or you may be asked to cancel your trip and go home,” Pitcher said, referring to people visiting the area to ski.

Pitcher stressed that locals and out-of-towners alike should check the dial level. The COVID-19 dial dashboard gives a regularly updated status report by county and is available at: https://covid19.colorado.gov/data/covid-19-dial/covid-19-dial-dashboard.

“If we saw cases going up on the dial, we do have mechanisms in place to require a capacity cap,” Pitcher noted.

not required

While reservations are currently not required, WCSA is recommending purchasing tickets in advance. 

“It’s a much better experience for the customer. We’ll have staff outside handing tickets out — it really speeds things up,” Pitcher said, reiterating the uncertainties of what Christmas will bring during the pandemic. “We’re going to be open for Christmas. It’ll be interesting to see what happens … Again, if the COVID dial heats up and there is some alarm in cases, we have mechanisms to make it where online is the only way to buy tickets.” 

‘…Excellent for early

A complete November schedule will be determined Nov. 3 after closing for Nov. 1 and 2. WCSA will be open from 9 a.m.-4 p.m until then. 

“We’re happy to be reopen. We’re glad to see some relief to firefighters with the recent snow,” Pitcher said. “We’re hoping for a mellow season working towards normalization.” 

WCSA’s email states, “The skiing is excellent for early season!” 

WCSA reported 24 inches of snow with conditions described as powder and packed powder (with very early season obstacles).