Wolf Creek Fun Events, Skiing Contests and History
This photo in expanded format click here.
Big snow is right around the corner,
get your reservations now.
Pioneer skier celebrates 100th birthday at Wolf Creek Ski Area here.
Speaking of vintage here is a Photoshop montage of vintage photographs and the history of Wolf Creek Ski Area.
By Norm Vance with Kate Terry
Wolf Creek Ski Area sits just on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass. It wasn’t always so, for in the beginning skiing was done on top of the Continental Divide right off of Wolf Creek Pass on the north side of the road.
This is the story of how it all began and some of the people involved. First of all, it has to be noted that the ski area sits on United States Forest Service land, then and now. Wolf Creek Ski Area has a long-term Special Use Permit that allows it to operate on public lands.
The inspired bunch of volunteers (and they were all volunteers) who built the first ski runs at Wolf Creek were a hearty bunch who loved skiing and the mountains. I once heard a skier say that skiing was like flying off a mountain with the world wrapped around him. Maybe this is a good description.
Most of the people involved were from the east side of the Pass, from Monte Vista and Sargent. On this side, the coordinators were George Yamaguchi, June Lynch and Dave Goodman. Other families closely involved were the Wylies, the Corrigans, Lynches, Coxes, and the Chambers. On the east side of the Divide there was Charles Elliott, Bob Williams, John La Rue, Bob Wright (the father of Susan, of Wolf Creek’s “Susan’s Run), Ed Sharp, Howard Walker, and the Boyce family, Bob, Dick and Kelly. Johnny Baird, who was in the Forest Service Supervisor’s office in Monte Vista, was the contact person for all negotiations.
The first runs were on top of the Continental Divide. Over a few years five were built, four on the south side of highway 160 and one on the north side of the road. They were all close together. At the time, Highway 160 ran a bit north of the present road.
The first run was built about 1936 or ’37 — a small rope tow at the foot of Thunder Mountain, located at the foot of the road that now leads to Lobo Overlook; some call this road “Microwave Tower Road” due to the microwave relay station on top. The CCC (Civilian Conversation Corps) built a log cabin near its base.
Access to the top was by a rope tow. This was a circulating rope that was driven by squeezing the rope between the slowly turning dual tires on the back end of an old truck. The truck could be located at the bottom or the top of the hill. Tireless auto wheels bolted to the top of a series of posts supported the rope on the return. Riders caught on to the rope and were pulled up the mountain. Scarves and loose clothing were a no-no for safety reasons on the rope tow. Clothing was colorful. People wore belted baggy wool trousers and gauntlet gloves.
Some skiers at Wolf Creek obtained ski equipment from Camp Hale, Colorado when it closed in the mid-50s. The camp was home of the 10th Mountain Division, a unit of the U.S. Army that became famous for training soldiers in Nordic skiing. These army skis and poles were white to blend in with the snow. In those days, skis were sized by having the skier hold his arm over his head and matching the hand to the end of an upright ski — as opposed to today’s method of fitting skis according to one’s ability, weight and what the skier wants to do.
The year was 1954-55. Bob Wilkinson, Johan LaRue, Bob Wright, Howard Worker, Ted Dickey and Bob, Dick and Kelly Boyce helped build the first run. Dean Cox assembled the platters, plastic disks that were attached to the towrope that skiers used to be pulled up the mountain. The run was finished at Christmas time. In 1957 a lodge was built; people called in the warming hut. In the winter, people accessed it by walking down a steep ramp leading into the hut. It has a huge potbellied stove. The cabin is still there, as the small end of the main building. It’s called the Prospector.
Because the slope of the mountain faced south, the sun’s rays played havoc with the quality of the snow – melting it to mush, and so the ski area was moved to its present location from a south facing slope to a north facing slope with a good vertical rise and room to expand. A perfect location.
In the early days the runs were groomed by volunteers who would ride the lift to the top and side-step down the slope to pack the snow. Usually the first few skiers of the day packed a nice run. The first mechanical groomer wasn’t purchased until 1964.
A second lift would be built in 1958, and a third lift in 1968. The Poma lift is the invention of Pomagalski, a Polish émigré to France. At the time the first Poma lift was built, the Wolf Creek Ski Area became a business, the Wolf Creek Development Corporation, owned by a bunch of farmers from the San Luis Valley. Stock was sold to pay for the lift.
Glen Edmonds, then publisher of the Pagosa Springs SUN was a stockholder and President of the cooperation. Ben Pinnell, a Dallas realtor, brought in Don Carter as a prime investor. Pinnell also interested three Dallas Cowboys in promoting Wolf Creek; Charlie Waters, Dave Edwards and Mike Ditka, who used to coach the Chicago Bears and now coaches the New Orleans Saints. In 1975, Carter sold Wolf Creek Ski Area to Kingsbury Pitcher, the present owner.
There is much to be said about the people who, over the years, contributed to what is now the Wolf Creek Ski Area and they tell stories about those early days. One story is that, in 1955-56, there wasn’t any place to park at the new location. People would park where they used to park on top of Wolf Creek Pass and ski down the Bunny Hope Run, ski all day and when ready to go home, take the lift to the top of Bunny Hop and ski the Divide down to their cars.
Ben Larry Lynch and the brothers Alva and Dean Cox took off to ski one day. They knew how to manage the lifts. They skied all day but when they got ready to go home, they had a problem. Snow was falling heavy. Ben was driving and proceeded to slide and nose the car into the ditch. A snowplow pulled him out. The rest of the way down wasn’t so simple — the snow was so heavy the road was invisible. Alva led the way on skis, feeling his way along. They had a signal – when Ben honked once, Alva was going too fast and when he honked twice, he was too slow. Once a car tried to pass them and landed in the ditch and Ben had to pull him out.
So, as you are skiing the great powder and enjoying the luxury of Wolf Creek, remember there was a time when skiing here was an adventure and remember the folks who started it all. And, if you are driving Wolf Creek on ice in a blizzard, listen for that one honk.