I love to snow ski but I hate long lift lines and lift ticket prices have gotten out of control. I can be impatient, one of my many character flaws. That combination doesn't get me too excited about going snow skiing anymore. It's been two years since I've been skiing and the last time was at Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia. It's a great place that I've been going to for 30+ years. For east coast skiing, I've usually had very good snow conditions there. But our last few times there, the lift lines were pretty long. When you're paying close to $100 per one day lift ticket, it gets pretty frustrating. That was two years ago. Now a Friday/Saturday/Sunday daily lift ticket at Snowshoe is $170. Once every few years, I would go ski out in Colorado. Most of the Colorado resorts are now charging over $200 per daily lift ticket.
I get it. It's a business and it's expensive to run a ski resort. Sometimes a ski season can be shortened due to bad snow conditions and a resort doesn't make money as a result. Covid certainly hurt ski resort business for a couple years. But still. I'm fortunate to be able to go surf, windsurf, bike, and paddle for free. Out of principal, I can't even bring myself to spend $200+ for one day of skiing unless it's a very special occasion and a lot of friends or family are involved. Even then, I wouldn't be able to contain my utter cringiness (is that even a word?) over overpaying for waiting in long lift lines.
Cue my lovely bride, who loves snowy weather. She's the one who loves the snow forecast hype over a week out. She wanted some snow and lots of it. In her research, she read a couple articles about an under the radar Colorado mountain town, Pagosa Springs. It's located in southwest Colorado approximately one hour east of Durango. There is a ski area nearby, Wolf Creek, that apparently gets more snow than any other ski area/resort in Colorado. It sounded nice but I didn't really know what to expect.
Now before I go any further, someone could accuse me of divulging a closely guarded secret. Don't ever share information about the "secret spot". I can hear someone saying "Hey, don't tell anyone about Pagosa Springs or Wolf Creek. We want them to keep going to Summit County to ski". And my response would be, "And yet, Pagosa Springs is right there on the map for everyone to see and there are plenty of articles and online information about it for anyone to see." It's not a secret folks. It's just not easy to get to which leads most people to seek to ski elsewhere. And that won't change.
We looked at flight and rental car options. Flying into Durango is the closest option. However, we found the airfares were more expensive compared to flying direct to Denver, and it would have required a layover which I always try to avoid when possible due to the increased chances of flight delays, cancellations, or losing luggage. We also found that car rental rates in Durango were a lot more expensive, I'm assuming due to the lower number of available cars to rent there.
We opted to fly direct from Charleston to Denver and make the five hour+ drive to Pagosa Springs. Since we charge everything on our Capital One Venture X card, these flights actually didn't cost us anything since we were able to use our Venture X points to pay for them. Using the Capital One Venture X card and booking your travel through Capital One Travel, you get 10X miles on hotels and rental cars, 5x miles on flights, and 2x miles on other purchases. Direct message me here with the subject heading "Capital One" and I'll send you a safe secure link to get your own Venture X card so you can start doing the same.
Even though it's a long drive from Denver to Pagosa Springs, its very scenic, which made the drive go by pretty fast. There is the risk of winter driving to consider. There are some curvy and mountainous sections to drive through, including one very high mountain pass just before you get to Pagosa Springs. So if it's snowing, the drive will be longer. The normal 5+ hour drive could turn into a really crappy 10+ hours depending on the weather. So just know that.
We arrived safely in Pagosa Springs and checked into our AirBnB, a nice small one bedroom loft/studio located within walking distance of downtown. Pagosa Springs sits at just over 7,000 ft elevation. The Wolf Creek mountain pass we drove over to get to town is just under 11,000 ft elevation. If you're from the east coast and live at sea level like we do, you run the risk of altitude sickness. At the very least, you'll get a headache. One way to help combat this is to take one aspirin a day for a week leading up to your trip (helping to thin your blood), plus drink a lot of water...staying hydrated during that entire time leading up to your trip as well. That has helped me over the years when visiting Colorado.
Kris and I started out at Cloman Park which is close to town. It has groomed trails exclusively for cross country skiing and for different levels of skiers. It was a great first trail for us to try out, mostly flat with some beginner sloping, staying within the tracks already laid down by others. It was fun working on proper technique, trying to get into a rhythm and getting the heart rate up. It was so quiet and peaceful out there amidst the snow covered woods.
The snow conditions were excellent and there is something for every level of skier. Plenty of beginner terrain, advanced/extreme terrain, groomed trails, ungroomed powder areas, wide open runways and tree skiing. Each ski downhill run was at least one mile, most being closer to 1.5 miles, and the longest being two miles. According to my GPS watch stats over the two days of skiing, I ended up doing 52 runs, 62 miles, and over 48,000 ft of vertical.
Pagosa Springs is a nice small mountain town with friendly people. Like most great mountain towns, it has a beautiful river running through it. In this case, the San Juan River, which also provides for great summer recreational opportunities for rafting, kayaking, and tubing in its playful river waves. There is a really nice paved river trail that runs alongside it for walking. The trail includes interesting historical markers and self sustaining eco-gardens managed by the local community. There are also many hiking and biking options in the area. And there are some really good restaurants. Our favorites included Thai Pagosa, Rosie's Pizzeria, Pagosa Baking Company, 2 Chicks and a Hippie, Kip's Grill and Cantina, and Riff Riff Brewing Company (both locations). All of these were really good.