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Meeting held to review proposed enhancements at Wolf Creek Ski Area

A crowd of around 50 people gathered March 7 at the Pagosa Lodge to listen to a presentation by Davey Pitcher, owner of Wolf Creek Ski Area, about the possible future expansions of the ski area. However, before getting into the details of what the future plans might entail, Pitcher clicked through a powerpoint of ski photos, which also happened to be family photos. He stops at one photo of a large group of people, standing together, on the snow, around a bride and a groom.

“This is the ownership of Wolf Creek,” Pitcher said, then clicked to another photo of a person skiing. “And certainly, we like to ski a lot.”

Besides photos of family, the slideshow showed different phases of Wolf Creek Ski Area’s history and different steps it took toward expansion. One photo shows Pitcher kneeling on the ground. Above him the Dickey lift; in his hand, it’s cable.

“(In this picture) I’m a little worried I’m cutting a cable because it means we’re really taking it down,” Pitcher said.

That was in 2006. In it’s place: the Raven Lift, a detachable quad.

After the slide show, complete with commentary and history of the ski area, a 10-minute video was shown outlining the long-term, (10 to 20 years) expansion proposals for the area. (The video may be watched at www.wolfcreekski.org and click “the video.”)

“We have a pretty good niche going right now,” Pitcher said, adding later in the question and answer session, “The mountain skis really well now. We have lots of time to talk about things (enhancements).”

Included in the proposed enhancements are four additional chairlifts (Pitcher noted that additional did not mean new. “I have a brother in Montana who’s made an art of restoring old chairlifts,” he said.), easier access to the Alberta area, shuttle service and opening up two areas currently outside ski area boundaries.

In a one-page flier handed to all those in attendance, with a draft map of the enhancements, 10 major enhancement projects are listed. 1) Matchless Pod in Silver Creek, to “provide Wolf Creek skiers a Lift-assisted backcountry experience in primitive gladed terrain to the east of the Horseshoe Bowl.” A low-capacity tram would be installed, no roads would be built, and a guest support facility would be built at the top of the tram. 2) Pass Pod, which will encompass land at the top of Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan National Forest, to include the installation of a lift with a multiuse guest facility and warming hut at the bottom of the lift. This area is north-facing and thus will make more early season snow available to skiers. 3) Bonanza Lift realignment 800 feet to the east, replaced with a detachable lift. 4) Storm Lift, which would be located east of the Knife Ridge area and only operate during storm cycles to ensure that skiers willing to hike would be able to ski powder “for days.” 5) Elma Lift “would provide skiers a way to get back to the base area from the top of the Alberta Lift,” thus eliminating the long traverse from Park Avenue to the base area. 6) Meadow Lift “would allow skiers in the eastern portion of the Alberta Lift, from the bottom of Horseshoe Bowl and the Knife Ridge area, to return to the Lift without enduring the long, almost flat, traverse back to the base of the Alberta Lift.” 7) Sunset Lift “would provide access to skiable areas on the far eastern boundary of Wolf Creek Ski Area that are currently only available via hiking.” At the top of the lift would be a multiuse, guest service and ski patrol station. 8) Alberta Lift, would have a restaurant and restroom facility placed at the top of the lift. 9) Transportation and parking, with the rider that, “The long-term goal of Wolf Creek Ski Area is not to create additional parking at the ski area.” However, off-site parking may be built in South Fork and Pagosa Springs with a shuttle service. 10) Other enhancements would include a new full-service base area support facility, remodeling the Sport Center, a new vehicle maintenance building at the base area, and using all 2 million gallons of water rights per season for snowmaking.

One of the first people to comment was owner of Third Generation Outfitters and native Pagosan Forest Bramwell. Choking back tears and emotions, Bramwell pointed to the Matchless Pod enhancement area. “We have a camp at the bottom of this,” said Bramwell. The camp, said Bramwell, was started over 70 years by his grandfather. Another camp is located toward the top. Bramwell’s concern is that even with a minimal-impact chairlift through that area, the elk and deer migration route would be interrupted and would adversely affect his outfitting business.

“Thanks for telling me,” Pitcher said. “I didn’t know that Gary had a camp back there.” Pitcher said that he would like to continue discussions with the Bramwells about alternate solutions to the Matchless Pod expansion.

A representative of Rocky Mountain Wild spoke up, thanking the Pitchers for showing him and others from the group around the ski area.

“Some of the terrain is pretty phenomenal,” he said, and added, “Never has anyone from a ski area before invited us to come and had a scoping process asking the public questions.” In spite of that, he added that he and the organization have some concerns and hope that some compromises might be made.

Many audience members gave thanks to Pitcher and his family, adding that the more difficult terrain that is made available, the better.

Ending the session, an audience member asked that if, with all these enhancements, electronic ticket scanning would be considered for season pass holders.

Pitcher responded that electronic ticket scanning is both expensive and very complex. Then he added, “I would add that our tickets aren’t $100.”

As of yet, the enhancements are only possibilities. No environmental assessments have begun, and there is no prioritization of projects at this point.

To take a survey about what enhancements you would like see at Wolf Creek Ski Area, go to www.wolfcreekski.org and click on “Can it get any better?”

lindsey@pagosasun.com

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