PHOTO COURTESY OF PAGOSA SPRINGS
Wolf Creek has acquired a mythic status for Front Range skiers and snowboarders. This is the place where you will find snow, especially early in the season. Big dumps roll up to this southern end of the San Juans, leaving legends like the November 2013 storms that left over 100 inches in their wake by Thanksgiving. And, while yes the skiing is that good, what often gets left out is that Pagosa Springs, on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass may just be the best damn ski town in Colorado. Sure, there are the requiste Texans waving their Lone Stars here, but the place has someone remained immune to the influxes of package destination tourists, poseur mountain freaks and plugged-in hipsters that threaten to take over many of the state’s other ski towns. Pagosa is for real. It’s also the ideal place for a trifecta of good-living immersion: Here you can indulge in powder, craft beer and warm, healing waters all in the same day.
Everyone loves to talk about the big number: Wolf Creek gets 430 of snow each year, the highest annual average in the state (and this season could be even better if the much-hyped Godzilla El Nino hits). But the allure of the place goes deeper than that, the resort is still family owned and operated and you feel that vibe as soon as you belly up to the ticket window. The best place to find that famed powder? Ride the Alberta Lift and head out along the ridge south to the Knife Edge Chutes, Dog Chutes and Horseshoe Bowl if you are seeking the steep and and deep (even after a storm). Families will enjoy staying closer to the base area and riding the Bonanza and Raven chairs. When it’s time to post-game, the sun deck of the Prospector Grill is the place to relax with a bowl of green chili (especially when the grill is open on the deck) and the attached Pathfinder Bar serves up craft beers from Colorado brewers like Ska and Steamworks. Don’t have your gear with you or want to demo? Wolf Creek began a program this year that allows you to call ahead to reserve and pay for premium rental skis or boards as well as demos. wolfcreekski.com
Now it’s time to really relax. No surprise, the big attraction in Pagosa Springs is warm, therapeutic mineral water, which contains everything from silica, which can help with acne, to boron, which can help boost muscle mass. There are several ways you can get a soak in here. The most popular is The Springs Resort and Spa , which we affectionately refer to as the “mini golf of hot springs.” The property, which sits right on the San Juan River, features 23 different developed pots and each has a different theme—meet new friends in the big Sunset Social Club, cook yourself in the 111-degree Lobster Pot, or play footsie with that special someone in the secluded Clouds in My Coffee. Across the street, you can stay at The Healing Waters Resort and Spa and get in a morning dip. The best bet for a little nighttime romance, however, is The Overlook Hot Springs Spa, where you can sit in a rooftop tub and pick out the constellations while you nurse those sore muscles after a day of shredding pow. If you want to take the dirtbag route, you can also soak in the San Juan River itself right in the town park.
Finally, we need to discuss the third way to immerse yourself in Pagosa Springs—beer! The town is home to three of the best craft breweries in the state. The Pagosa Brewing Co., where you can enjoy a spicy Chile Verde Cerveza with dinner. Riff Raff Brewing embraces the mountain lifestyle (hey, there’s a dude doing yoga in a puffy holding beer on their website) and serves up a fantastic Plebian Porter. New this year is Wolfe Brewery. Try the Yippie Ki-Yay IPA, brewed in the style of the original India Pales meant to survive long voyages at sea.