Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nordic Skiing Alberta Lake Trail and West Fork Trail - Pagosa, CO

Alberta Lake Trail Pagosa
Alberta Lake Loop
So this is a continuation of a previous post about a quick ski trip the last weekend in March. Ski season is over but I wanted to write up trail reports for the nordic skiing at Alberta Lake and East Fork since they were a ton of fun. There didn't look like much skiing to be had when I arrived in Pagosa, the weather and snow cover was much the same as in Santa Fe. I passed the evening with my old friend Colin (Sutt), with dinner and beers and talk of skiing at Kip's Cantina.

Well it ended up snowing a quarter inch that evening which is sorta why I made the trip. Only light snow cover in town but a heavy cloud hung up on the Pass (a.k.a the Vortex). Grabbed coffee at Pagosa Bakery Company (this place is legit) across the street from Kip's and headed up the pass to check out more of the nordic trails and then hit the slopes with Sutt. The guy works patrol at the Creek so he was up there early setting charges and clearing some of the steeper slopes of potential slides. Good work Sutt.

Alberta Lake Trail Pagosa
Miles of fresh snow and more falling from the heavens
I got onto Alberta Lake Nordic Trails first thing. To find the trailhead you pull all the way through the Wolf Creek parking area, park right there and ski off the back. The trail drops down groomed ski area trails to the Alberta Lift where there are signs that guide you down the valley to the reservoir. In addition to being a no-fee groomed trail, the Alberta Loop also has a concession stand there by the lift. The only nordic trail I've ever skied with full service amenities.

On this morning the snow was freaking awesome. When I first started there was 6" of fresh snowfall but it continued snowing the entire day. I was lucky to be following another group's tracks at first or I wouldn't know where the hell I was going. Ordinarily this trail is groomed for nordic but it was early and the Creek staff were working the ridge and other higher traffic areas (charges were booming from the ridgeline as I shushed along - word-up Sutt). Anyway, a badass trail with badass snow conditions. I think I was smiling the whole way, just couldn't believe my luck that the snow would be this nice. Watching the un-tracked snow breaking off my ski tips on the downhills was fairly hypnotic, so I spent some time focusing on it and nothing else.  [Updated: Skied these trails the weekend of 11/12/11 (An Early Start to the Ski Season). They were groomed and in excellent condition. Might be my favorite nordic trails in the area.]

Alberta Lake Trail Pagosa
Miles and miles and miles...

The mighty Rossis in their element

Alberta Lake Trail Pagosa
Lots of snow up on that pass, also snow men ski spectators

I finally caught the group ahead of me, they said they were from Texas and they were happy that I came along to relieve their work breaking trail. I kind of had experience with this earlier in the winter so it was a piece of cake. One of the ladies said she was a marathoner so the marathoner-to-other-skier ratio was pretty high that morning. When we finished the loop I saw a Cat set to groom the loop and lay down some classic ski tracks. I thought of skiing another loop with the new groomed track but I'd told Sutt that I'd ski some runs with him.

Patrolman Sutt in action
Climbed the trail to the lot, changed out my boards and out of my wet clothes and into my downhill set up. Lift tickets at the Creek are $52. What a steal. Ran laps on Alberta Lift all morning and afternoon. Had to tighten the settings on my ski bindings because the powder was deep enough it was pulling my left ski off. It was a fantastic day. Sutt had to leave and run avalanche patrol with snow falling like it was. Coming from the spring weather we've had in New Mexico since early February it was like a time warp back into winter to be in blizzard conditions like this all day. The Wolf Creek vortex just wrings all the moisture out of the weather that passes east.

Every run was a giant powder chute. My face got sore from smiling.
The Zia was kicking-ass in the storm - that's what I'm talking about
East Fork Trail Pagosa
Scenic East Fork Trail
The skiing was great but I had to get home before dark so after 8 or 9 runs I dropped down to the parking lot and headed down to the East Fork Nordic Trails on the way back to Pagosa. Just below the switchbacks of Wolf Creek Pass the snow stopped falling and although East Fork is only eight miles from Wolf Creek there was only just enough snow to ski on. How that is possible I don't really know, I had just come from what seemed like British Columbia only 30min earlier. East Fork was cool but was more of a multi-use trail and for that reason was more difficult to ski on. I could see snowmobiles with grooming gear that they most likely set to work during the busy season but on this morning the trail was un-groomed. A main trail branches west for several miles, I skied up a less traveled trail that climbed to the northeast with some cool cliffs and rock formations. Very scenic, but after my morning the snow just couldn't compare.

East Fork Trail Pagosa
East Fork looking west

To sum up: Pagosa's nordic trail system is bad-as-hell. I especially enjoyed Alberta Lake Loop up at Wolf Creek. And secondly, weather conditions in Pagosa should not be confused with Wolf Creek 20mi away. Never doubt the snowfall at the Creek because it is un-holy.

   Part I of Nordic Skiing Pagosa

Related Posts:
 - Nordic Skiing in Chama - Edward Sargent WFA
 - Enchanted Forest Nordic - Red River, NM
 - Nordic Skiing - Santa Fe, NM

View Alberta Lake Nordic Trails - Pagosa Springs, CO in a larger map

View West Fork Nordic Trails - Pagosa Springs, CO in a larger map


  1. Read this through Stiner's FB link... I am inspired! Some day I'll do a cross country run again, though in my case it's sure to include plenty of falls and boinking into trees. :). Merg.

  2. Hi Marg. Skiing is pretty much always going to include falls. Falling into trees would be a no-no. I'd imagine there's some pretty good nordic trails up your way, either the Olympic Range or Vancouver. Gotta hit that up lady!



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