He's not exaggerating: Wolf Creek averages 465 inches of natural snow annually. To make the most of it, Schmidt suggests signing up for e-mail snow reports at WolfCreekSki.com and investing in good snow tires and chains so you can follow through when you get the good news: When the powder is piling up, the drive over Wolf Creek Pass can be a barrier.

"Wolf Creek is one of those places that proves it's worth putting in work to have some fun," Schmidt says. It's also a relatively well-kept secret. "Everyone knows it's always got the most snow, and yet you get there and there are no lines," Schmidt says. "The lift tickets are cheap, the lodging is cheap, and, honestly, it's not even all that far."

Wolf Creek caters to kids and families with a Magic Carpet for its Wolf Pup program and three chairlifts servicing beginner and intermediate terrain, which make up more than half the mountain. But to really find out what all the howling is about, make your way to the extreme terrain scattered all over the mountain: Those boots were made for walking.

"Hike the Knife Ridge Staircase over to any of the Knife Ridge chutes off of the Alberta lift for the steep stuff, or get over to the Water Fall area for some cool little cliffs," Schmidt says. "For the truly adventurous, take the 45-minute hike to Horseshoe Bowl and you might literally be in over your head. You'll also find great glades and tree runs all over the mountain, and the more you're willing to hike for it, the more fun you'll have."

First-timers can take a complimentary one-hour Ridge and Beyond Tour for an introduction to Wolf Creek's more challenging hike-to and cross-country terrain.

General Information: www.WolfCreekSki.com; 970-264-5639.

Location: 300 miles southwest of Denver in the Rio Grande National Forest, U.S. Hwy. 160, between Pagosa Springs and South Fork.

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 800-SKI-WOLF.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $52.

Terrain: 1,600 skiable acres; 20 percent beginner, 35 percent intermediate, 25 percent advanced, 20 percent expert. Base is 10,300' with a 1,604' vertical rise, summit: 11,904'.

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