of my fondest memories of skiing were born on the slopes of
Purgatory ski area outside of Durango, Colorado. For a few years
running, at spring break, we would cram brothers, sisters, parents
and ski equipment into our station wagon and head north from
Albuquerque for three or four days of sun and snow.
Returning to Purgatory recently, I thought the contemporary
experience might pale in comparison to my rose-tinted recollections
of yore, but not so. I had a wonderful time: the snow was outstanding,
the sun still shone brightly, and both the ski mountain and
base complex revealed a tremendous and enriching evolution since
my visits ages ago.
The area even has
a new name, Durango Mountain Resort, symbolic of the new energy
brought by new owners in 2000. Leading the list of new developments
was the installation of a high speed "six-pack" chairlift
that cut the formerly long ride to the summit to a brisk six
minutes. Upgrades have also been made to the resort's terrain
park, restaurants, apres-ski activities and the Village Plaza,
as well as air service into the Durango airport (including daily
nonstop on American Eagle from Dallas).
In a very informal
survey I conducted (including one held in the Purgatory Village
Condominium Hotel steam room!) on why people come to the ski
area, I was told that the mountain has a good range of terrain
for all types of skiers; that it is relatively affordable; and
that the skiing is generally good to excellent. These answers
jibe with my own experience.
There is skiing here
for everyone on its 2029 vertical foot drop. Though the area
might be a bit lean for skiers who really thrive on "the
edge," skiing in the glades, trees and small bowls of the
section called "The Legends" is plenty challenging,
as are bump runs like Hades and Wapiti. I even saw tracks heading
over some gnarly cliff faces.
Purg's greatest strength,
though, is in its cruising terrain (51 percent of the mountain
is ranked intermediate): long, silky runs seem to go on forever.
Stretched across a broad ridge, the slopes generally drop in
stair-step fashion: short pitches, then flatter sections, then
a pitch, then flats. This makes for exciting skiing, with variety
in speeds and challenge tossed at you. However, snowboarders
bemoan the flats, and it pays to know when-and how-to occasionally
get in a tight tuck to gain speed to carry you over these slower
Some tips on finding
the optimum skiing: if you love powder, head over to The Legends
or Lift 5, or hang back on the runs of the oldest section of
the mountain--off Lifts 1 and 6 you'll find powder stashes along
the edges of Styx and Catharsis days after a storm. If you like
skiing the groomed, especially in less-than-optimal conditions,
check out the daily morning reports that list the slopes groomed
overnight. Beginners will be delighted by the two sub-areas
devoted exclusively to novices, off Lifts 4 and 9.
A large area, encompassing
2,500 acres (more terrain than Aspen Mountain), many skiers
eat lunch on the mountain itself rather than return to the base--at
either the Powderhouse or Dante's. At Dante's, you can eat downstairs
in a cafeteria setting, or upstairs in Cafe de los Pinos, a
fine restaurant and bar that whips up some surprisingly good
As my ski partner
and I were definitely in the casual mode during our visit, we'd
eaten a late breakfast and so needed only a snack to get us
through the day. We chose the cafe's fried calamari and some
mugs of a beer, brewed just down the valley in Durango, for
a light but satisfying lunch. We had that skiers' glow going
after some exercise, and sitting there eating while looking
out over the spectacular Animas Valley, punctured with rocky
spires and ridges draped in snow, that old cliche crept over
us: it doesn't get any better than this....
But it did. After
wrapping up the day on the slopes, we put the facilities of
the Purgatory Village Condominium Hotel to good use, including
one of three whirlpools, the steam room, sauna and outdoor pool.
Crawling back to our rooms like limp noodles, we summoned just
enough energy to mosey downstairs to one of the Village Center's
several restaurants. Here we had excellent shrimp and pasta
dinners, although our request for silver coin margaritas threw
the bartender for a loop.
Purgatory is located 25 miles north of Durango (some eleven
hours from Abilene). If driving at night, watch out for deer
between town and the resort. There is one less after our trip...the
only negative in an otherwise wonderful weekend.
Adults tickets run
$53 and under (depending on exact dates); kids 6-12 years run
$27 and under. Kids younger than six years are free. You can
also purchase a Total Ticket, which allows you options on riding
the famed Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, visiting
famed Mesa Verde National Park, or other activities.
will salivate over the possibilities of a day spent with the
San Juan Skiing Company, sampling the powder amidst Colorado's
largest snowcat skiing permit area, just outside the resort
boundaries. You can also join snowshoe tours, go snowmobiling,
check out the extensive (16km) cross country skiing facilities,
ride the Snowcoaster or inner tubes at night, join a nighttime
"star safari" or go on a dinner sleigh ride.
There are a wide
range of accommodations: from the comfy and convenient digs
at the Purgatory Village Condominium Hotel (ski-in/ski-out,
child care center, etc., 800/693-0175) to inexpensive lodging
in town (the ski season is actually Durango's "off-season").
For a kick, check out the famed Victoria-era Strater Hotel (800/247-4431)
in town. Many in-town lodges provide transportation to the slopes.
For in-town reservations call 800/525-0892.
For general resort
information/reservations: 800/979-9742 or www.DurangoMountainResort.com.
Contact Information & Seasonal Schedule
Fire: 800/633-7463 or www.angelfireresort.com,
open Dec. 14 through March 24; Crested Butte: 888/463-6714
open Dec. 15 through April 15; Durango Mt. Resort: 800/982-6103
open through April 7; Enchanted Forest (XC): 800/966-9381
open; Monarch: 800/228-7943 or www.skimonarch.com,
open; Pajarito Mountain:505/662-5725 or www.skipajarito.com,
opening as soon as possible; Red River: 505/754-2223
open fulltime Dec. 14 through March 24; Sandia Peak:
505/242-9133 or www.sandiapeak.com,
scheduled season Dec. 14 through March 17; Ski Rio: 505/758-7707
Ski Santa Fe: 505/982-4429 or www.skisantafe.com,
scheduled season Dec. 8 through April 7; Sipapu: 505/587-2240
scheduled season Dec. 13 through early April; Ski Apache:
505/336-4356 or www.skiapache.com,
open through March 31; Taos Ski Valley: 505/776-2291
scheduled season Dec. 14 through April 7; Telluride:
866/287-5016 or www.Tellurideskiresort.com,
open through April 7; Wolf Creek: 800/754-9653 or www.wolfcreekski.com
open through April 7.
Contact Ski N.M. at 505/984-0606 or www.skinewmexico.com
for reports on New Mexico ski areas and to order a free winter
trip guide; Colorado Ski Country at 303/825-SNOW or www.coloradoski.com
for Colorado reports; or individual areas: Angel Fire--800/633-7463
x 3; Crested Butte--888/TO POWDER; Durango Mt. Resort: 800/525-0892,
ext. 6; Enchanted Forest (XC)-800/966-9381; Monarch--800/228-7943;
Pajarito--888/662-7669; Red River--505/754-2220; Sandia Peak--505/857-8977;
Ski Santa Fe--505/983-9155; Sipapu--505/587-2240; Ski Apache--505/257-9001;
Taos Ski Valley--505/776-2916; Telluride--970/728-7425; Wolf
of Santa Fe (email@example.com)
is the author of four books, most recently Pueblos of the Rio
Grande: A Visitors Guide (Rio Nuevo Publishers). His first day
on "sliders" was 40 years ago.
Other SNOW TRAX 2002
Snow Trax from Last Season