Purgatory gears up for 50th year of skiing

Virginia A. Jones
Special to The Daily Times
A helicopter on Sept. 21 delivers pieces for the new No. 8 lift at Purgatory Resort in Durango, Colo.

Anticipating a strong El Niño weather pattern that could bring loads of powder this winter, employees at Purgatory Resort are preparing for the area's 50th season kick-off on Nov. 21st.

“Preparations by retailers and restaurants, grooming of the trails, and training are all happening now,” said Kim Oyler, Purgatory Director of Communications. “Snow making began on October 23rd, the earliest date in 20 years.” She said that the entire Four Corners area is buzzing over the possibility of good snow this winter.

“The resort will be open daily all during Thanksgiving week, with top to bottom skiing off Lift #1, the Village Express 6-pack,” said Oyler. This is unusually early, and another special event for that week is Thanksgiving dinner at Purgy’s restaurant.

Crews work to make snow at Purgatory Resort in Durango, Colo. Snow making started on Oct. 23.

“One of the exciting changes at Purgatory is the installation of a new high speed quad lift to replace #8, the 30-year-old Legends Lift on the backside of the mountain,” Oyler said as she talked about the construction that took place over the summer. The Grand Opening for this lift is December 19th, complete with a ribbon cutting.

“There are many special events planned leading up to the ribbon cutting as well,” Oyler said. “A kick-off party is scheduled on December 4th, during the town of Durango’s annual Noel Night.” There are special events planned to span the entire winter season.

Another change made since James Coleman became managing partner earlier this year, is the resort's name. Durango Mountain Resort with once again be known as Purgatory, a change has been welcomed by locals.

Purgatory Resort will marks its 50th season when the resort opens on Nov. 21.

Purgatory is now the newest addition to a four-area ski collective, created by Coleman.  “Purgatory, Arizona Snowbowl, Sipapu, and Pajarito make up the largest ski area collective in the Southwest, and we’re committed to making these resorts the best in the region,” said Coleman in a prepared statement.

Sipapu – the first New Mexico ski area to open this season – is near Taos, and is getting its first quad chairlift and new snowmaking equipment. Lift tickets are available in several special categories: for example, on certain days, a carload will cost $50 per person.

Pajarito, just outside Los Alamos, expanded the weir system of water catchment so more snow can be made, and they’re adding a new beginner trail.

Arizona Snowbowl is in the Flagstaff area and is constructing a new chairlift and is expanding snowmaking operations. An adult day ticket is $69.

The ‘Power Pack’ ski pass is new this season and can be purchased and used in a combination of ways at the four resorts in the collective. Purgatory offers many special passes and deals on lodging, lessons, and Thanksgiving week savings. www.purgatoryresort.com

This season, Purgatory Resort has a new, high-speed lift to replace the No. 8  Legends Lift on the back side of the mountain.

Purgatory’s ski history began in 1965 when two avid skiers, Chet Anderson and Ray Duncan wanted to bring skiing to the Durango area. They chose Hermosa Park, after a year of studying snow depths. Phase I of development involved more than a half-million dollars in construction. This initial phase included a double chairlift, lodge, and creation of a few trails. The summer of ’65 was unusually wet, delaying construction. When the area opened a lift ticket cost $4.50.

In 1969 the resort added the Engineer double chair lift to bring skiers up the front side to the left of Lift 1. Growth slowed for a decade and then in 1976 Twilight lift #4 was added and is still on site and still in use.

The 1980’s was a decade of great expansion, with the back side of the mountain developed, and with additional lifts, hotels, and condos built. Purgatory became one of the first ski areas to welcome snowboarders and in 1985 the terrain park opened, according to coloradoskihistory.com.

Crews work to make snow at Purgatory Resort in Durango, Colo. Snow making started on Oct. 23.

The original reservoir and snowmaking system was installed in 1982, and has been made more efficient over the years. Josh Hamill, Manager of snowmaking, the terrain park, and bicycle trails at Purgatory said, “Snow-making runs for two months or longer, depending on the weather, and this season we started as soon as the warm spell in October ended.” The newest snow-making equipment has been installed to make the process more efficient – making more snow, faster.

Hamill got his start because he enjoyed snowboarding. He wanted to work on the terrain crew, but, he said,  “you had to be a snow maker first.” Now he joins a total snow-making crew of 23 men who work 12-hour shifts from noon to midnight or midnight to noon. “It’s tough but rewarding,” he said. Each crew consists of five people: “one is the pump-house operator and four are up on the hill,” Hamill said. They run the on-slope snow guns and drive the Snow Cats for grooming fresh snow, either natural or man-made. While the average snowfall at Purgatory is 260 inches, the snow making allows the season to be extended.

“Purgatory Resort has averaged between 230,000 and 250,000 skier visits over the last several years,” said Kim Oyler. Since those numbers can vary with the weather, the prediction of lots of snow with El Niño is exciting news. Many of those visitors prepay for their season pass, but a day pass is an easy option, running $85 for an adult for a full day.

Powder hounds are hoping El Nino has its expected impact this year. The new season begins November 21st.

Virginia A. Jones covers the outdoors for The Daily Times. 

Nearby resorts

A 4-hour radius around Farmington will include the ski areas in the collective, as well as New Mexico ski areas:

In Colorado, these areas are also similar in distance:

All of these areas can offer a mini-vacation in interesting and beautiful locales.

Closer to Farmington are:

  • Wolf Creek, outside of Pagosa Springs, Colo., is two-and-a-half hours distant. Base price for a lift ticket is $65 and the springs in town offer a soak for sore skiers and boarders afterward. www.wolfcreekski.com
  • Silverton, which offers more advanced terrain for expert skiers is approximately two hours’ drive away. Cost of an “unguided ski” lift ticket is $49, and a “guided” ticket is $99. www.silvertonmountain.com

Both of these areas get significant amounts of natural snow - 400 inches annually.

Little and local, Hesperus Ski Area is 11 miles west of Durango, has night skiing, lessons, and homemade chili to offer and is for sale. An all-day lift ticket is $41 and a night ticket is $31. www.ski-hesperus.com

Each area has its own special atmosphere and every one of them has outstanding views.