Peter Hines

by Peter Hines

Skiing in Southern Colorado

Part 3

No Place Is More Pretty Than Purgatory Resort


Photos and videos by the author

From Part 1 and Part 2 - Mike, Phil and I traveled to southern Colorado to ski Crested Butte and Purgatory

When I told my 92 year old Irish Catholic mother-in-law that I was going to Purgatory she gave me a strange look and asked if I was expecting to see anyone I knew.

Obviously she and I had different interpretations of where I was going.

I was going to Purgatory Resort near Durango Colorado. She was thinking about something else.

We arrived is afternoon and checked into our condo at Peregrine Point which a short walk to the lifts and other amenities. After unloading and settling in we went to the rental shop and got fitted for skies.  The technicians were courteous and efficient.

We headed down the road to Durango for dinner at Ken and Sue’s.   It’s a 30 mile straight shot south, down the hill.  We understand that getting a reservation is sometimes, even on weeknights, difficult so call several days in advance.

Despite its documented population of 19,000 it seems much bigger.  There are numerous warm weather attractions such as Mesa Verde National Park; the home of the cliff dwellers and the Durango to Silverton Narrow Gage Railway.  Biking is also popular.

The winter attraction has to be Purgatory Resort though.

Operating for 50 years, and known for many of those are Durango Mountain Resort, Purgatory is rebranding itself.  The new owner James Coleman, a Durango local, has been making changes.  He first skied at Purgatory as a teenager and has loved it ever since.  He’s a hands on take charge leader who is as comfortable cutting trails and making snow as he is in the board room.

We arrived two days after 30 inches of snow had fallen.  Everything that is usually groomed had been, and done to perfection.  By design and operation, some trails are not groomed for those who want to pound the bumps.

In short, there is no ski resort that I have been to that is more pretty than Purgatory, as it is known.  The views of the San Juan Mountains, which you can seemingly reach out touch, are spectacular.  Purgatory’s revised 50 year logo is based on the Needles Range of the San Juan’s which lies across the Animas River and to the east of the resort.

What doesn’t need to be changed at Purgatory are the trail layouts.  Most of the trails east, where skiers and riders start, and north facing which is not unusual for any ski resort.  Fifty years ago painter and skier Paul Folwell laid out the trail design.  With an artist’s touch for perspective and scale he laid out the scheme that is still impressive today.

Many of the wide and rolling trails lined and interspersed with evergreen trees grace the north face. In order to get from the east side to the north it was best to use and up down method, taking Lift 1 up down to the bottom of Lift 3. Up Lift 3 to get over to Lift 8.    

We started skiing on a Thursday.  Being midweek the crowds were light.  We started up lift 1 and took a run down the front face.  The corduroy was nice!

Looking to explore more of the mountain we headed over the backside taking Nirvana to Peace to Lift 3.

At the top of Lift 3 we saw a sign that the groomer’s choice of the day was Boogie.  We decided to take it.  The groomers’ must know something we thought.

They were right and Boogie remained our favorite trail on the mountain. It is an intermediate trail that is wide from top to bottom.  It rolls to the north ending almost in the Pasture Creek.  I could ski it all day.

After several runs on the backside including many taking Lift 8 we stopped in Dante’ Backside Bistro for some lunch.  The table service was efficient, the prices reasonable and view of the San Juans, including Engineer Mountain with its almost 13,000 foot peak was outstanding.

After lunch we banged around the backside some more switching from Lift 5 to Lift 8.  There was never a crowd or a lift line.  In fact, some of the wide trails seemed eerily empty by eastern standards.  We finished the day with over 18,500 feet of vertical.

The next two days were filled with endless runs on superbly groomed trails and cloudless cobalt blue skies.  The mornings started out cold, in the low teens and warmed up through the mid twenties.  It seemed like the wind never was more than a mere puff.

The crowds never emerged on Friday, which in recent experience is second only to Saturday for crowds.  It just seemed like another weekday. 


Friday night we ordered a pizza from the Olde Schoolhouse Cafe just down the road from our condo.  It’s an interesting place, a bit scary at first. Dark and foreboding, there are dollar bills tacked to the walls and ceiling.  The pizza was good, the price reasonable but to see the inside was priceless.
Saturday was similar on the back side where we stayed most of the time.  We were able to find untracked corduroy into the afternoon.  With cold temperatures, little wind and minimal skiers and riders the wide trails held up all day.  The lines on Lifts 5 and 8 were three chairs long at the heaviest point.  We could just ski the wide open groomers of Legend, Zinfandel and of course, Boogie, over and over again.

One trip down to the front side found considerably more skiers and riders. Many of these appeared to be those who were newer to the sport. Still the line on for Lift 1 was less than ten minutes.  So the tip is get up and go to the backside.  Everything you need is there.

Purgatory celebrated its 50th year in 2016 and had several activities including bands, a torch parade and fireworks.

Purgatory is certain on our bucket list for a return trip. The views, well laid out trails and great grooming make it a must ski.


Skiing in Southern Colorado - Part 1 - Getting Crested Butte

Skiing in Southern Colorado - Part 2 -Skiing the Powder at Crested Butte

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