If you’re planning a Colorado ski or snowboard trip, Vail and Aspen aren’t the only options to find fresh powder, exciting trails and the canopy of the Rocky Mountain blue skies. In the southwest corner of Colorado, Durango offers intriguing alternatives.
Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort, 25 miles south of Durango, No. 1 Skier Place, Durango Colo. 81301; 970-247-9000; durangomountainresort.com
Purgatory is Durango’s primary ski/snowboard mountain. But don’t be fooled by the name: Purgatory is ranked one of the top family-friendly ski areas in Colorado, with 85 trails ranging from the early beginner’s area to the expert’s playground, as
well as an expansive intermediate trail network.
With 125 acres of new trails and terrain in the Legends area, there’s plenty to keep the expert snow-sliders entertained. And if someone needs to learn the ropes or simply brush up on their skill, the Purgatory Ski and Ride School offers lessons.
The mountain is equipped with several lifts that access all the intermediate runs, allowing the family to go up together, take their trail and meet at the bottom.
The Purgatory Express (the six-passenger, main access lift) is based out of Purgatory Village. After a long day of riding the slopes, the village offers relaxation and fun for the evening hours, with a surprisingly large selection of restaurants and shops. While it may not be downtown Denver, nothing can compete with having a meal with the spectacular view of the San Juan Mountains.
The village also offers travelers a high-class stay on the side of the mountain (views included) at the Purgatory Lodge. Inspired by the surrounding mountain beauty, the lodge boasts stone and timber in its design.
In addition to skiing and snowboarding, Purgatory offers tubing, ski biking,snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice climbing, backcountry skiing and Nordic skiing. And, skiers and snowboarders alike can end the day with a sleigh ride, starting at the base of the mountain (offered by Buck’s Livery, 970-385-2100 or 970-247-9000 ext. 22215, buckslivery.com).
The Durango Mountain Resort is undergoing improvements as part of a 25-year plan, so each season will hold something new.
Ski Hesperus, 11 miles west of Durango off U.S. Highway 160, Hesperus, Colo. 81326; (970) 259-3711; ski-hesperus.com
This ski area may be smaller than others, but its low cost and all-hours skiing and snowboarding make it popular.
Its one chair lift carries riders of varying skill levels up the mountain. At the mid-station, beginner skiers and boarders can exit the lift to ride the easier runs. Those more skilled and seasoned ride to the top to tackle the more difficult black diamond runs.
In addition to 25 runs that make up the terrain, the mountain also offers a tubing hill and a lodge that serves hot snacks. For children 5-11, the Sno-Katz Kidz and Sno-Board Kidz Learn to Ski/Ride program offers lessons.
What makes this resort unique is the night skiing. Skiers and snowboarders can trade the bright blue sky for a star-filled canopy and crisp mountain night air. The well-lit trails beckon mountain riders who want to put in a few more hours after the other resorts have closed or try a nighttime mountain adventure.
Insiders will tell you that Ski Hesperus is the place to be during the day after a fresh snowfall. While others are at the main areas, the powder is left to the lucky few that choose to ride it here.
Chapman Hill Ski Area, 500 Florida Rd., Durango, Colo. 81301; 970-375-7395; www.durangogov.org/chapman
Durango’s own in-town ski hill offers several options for those who want to stay close to home or hotel.
The hill offers beginner and expert terrain, accessed by two rope tows. The vertical drop from the top is one of the steepest in Colorado, but toward the base the terrain is much more gentle for easy-riders. Night riding is also available here for all-day and all-night sport.
Chapman Hill also has an ice arena with ice-skating and hockey, complete with rentals and lessons for the rink and the hill. Next to that, the tubing hill offers another way to enjoy the snow.
If it gets too cold, the warming hut offers hot drinks and snacks so patrons can rest and un-chill.
Durango Nordic Center, across from the Durango Mountain Resort; 970-385-2114; durangonordic.org/nordiccenter.
The Nordic Center leases land from the Durango Mountain Resort. Rather than creating just another ski area, the center offers numerous activities, from learning to skate ski, to races, to clinics.
The center offers private and group lessons for Nordic skiing, including classic and skate skiing styles. Let loose on the terrain, skiers can explore several of the area’s groomed trails.
The Nordic Center also offers nighttime guided ski tours, complete with hot chocolate and a bonfire. Visitors can also check out the events hosted here, such as the Tour de Ski and professional races.
Nearby Hillcrest Golf Course and Vallecito Lake also offer a place to Nordic ski if there’s a good snowfall.
If You Go
Be sure to contact the ski resorts for pricing, weather conditions and specials.
Help plan your trip to Durango at durango.travel
Stephanie Wilson is a journalism major at Metropolitan State College of Denver.