Insider Guide: Purgatory Mountain Resort
If long, rolly-poly blues appeal, then Purgatory Mountain Resort will never disappoint. Spreading across a high ridge on southern edge of the San Juan Mountains, "Purg" averages 250 inches a year on 1,600 acres, and a tad more than 2,000 ft. vert. with nine chairs. Favorable aspects tend north or east -- offering unending views of some of the highest peaks in the Rockies.
A hidden gem to New Mexicans and southwest Coloradans since 1965, you're likely to ride up the chair with someone who's been coming to Purgatory since childhood. Recently, the resort's well-healed ownership has raised its game by upgrading snowmaking and groomer fleet, and linking its Power Pass with Arizona Snowbowl and a gaggle of local hills in the region.
Drive time (weather permitting) from Denver is 6.5 hours, Albuquerque about four hours. Resort a half-hour drive from town. La Plata County Airport connects daily with Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, and Albuquerque. The resort runs once-a-day shuttles to and from Durango on weekends and holiday weeks. Plenty of pay rides from the airport and in town and rentals provide flexibility.
With tons of ski-in ski-out options, the mountain base is surrounded by hotel condos, townhomes, and VRBOs, anchored by luxury Purgatory Lodge. Apres-ski scene can be lively. Nearby condos within a few minute's drive. In Durango, all manner of a motel, hotel, B 'n' Bs, and vacation rentals can be found.
Apres-ski and dinner options limited on the hill, so most bring groceries to cook in. Pizza and burgers mostly around the base. Or, take a snowcat for dinner in the woods. Nearby, Sow's Ear serves prime beef steaks and filets, plus local elk. Durango is chockful of eateries -- from sports bar burgers to cloth-tablecloth gourmet. Out-of-staters should try Mexican menus and get used to heat with every meal. And bars fill up with students from Fort Lewis College.
The resort dedicates a bunch around the base for beginners, learners, and cautious ones -- with three chairs below the main base for rank beginner terrain, and plenty of green slopes and trails spread off of Chair 4. Conversely, the main expert frontside runs are viewer's left with top-to-base Styx and Brimstone, and short steep pitches off of them.
Cruiser heaven can describe the mountain's backside. Intermediates and groomer-lovers can choose from a smorgasbord of blues -- from Zinfandel and Boogie off the Hermosa Express across to Chet's off Legends chair. All below treeline.
It takes a bit of cross-hilling and extra chair rides, but expert and advanced skiers and riders will find their own stash of steeps skier's left off the Legends chair. Most steep runs quickly turn new snow into mogul fields, so be prepared to bounce.
Purgatory owns a snowcat powder service, Purgatory Snowcat Adventures, that runs off the top of the mountain to 10,000 acres of the deep stuff. Mountain coaster, tubing, snowshoeing, X-C center, and snowmobile rides await. Or ride on Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge train. Need a radical shift? Drive a couple of hours to Mesa Verde National Park and explore Anasazi ruins.