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.
As autumn arrives, the Northern Hemisphere tilts farther and farther away from the sun – a shortening of the day's light that curbs photosynthesis and produces the brilliant yellows and reds of aspen trees in the Mountain West.
In the Rockies, a bountiful season of snowfall this winter meant many powder days, extended skiing and riding into June and even July. Add in a cooler-than-normal spring in much of the West, so much so that you can still see snowfields off the high ridges as we finished up the month of July.
Power Pass begins at Purgatory. (Purgatory/Facebook)
Multi-resort season passes mostly cross state lines, even national borders. So the southern-tier Power Pass that just went on sale for next season stands out because of its distinct regional appeal.
Until Ski Hesperus turns on lights, Purg will stay lit. (Ski Hesperus/Facebook)
Being business partners has its benefits, especially in times of little snow, as with Purgatory Mountain Resort cranking up night skiing and riding until local-hill partner Ski Hesperus receives enough to turn on its lifts and lights.
Hesperus Ski Area – the town hill for Durango-area skiers and riders – has closed down to address long-overdue repairs to the only chairlift and other infrastructure.
Mountain officials say they expect to reopen the second week in March, but are unsure how long repairs will take. The mountain closed on March 7 last season.
That mean’s southwest Colorado skiers and snowboarders won’t be able to sneak out of work for few turns at noon or carve under the lights after work - or tube. Ski Hesperus operates half-days on Mondays through Fridays, and full days on Saturdays and Sundays, with popular night skiing until 9 p.m. except on Sundays.
A major portion of the maintenance is the main double chairlift, installed in the 1960s, including the condition of a number of the assemblies that connect the chair to the cable. A report following an unannounced inspection by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board on Feb. 20-21 revealed issues with signage, record-keeping, lift maintenance and employee training.
Hesperus’ Greg Ralph said that new “clips’ have been ordered and should be installed in the next weeks. Repairs have been made to the emergency braking system, and updating of signs and training of workers is underway, Ralph said.
Durango businessman James Coleman bought Hesperus in 2016, adding it to his regional portfolio that includes Purgatory, Arizona Snowbowl, Sipapu and Pajarito. Hesperus opened in the 1960s and was run by Jim Pitcher as a “one-man show” for three decades – with hand-painted signs and a Quonset hut base lodge.
Long a local’s favorite, Hesperus sits 11 miles west of downtown Durango with 60 skiable acres, 700 vertical feet and 26 trails.
We often forget that skiing in the Wild West began on small hills that rose right out of the soon-to-be-famous resort mountain towns in Colorado -- the oldest being Howelson Hill in Steamboat Springs.