Tucked in among the mega-resorts of the Colorado Rockies you can find a 10-pack of lesser-known mountains that bring skiing and riding to their local communities -- and a taste of the sport's history in the Centennial State.
First it was Tahoe, where a record-breaking February prompted most resorts to extend their seasons deeper into the spring. Now it's March, and it's Colorado's turn.
Call it Epic-Lite or Ikon 2.0, but the southern Colorado-based Power Pass has taken off around the country, into Canada and across the seas.
Another small ski and snowboard area in the southern Rockies is ready to expand: Sipapu Ski & Summer Resort has announced projects to add lifts, trails and more on-mountain dining.
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.
Easier to get around Purgatory this year. (Purgatory/Facebook)
Each ski and snowboard season brings upgrades, improvements and just plain new stuff at Colorado resorts, where the competition for visitors is fierce.
Mountain biking is king at Purgatory. (Purgatory/Facebook)
As Durango businessman James Coleman bought five southwest Rockies resorts, he promised to put significant money into improvements at these mountains in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
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.
The Purgatory Snowcat takes you deep into the San Juan backcountry. (Purgatory)
The owner of Purgatory Mountain Resort has purchased one of the nation’s premier powder cat skiing operations, adding 36,000 acres of powder heaven his burgeoning winter sports portfolio.
Purgatory Snowcat Adventures will debut this winter at the southwest Colorado resort – but it won’t have to move far. Its headquarters has been at the base of “Purg” for several years now.
As a result of the purchase of San Juan Untracked, Durango businessman James Coleman now holds one of the nation’s largest backcountry permits with the U.S. Forest Service. The powder-rich terrain run deep into the San Juan Mountain backcountry – from Rico to the west, the southwest flank of Engineer Mountain to the north and including Grayrock Peak and Graysill Mountain.
And, skiers and riders who purchase the five-resort Purgatory Power Pass ($999 for adults) get 10 percent off the $350 single-seat rate – when reserved in advance -- and sneak peaks at special, last-minute offers on drop-in rates for the backcountry service. Private 12-seat ‘cats can be had for $3,500 a day.
The current fleet includes four snowcats, 10 snowmobiles and a backcountry van – plus the highly valuable backcountry permit that runs through 2020. The powder operation will be managed by previous owners Dennis and Amanda Martin, who bought it in 2013.
“James (Coleman) and I both love skiing and love Durango, so this merger will help both of us accomplish what is important to me, and that’s putting Durango on the map for amazing backcountry skiing,” said Dennis Martin.
The purchase of the powder operation continues Coleman’s spending spree in the Southwest that began in 2014 when he bought Purgatory and Arizona Snowbowl. Since then, Sipapu Resort and Pajarito Mountain in New Mexico, and Ski Hesperus outside Durango have been added to Coleman’s portfolio.
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.
Whether getting your legs after a long airplane flight, keeping the daytime mojo going or hitting the park with your buddies, five Colorado resorts are firing up the lights this season for after-hours skiing and riding.
Many a Colorado skier or snowboarder first learned to carve it up at one of the smaller mountain resorts around the state. Carrying on this tradition, these “local hills” offer multi-day clinics for kids who are beyond the beginner stage and want to get better … fast.