Snow Trax #6, 2002

The Ridge, Taos Sky Valley
Taos Sky Valley

by Daniel Gibson

This column on snow sports and related travel is posted bi-weekly. In addition to New Mexico, it covers the Southern Rockies of Colorado and occasionally roams further afield in the Western United States

Some of my fondest memories of skiing were born on the slopes of Purgatory ski area outside of Durango, Colorado. For a few years running, at spring break, we would cram brothers, sisters, parents and ski equipment into our station wagon and head north from Albuquerque for three or four days of sun and snow.

Returning to Purgatory recently, I thought the contemporary experience might pale in comparison to my rose-tinted recollections of yore, but not so. I had a wonderful time: the snow was outstanding, the sun still shone brightly, and both the ski mountain and base complex revealed a tremendous and enriching evolution since my visits ages ago.

The area even has a new name, Durango Mountain Resort, symbolic of the new energy brought by new owners in 2000. Leading the list of new developments was the installation of a high speed "six-pack" chairlift that cut the formerly long ride to the summit to a brisk six minutes. Upgrades have also been made to the resort's terrain park, restaurants, apres-ski activities and the Village Plaza, as well as air service into the Durango airport (including daily nonstop on American Eagle from Dallas).

In a very informal survey I conducted (including one held in the Purgatory Village Condominium Hotel steam room!) on why people come to the ski area, I was told that the mountain has a good range of terrain for all types of skiers; that it is relatively affordable; and that the skiing is generally good to excellent. These answers jibe with my own experience.

There is skiing here for everyone on its 2029 vertical foot drop. Though the area might be a bit lean for skiers who really thrive on "the edge," skiing in the glades, trees and small bowls of the section called "The Legends" is plenty challenging, as are bump runs like Hades and Wapiti. I even saw tracks heading over some gnarly cliff faces.

Purg's greatest strength, though, is in its cruising terrain (51 percent of the mountain is ranked intermediate): long, silky runs seem to go on forever. Stretched across a broad ridge, the slopes generally drop in stair-step fashion: short pitches, then flatter sections, then a pitch, then flats. This makes for exciting skiing, with variety in speeds and challenge tossed at you. However, snowboarders bemoan the flats, and it pays to know when-and how-to occasionally get in a tight tuck to gain speed to carry you over these slower sections.

Some tips on finding the optimum skiing: if you love powder, head over to The Legends or Lift 5, or hang back on the runs of the oldest section of the mountain--off Lifts 1 and 6 you'll find powder stashes along the edges of Styx and Catharsis days after a storm. If you like skiing the groomed, especially in less-than-optimal conditions, check out the daily morning reports that list the slopes groomed overnight. Beginners will be delighted by the two sub-areas devoted exclusively to novices, off Lifts 4 and 9.

A large area, encompassing 2,500 acres (more terrain than Aspen Mountain), many skiers eat lunch on the mountain itself rather than return to the base--at either the Powderhouse or Dante's. At Dante's, you can eat downstairs in a cafeteria setting, or upstairs in Cafe de los Pinos, a fine restaurant and bar that whips up some surprisingly good meals.

As my ski partner and I were definitely in the casual mode during our visit, we'd eaten a late breakfast and so needed only a snack to get us through the day. We chose the cafe's fried calamari and some mugs of a beer, brewed just down the valley in Durango, for a light but satisfying lunch. We had that skiers' glow going after some exercise, and sitting there eating while looking out over the spectacular Animas Valley, punctured with rocky spires and ridges draped in snow, that old cliche crept over us: it doesn't get any better than this....

But it did. After wrapping up the day on the slopes, we put the facilities of the Purgatory Village Condominium Hotel to good use, including one of three whirlpools, the steam room, sauna and outdoor pool. Crawling back to our rooms like limp noodles, we summoned just enough energy to mosey downstairs to one of the Village Center's several restaurants. Here we had excellent shrimp and pasta dinners, although our request for silver coin margaritas threw the bartender for a loop.

Purgatory is located 25 miles north of Durango (some eleven hours from Abilene). If driving at night, watch out for deer between town and the resort. There is one less after our trip...the only negative in an otherwise wonderful weekend.

Adults tickets run $53 and under (depending on exact dates); kids 6-12 years run $27 and under. Kids younger than six years are free. You can also purchase a Total Ticket, which allows you options on riding the famed Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, visiting famed Mesa Verde National Park, or other activities.

Advanced skiers/boarders will salivate over the possibilities of a day spent with the San Juan Skiing Company, sampling the powder amidst Colorado's largest snowcat skiing permit area, just outside the resort boundaries. You can also join snowshoe tours, go snowmobiling, check out the extensive (16km) cross country skiing facilities, ride the Snowcoaster or inner tubes at night, join a nighttime "star safari" or go on a dinner sleigh ride.

There are a wide range of accommodations: from the comfy and convenient digs at the Purgatory Village Condominium Hotel (ski-in/ski-out, child care center, etc., 800/693-0175) to inexpensive lodging in town (the ski season is actually Durango's "off-season"). For a kick, check out the famed Victoria-era Strater Hotel (800/247-4431) in town. Many in-town lodges provide transportation to the slopes. For in-town reservations call 800/525-0892.

For general resort information/reservations: 800/979-9742 or

Resort Contact Information & Seasonal Schedule

Angel Fire: 800/633-7463 or, open Dec. 14 through March 24; Crested Butte: 888/463-6714 or, open Dec. 15 through April 15; Durango Mt. Resort: 800/982-6103 or, open through April 7; Enchanted Forest (XC): 800/966-9381 or, open; Monarch: 800/228-7943 or, open; Pajarito Mountain:505/662-5725 or, opening as soon as possible; Red River: 505/754-2223 or, open fulltime Dec. 14 through March 24; Sandia Peak: 505/242-9133 or, scheduled season Dec. 14 through March 17; Ski Rio: 505/758-7707 or; Ski Santa Fe: 505/982-4429 or, scheduled season Dec. 8 through April 7; Sipapu: 505/587-2240 or, scheduled season Dec. 13 through early April; Ski Apache: 505/336-4356 or, open through March 31; Taos Ski Valley: 505/776-2291 or, scheduled season Dec. 14 through April 7; Telluride: 866/287-5016 or, open through April 7; Wolf Creek: 800/754-9653 or open through April 7.

Contact Ski N.M. at 505/984-0606 or for reports on New Mexico ski areas and to order a free winter trip guide; Colorado Ski Country at 303/825-SNOW or for Colorado reports; or individual areas: Angel Fire--800/633-7463 x 3; Crested Butte--888/TO POWDER; Durango Mt. Resort: 800/525-0892, ext. 6; Enchanted Forest (XC)-800/966-9381; Monarch--800/228-7943; Pajarito--888/662-7669; Red River--505/754-2220; Sandia Peak--505/857-8977; Ski Santa Fe--505/983-9155; Sipapu--505/587-2240; Ski Apache--505/257-9001; Taos Ski Valley--505/776-2916; Telluride--970/728-7425; Wolf Creek--800/754-9653.

Daniel Gibson of Santa Fe ( is the author of four books, most recently Pueblos of the Rio Grande: A Visitors Guide (Rio Nuevo Publishers). His first day on "sliders" was 40 years ago.

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