Purgatory Heats Up


Triple-s threat: killer scenery, sunshine and snow. © Photo by Chris Duthie

For the moment, we’ve switched off the jets in the rooftop Jacuzzi—the swirling bubbles are soothing our powder-burned muscles, but the motorized hum isn’t compatible with the incomparable view. Before us, burning with alpenglow, stand the Needles Mountains, a picture-perfect backdrop for the recently opened Purgatory Lodge at  Durango Mountain Resort. Here at 8,800 feet, at the snow-laden apex of the new day lodge where our Jacuzzi sits, the overlook is spectacular but often overlooked.

Purgatory is a best-kept secret. © Photo by Chris Duthie

Since 1965, Purgatory has anchored the Colorado ski industry’s southern flanks. Out of the way and out of the headlines, it has kept a low profile, which is exactly how Purgatory loyalists—myself included—have liked it. Quite shamelessly, we’ve embarked on a campaign of disinformation. We’ve trivialized the resort’s no-wait lift lines,  superb weather and incredible snow. We’ve minimized the extraordinary scenery, rebuked the folksy base facilities and—in brazen acts of selfishness—given bad directions to midnight-arrival ski buses, steering them toward Telluride or Taos. Not that our efforts have ever dissuaded anyone, mind you. Somehow, the facts have gotten out: Purgatory’s vertical exceeds 2,000 feet, the annual powder tally averages 260 inches, and the resort is a haven for beginners and intermediates who can cruise fully three-quarters of the mountain’s 1,200 skiable acres.

And now Purgatory is enticing more newcomers with a $100 million revitalization project designed to make the most of the resort’s land—and landscape. The historic but outmoded Purgy’s Restaurant is gone, replaced by a redesigned facility comfortably ensconced within the redeveloped Purgatory Village complex. The aforementioned Purgatory Lodge complements the natural surroundings and the existing Village Center condo/retail complex with a stone-and-timber facade, luxe lodging, fitness center, full-service spa, pool, club lounge, ski valet, shops, tricked-out kids club, and that panorama of snow-capped mountains in the distance. Plans call for an outdoor amphitheater to host concerts and other events.

Bring the entire family to Purgatory. © Photo by Chris Duthie

But the village is the icing on the cake. Purgatory’s appeal lies squarely on its hidden glades, aspen- and pine-punctuated trails, wide-open groomers, quad-burning mogul fields and binding-cranking steeps. The mountain’s front side is noted for its plethora of blues and greens—Upper Hades, West Fork and Limbo are  favorites—and several smile-inducing blacks, such as Styx, Lower Hades, Pandemonium and Catharsis. On the “back side”—actually a left-to-right expansion of the saddleback mountain—the terrain teems with drop-dead-gorgeous views of Spud Mountain and the Needles range, plus a smorgasbord of cruisers: the blue and beautiful Dead Spike is exquisite, but you can test your technique with a romp down double-diamond  Bull Run. Skiing to Chair 8 opens up the advanced-ability Legends area and the vaunted, pulse-quickening bliss of Chet’s, Paul’s Park, Blackburn’s Bash and Elliott’s, all named for longtime employees of the resort.

Powder-induced smiles abound. © Photo by Chris Duthie

The immaculately groomed terrain parks, Paradise Freestyle Arena and Pitchfork Terrain Garden, are located topside to take advantage of late-afternoon rays. The former’s big jumps and long rails suit intermediates and experts, while the latter offers a fun box and a 260-foot half pipe that will electrify any ability level. Then it’s fast tracks to the base and its enlarged après “beach” area of chair-planted sun worshippers and people-watching revelers who liberally partake of both the micro-brews and the tales of derring-do. Afterward, the revamped Purgy’s Restaurant—constructed with material salvaged from the old building, including its famous bar—sates guests with hearty dinner fare.

Once you go, don’t be surprised if, like me, you find yourself shamelessly underselling this growing Southwest Colorado hotspot—and its fantastic blue-sky weather, breathtaking scenery and world-class conditions—in the hopes of keeping it all for yourself.

Just say the devil made you do it. [TAP]

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