Purgatory sounds like the perfect place to have a hell of a time, and that’s just what our roving super photographer Kirk Owers did. This out of the way Colorado gem offers plenty of great skiing for less than you pay elsewhere.
Folklore has it that Purgatory Resort is named after a local creek where hardy miners would post up while attempting to reach nearby Silverton. Those who couldn’t afford the 50 cent toll over the precipitous mountain pass and didn’t want to backtrack were jammed in an endless limbo.
Today Purgatory is a great place to get stuck. Fenced in by soaring peaks, alpine forest and untouched wilderness, it is achingly beautiful. You get a sense of the real Colorado around here. And that means mountains. Colorado is the highest state in the USA with 53 peaks above 14,000 feet (known as 14ers) and 30 of the highest major summits of the American Rockies.
Which doesn’t mean you need to rough it like the miners of old. Sipping a pre-dinner aperitif from the plush innards of an on-snow condo after a day of tearing up Purgatory Resort is one of the finer ways to soak up the state’s high altitude splendor.
The family-friendly resort has been voted America’s best value skiing for three years running by TripAdvisor and it strives to maintain that reputation. Kids under 12 ski for free and there’s dog- sledding, sleigh rides, and snow mobiling to keep the whole family entertained.
Which is lovely, but we didn’t come here for a sleigh ride. Perhaps sensing this, our concierge hooks us up with some local shredders and we’re soon getting our kicks. We ride tight tree lines through heavy powder all morning, drop a few heart-pumping cliffs before hitting the groomers and park all afternoon.
The lesson? Family resorts aren’t just for families. In fact, Purgatory would be a mouth-watering proposition after a big dump all the more so because many of its visitors would be building snowmen or cursing softly while searching for missing gloves.
Carved by glaciers thousands of years ago, Purgatory is a blend of steep tree skiing trails and wide-open cruisers with stunning views. Averaging 260 inches of snow annually, Purgatory is known for consistent, dry powder from frequent storms, followed by sunny, bluebird days, which creates perfect conditions for pure alpine nirvana. Off the lifts there’s a decent 1,605 acres of skiable terrain, with 99 trails and 7 terrain parks over a vertical drop of 2,029 feet – about Thredbo or Mt Hutt size, and you can ski it all hugging the fall-line.
Purgatory has at least two other drawcards. It’s near Durango, a substantial college town that knows how to party. Even better, it recently acquired Colordao’s largest cat skiing operation.
Purgatory Snowcat Adventures
This is something else! Purgatory Snowcat Adventures can access some 35,000 acres of trackless terrain in the San Juans. With no new snow overnight and a bluebird day forecast we sign up and are soon getting a feel for what two weeks of snow feels like underfoot: incredible.
While the runs aren’t overly steep we discover that speed is a reliable enhancer and that tree stumps pillowed under six feet of fluff make for perfect launch pads.
Evening finds us celebrating into the night in Durango.
Colorado is beaming brightly out the window next morning when we hit the road. The drive from Purgatory to Ouray, part of the San Juan Skyway, is one of the most scenic in the country, and a great hangover cure. We crest three vertiginous, mountain passes each delivering a more remarkable vista and requiring another photo stop.
Off the highway the only sign of human life are crisp ski tracks snaking down enormous mountain faces.
Purgatory Snowcat Adventures offers a full day of powder-filled skiing or snowboarding in the San Juan backcountry. The package includes avalanche gear, lunch and drinks, highly trained guides, and 500-2,500 feet runs on light, untracked powder. Skiers must be comfortable in deep powder and tight trees. Early season rates go from $300 Single Seats (there’s a 5 client minimum for it to operate) to $3,000 for Private Cats (up to 12 people). More info on the link here.
Accommodation at Purgatory
Purgatory has plenty of on-mountain options, including ski in/ski out, or Durango 27 miles.
Getting to Purgatory
Purgatory is only 43 miles north of Durango-La Plata airport, with daily flights on American from Dallas & Pheonix, or from Denver on United.
Or it’s 241 miles/4 hours drive from Albuquerque, or 378 miles/6.5 hours drive from Denver.
Durango area attractions
Durango is perfectly situated to explore some spectacular scenic, cultural and historic sites in this mulit-cultural south west corner of Colorado. From the amazing structures of the Pueblo culture to the historic Durango-Silverton narrow gauge steam train, there are plenty of detours for downdays. Their justifiable tagline is “A dozen vacations in one destination”. Check more on the link here.