Purgatory refers to the Catholic concept of a place for temporary suffering before going on to Heaven. For skiers and snowboarders, the name conjures much more pleasant images.
High in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, Purgatory Resort was named after a nearby creek. The resort celebrated its 50th anniversary in the 2015-16 ski season.
Despite trail names fitting the theme such as Demon, Styx and Hades, Purgatory’s slopes are far from punishing for the most part. The rolls of the stair-step terrain make for fun intermediate skiing and boarding. All of the 1,360 skiable acres are below treeline, so don’t expect any wide-open bowls. Although the trail map is divided into a “Frontside” and “Backside,” the entire layout faces north along an east-to-west ridgeline.
With the resort’s base area on the east end, the runs generally get tougher as you head west. On the more challenging western edge, a new high-speed quad, the Legends Express Lift (Chair 8), replaced a fixed-grip triple for the 2015-16 season. The lift serves Purgatory’s best expert terrain, 125 acres of tree skiing in McCormack’s Maze and Hoody’s. Based in the Purgatory base village, San Juan Untracked offers backcountry snowcat skiing to experts looking for another way to up the challenge factor.
Not surprisingly given the rather tame terrain overall, families flock to Purgatory. The resort is particularly popular with visitors from Texas and Oklahoma. Around Easter, vacationing families from Mexico add an international flavor.
Families also like Purgatory’s prices. From slopeside condos to rental gear, everything tends to cost less compared to other Colorado destination resorts. The base area does have upscale accommodations in the Purgatory Lodge built in 2008. The lodging in the other base-area buildings could possibly have more dated furnishings, but it’s perfectly fine for families wanting the convenience of a ski-in, ski-out location. Plus, any of the resort’s lodging guests can still use the Purgatory Lodge’s luxurious heated pool and hot tub.
For families on an even stricter budget, staying in the town of Durango 30 minutes away is a good choice. Winter is considered the tourist off-season in town, so very inexpensive hotels and motels can be found. Some visitors may actually prefer to stay there, because of the town’s historic character and bounty of restaurants.
As the lack of crowds would suggest, Purgatory is a bit off the beaten path. However, United and American Airlines do fly into the Durango airport. Instead of Denver, Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the next best air travel option. The four-hour drive from Albuquerque through the high desert is much easier than the seven-hour mountainous drive from Denver.