The Ski Mountain
Durango Mountain Resort (where the chairlift-operated runs are still referred to as Purgatory by locals), with its wealth of intermediate skiing, strong children’s ski school and affordable pricing, has well earned its standing as a warm and friendly bring-the-kids and learn-to-ski mountain. The 1,360-acre ski area is unique in that it has terraced terrain – it’s the way the glacier carved the mountain – creating a signature roller coaster, staircase-like fall line. The resort is 25 miles from the spirited college town of Durango, a historic 1880s railroad settlement in the southwestern corner of the state. Its proximity to the four corners in the heart of the wild west, combined with more sunny days than any other Colorado resort, makes Durango ideal for those who prefer to ski in a cowboy hat rather than a beanie.
The Mountain Experience
Durango Mountain Resort is a more low-key, hometown ski area than nearby Telluride. Since the town of Durango stakes claim to the resort as its home mountain, and the place is so user-friendly, don’t be surprised if your chairlift companions are local kids getting some runs in together after school. The character of the ski area is made fun and playful by the unique terraced terrain, which is a welcome feature for those who like to take breathers and those who like to boost a little air, where permitted. Travel time is a factor to consider here, with Durango being two hours driving distance closer to Albuquerque than to Denver. But if that works for you, the payback is always smaller crowds. And for flights in, there’s nearby Durango – La Plata County Airport.
Durango Ski Terrain
• Beginner: At the most family-friendly hill among southwest Colorado’s ski areas, novices enjoy the welcoming Columbine learning area at the mountain base. This first-timer terrain is secluded to a zone without cross traffic from advanced runs. Nearby, a web of easy trails wind through the woods, including Pinkerton Toll Road and Columbine. These all funnel into one chairlift, the Twilight Double Chair, so no one ever feels lost. If there’s any place to feel confident letting kids ski on their own, this is it.
Current Snow Conditions
• Intermediate: With intermediate runs covering forty-five percent of the mountain, it’s easy to find rolling groomers and padded banks along the stair-stepping terrain. Intermediate skiers will ski the front side, including the signature run Dead Spike, and then head to the backside where runs are blue and black (no green), and the powder stacks up.
• Advanced: Durango can be a fun and challenging with pitches that are short and fast-moving, though not super-long. At a lower altitude than most Colorado resorts, (the entirety of the 10,882 foot mountain is below treeline), so no rocky wind-whipped chutes or epic long-lasting descents here. For mogul skiing, Styx on the front side is a classic. In addition to steep and bumpy drop-ins, Paul’s Park offers a great example of what locals call minimalistic glade skiing, where there isn’t a defined way in or out of the caked powder terrain; you’re simply on your own.
• Terrain Parks: Five parks include the new Pinkerton Starter Park, Animas City Adventure Park, the DC park (stands for Divine Comedy) and Paradise Freestyle Arena. The halfpipe is at Pitchfork.
Durango is one of Colorado’s surest bets when the snow starts to fall in November and December. When other resorts are waiting for storms to fill in their rocky crevices, Durango’s gentle terrain usually provides smooth rides on a good coverage early season base layer. By late January and early February, the conditions are primed for snow snobs (average annual snowfall is 21-plus feet). Keep on alert for traverses that can hinder even a good skier, particularly the BD&M Expressway run connecting the front and backsides of the ski area. The breathtaking deck views and tasty bites at Dante’s Backside Bistro make reaching the backside worth the extra effort.
Unlike other Colorado ski towns where accommodations and restaurants hug the base of the ski area, there are 25 miles between skiers’ last run of the day and downtown Durango, where plenty of people don’t even ski or snowboard. There are more restaurants per capita than San Francisco, so you’re in luck there, especially if you like Mexican food. Try Francisco’s, followed by a whiskey on the rocks at the famous El Rancho Tavern.
Once a frontier mining town, now an outdoor sports paradise with plenty to do after dark.
Options range from condos at the base of the ski area to more affordable motels in town, 25 miles away from the slopes. Use the Ski Lodging Deals box above and right to find Colorado’s best Lodging choices and deals.
Skiing with Kids
The size and layout make it difficult to get lost at Durango. Many parents turn kids loose on the mountain knowing they’ll eventually make it back to the base area. Durango is priced reasonably, which is another reason families love it. A lot of attention is paid to the learning area, with a magic carpet, parent viewing area and relaxed family ski zone.
Lift Tickets and Season Pass Cost*
Lift Tickets (pre-purchase online): Adult TBD; Child TBD; Senior TBD; (PURCHASE NOW) Season Pass: Adult $919; Child $359; Senior $609 Other Passes: Special Deals: Pass includes 3 days skiing at Powderhorn, Loveland, or Monarch (blackout dates Dec. 27-31, 2012) and half price tickets at Crested Butte (blackout dates apply) *prices reflect our best effort to gather from resort published information. LINK.
By Dana Nichols