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Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort:

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here



Purgatory ain’t what it used to be.  Not Dante’s purgatory, the place where sinners who prayed for forgiveness before they died abandon hope and labour to cleanse their sins so they don’t wind up in Hell.  That probably hasn’t changed.

But Purgatory, the fun-for-all ski hill in southwestern Colorado has changed… a lot.  For starters, it’s now Durango Mountain Resort.  The rebranding exercise didn’t take with locals who stubbornly refused to adopt the too-slick moniker.  So Purgatory hasn’t entirely left the building, it’s somewhere in the name, I just can’t remember whether it’s first or last. 

More importantly, changes of a more substantive nature are taking place at Purgatory.  The resort has recently launched a 20-year, $100 million makeover that’ll result in a new base lodge to bring together all the disparate bits of mountain operation — guest services, ski school, rental, tickets and such — that seem to be spread all over the base area, and, of course, more and better lodging and dining. 

Right now, it has mostly yielded a lot of construction and a bit of confusion, especially if you arrive after dark… in a snowstorm… without a clue where your hotel is... with a GPS unit that keeps telling you to turn left… onto a ski run. 

Purgatory packs more skiing into 1,200 acres than most places seem to squeeze out of twice that much terrain.  With 74% of the mountain rated beginner and intermediate — and a fair bit of the remaining ‘expert’ slopes leaning more toward high self-esteem blacks — the mountain is very user-friendly. 

What gives it a special sense of place is the breadth of its spread.  Bookended by zones containing most of the expert runs, the vast middle of the mountain sprawls over several aspects and takes the better part of a pleasant morning to traverse. 

After a start at the Village Express, a high-speed six-pack, my guide Cissy Anderson, an engaging, compact dynamo who retired to the area nine years ago because she and her husband loved the mountain, toured me on the paths less traveled.  That, on a busy day is part of Purgatory’s magic.  Narrow, meandering, heavily tree-bordered runs wind through beautiful corridors of perfectly groomed snow.  Every now and then, the viewscape opens up into the flat, expansive valley below where snowmobilers seemed to be playing an improvised game of tag with each other.

The treat, for a guy more or less addicted to bumps, was that while much of the middle of the mountain is taken up with green roads and spirited blue cruisers — check out Dead Spike, a long, fall-line run named Boogie and Harris Hill — black bumpy runs seem to be sprinkled across the long traverses and pop up just in time to make the final dash to the next lift a heart-thumping finale.

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