#TravelTuesday: Snow Much Fun in Purgatory

by Autumn Rhea Carpenter on February 14, 2017 in Travels,
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My skiing background spans back to the footloose 1980s, before skiers wore helmets, the neon jackets and pants were blindingly brighter than the snow and the more dare devilish stunts performed, the better. I would casually join a group of friends at the top of a mountain and barely notice the signs warning that the trail was geared toward expert, black diamond skiers. Let’s just say that I became a blue skier with many ridiculous stories to tell without ever taking a lesson. Fast forward a couple decades to the village town of Durango, located in southwestern Colorado and Purgatory Resort (who celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016) with my family (husband and two sons) in tow, and well, times change. Not only was it our first time to visit Durango it was our first family ski trip. We were in for an adventure.

Durango Mountain Resort in Purgatory, Colorado
Durango Mountain Resort. Photos courtesy of Purgatory Resort

We stayed at Purgatory Resort in the Purgatory Village, mere feet from the ski lifts, restaurants and shops.  While the two-bedroom condo reminded me of those 1980s ski trips in terms of décor and style, its location was convenient and offered all the necessary amenities. Stepping out on the balcony offered us nonstop spectacular views.

Since we opted for snowboards and my last board experience almost involved a visit by the ski patrol, our family covered every inch of exposed skin from the elements and tromped down to class, ready to master the art of snowboarding on day one. Our sons joined the kids group lesson class (ages range from 4-17 years old) and after learning the numerous safety precautions and rules, hopped on a bus for a day spent at Purgatory’s Snow Sports School. The students can learn a variety of skills including alpine skiing, snowboarding, Telemark skiing (a technique that combines both Alpine and Nordic skiing) and snow bikes and participants are grouped by ability level.

Two skiers on a slope in Purgatory, ColoradoMy husband and I met our private instructor Jake Ferrari. Ferrari is certified through the Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors, has been teaching at the resort for the past 16 years and has a level three certification.

“I teach people to snowboard because I love to see them succeed and for the joy that an accomplishment can bring them,” said Ferrari.  “The hardest thing to teach a person is how to change who they are as a snowboarder and how they ride so that we can strive to be a little bit more efficient and still have fun riding.”

Ferrari explained how the higher altitude would affect our breathing abilities because the air contains less oxygen in Colorado. By the end of the two-hour lesson, we understood the basics, such as how to turn toeside and heelside, as well as a bunch of snow boarder terminology. At the end of our sons’ lessons, they were flying down the slopes, looking like skilled pros. It was a proud moment, watching them hop on the ski lift together, waving as they reached the top. We weren’t quite there yet, but loved the copious amount of snow (powder) that fell throughout our visit.

snowshoejh8b0108Walking a mile uphill in the snow might sound like an ancient reference to how life was harder back in the day, but trust me, the reference holds meaning. We met our snowshoe tour guide Garth Schultheis, who has lived in Durango for 22 years and been a volunteer guide at the mountain for the past four years, and prepared to hike Purgatory’s San Juan National Forest Mountains, along the timberline. We were fitted for snowshoes, which fit over the snow boot and keep the foot from sinking into the snow, and are made out of metal, plastic and synthetic fabric. Traditional snowshoes were made of wood with rawhide lacing, but we learned that they are fashioned after the snowshoe hare and were able to see their tracks on our walk.

“We typically don’t see bigger animals on the tours, but often find tracks of coyote, bobcat, lynx, snowshoe hare, weasels and pine martin birds,” said Schultheis. “I saw bear tracks once when it was too warm and the bear must have woken up from hibernation for a bit. That’s why I always tell the tour what to do in case a mountain lion or bear attacks.”

Schultheis also explained that the Spanish first explored Purgatory and lost a man in the river.  The river was named Los Animas, river of lost souls. His history lesson also included Purgatory Creek and Purgatory Resort, and he pointed out the different mountain peaks and ranges. Our mile hike was enjoyable, and our youngest son kept us entertained by falling in the snow every few feet to make snow angels. It was definitely a workout, despite its dainty-sounding name.

durango-dog-ranch-at-purgatory-resortThe Durango Dog Ranch was one of the highlights of the trip. The owners, Greg and Gretchen Dubit and their team, (who have been running their company for the past 20 years) explained the dogs’ backgrounds and the history of the sport. We were whisked away on two separate sleds with our sons holding the reins of seven Siberian, Alaskan and mixed breed dogs who were absolutely thrilled to be there. While the traveled along the Old Flume Trail, the trainers called Scottish commands  to the dogs, such as ‘gee’ for turn right and ‘haw’ for turn left. The pups pulled us along at a quick pace, past the stunning views of Needles and Engineer Mountains. When our ride ended, the team served us hot cocoa and there was plenty of time to pet the dogs and learn more about this longstanding tradition.

We packed a lot of adventure into our three-day visit. Other activities available that the resort offers include horse-drawn sleigh rides, snowmobile rides, Snowcat dinners and tours, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, ice climbing, an oxygen bar and tubing.

apres-ski-credit-scott-dw-smithWith several restaurants and bars located on the village base, there are a variety of culinary choices. We spent most of our meals at the family-friendly Paradise Pizzeria and Creamery, inhaling the artisan pizza, hot toddies and hot chocolate. Other eateries include Purgy’s Slopeside Restaurant, Hoody’s, Creekside Restaurant, the Bear Bar & Grille, Hoody’s Basecamp Lodge, Elevation Station, Powderhouse and Pitchfork Pub, Dante’s and the Backside Bistro.

This family trip was a success: we saw snow after a six-year hiatus, learned to stop a snowboard without breaking a bone and sampled some of the tastiest pizza I dare say, ever.