Southern Comfort: Durango

Updated amenities and a revived spirit can’t take away this mountain’s old soul.
Durango Slopes

At this very moment, at a handful of swanky base villages in Colorado’s upper half, members of skidom’s upper crust are de-booting, unzipping their designer jackets and settling into triple-digit bar tabs. Meanwhile, a little farther south of I-70 and even further south of pretension, I’m lounging in a plastic picnic chair on Durango’s snow beach, where the ski runs funnel into an après-ski bottleneck called Purgy’s. A PBR in one hand, chili cheese fries in the other, I revel in the sunshine and the fact that fur-trimmed haute couture is the exception here, not the rule. In Durango, comfort is always the best fit. To be fair, Durango Mountain Resort—formerly Purgatory—has matured from the days when Bogner suits were derided at this once local’s-only ski hill, built in 1965. Purgatory Lodge is the emblem of a renaissance that includes seven major developments and a revitalized base area. Those seeking luxury and exclusivity can now privately dine and drink in a PBR-free zone behind the glass-encased Durango Mountain Club, perched above the new swimming pool, waterslide and spa just a few steps from the main lift. On the mountain they’ll find speedy lifts, four terrain parks, and more than 165 new acres of experts-only terrain. And new this season is the Purgatory Plunge, a year-round zipline that plummets from Purgatory Tower, 70 feet above the base area, and travels over Purgy’s beach. DMR is, of course, still focused on families and first-time skiers. Last year it added another surface lift to the beginner area, and the Creekside Italian Kitchen now offers family-friendly entertainment, movies and games. The town of Durango boasts more restaurants per capita than San Francisco. You could say Durango has finally, legitimately arrived. But that’s not to say the place—or this longtime local—has lost its sense of self. A faster lift now whisks me to the same destination I favored when my 1990s-vintage Langes were new. At the top, I gaze upon unfailing friends, the incomparable Needles peaks. The view may be the chief reason Durango is my favorite place to ski. Styx waits to my far right. It’s a little tricky to get to, and if I see anyone else on this 1,800-foot top-to-bottom descent I’ll later complain it was crowded. Off the first pitch, I always find fresh tracks. Styx reveals itself one steep terrace step at a time. There’s a cliff I still like to jump on the way down, and a nearly perfect bump line. When I reach the bottom and stand again in front of the revived Purgy’s, I think about my times bartending there before its face-lift. A coworker put “Purgy” on his name tag. When people asked him about it, he’d respond, “When I got here, I thought, ‘This place has my name written all over it,’ so I decided to stay.” That’s just how it is here: If it fits, it fits really well. ●