Thursday, March 15, 2018

Tips and Tales from Telluride

The San Joaquin Couloir, one of 'Telluride's gnarliest chutes - ski instructor Vince Boelema's favourite tipple on his day off!
Possibly the most talked about secret resort in the US, Telluride has been calling me for decades. But like many skiers, I tried the more accessible resorts first, opting for direct flights and short transfers. But this season I finally capitulated to the compelling call in late Jan, persuaded by a new direct American Airlines flight to Montrose from Charlotte, my nearest hub airport.
Bon Vivant, Telluride 
Bon Vivant, Telluride 
Now, we all know it had been a slow snow season for the whole of Colorado, so I limited my expectations in terms of terrain. But, even with only 60 percent of trails open, I still fell in love with Telski from the minute I jumped into my valet-parked skis outside The Peaks Resort and sped off to Frenchified Bon Vivant to meet an old friend I hadn’t skied with for 20 years. En route, my heart sang ‘I’m in Telluride!” as the light wind chafed the chairlifts and the blazing sunshine magnified the mélange of magnificent mountains encircling the ski area. Part of the Rockies, the San Juans are unique in cornering the mountain market in geological variety: think needles, spires, peaks, mesas, tundra, sedimentary and volcanic rock, and the highest concentration of 13,000 and 14,000 foot peaks in the USA. Even the most hackneyed high-altitude inhabitant would be wowed!

I’ll be writing extensively about this authentic and unspoilt ski area over the coming months, but here are a few tips and tales from my Telluride trip to get you hooked:

Tip: Buy the Epic Pass in March for next season, to get privileges at 46 resorts (In Europe, Colorado, Canada, Utah, Tahoe, Vermont, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Australia) including seven days of free skiing with no blackout dates at Telluride. Announced on Jan 29, Telluride is the first US resort to join the Epic Pass that is not owned or run by Vail Resorts, so a major move in the game of mountain Monopoly being played out by Alterra and Vail Resorts. Telluride is excited to join the Epic Pass and a collection of world-class mountain resorts that skiers and snowboarders around the world come back to time and again,” said Bill Jensen, CEO of Telluride Ski & Golf. “This new season pass alliance is more comprehensive and longer term than prior pass alliances and will provide an incredible benefit for both Telluride guests and our resort community. Epic Pass skiers and snowboarders thrive on new, unique one-of-a-kind adventures. We offer an extraordinary big mountain experience, signature hospitality and guest service, and an authentic, welcoming mountain town surrounded by stunning scenery.”
Telluride's free gondola station, linking historic downtown to Mountain Village
Tale: It’s not worth trying to beat the system and ride the free gondola from downtown for a sneaky run. I saw one older gentleman in rather obvious ski regalia attempting to dodge the lifty at the top. No chance! He had to put his skis back on and ride the gondola of shame back down!

The latest non-stop flights to Telluride from all over the USA
Tip: Get to Telluride quicker with American Airlines direct routes to Montrose Airport (from Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Newark, Atlanta, Chicago and Charlotte) followed by a scintillatingly scenic 90min bus ride.

Chris Branch (left) and Tony Plampton (right) at Bon Vivant, Telluride 
Tale: If you’re from Arizona and love driving, Telluride is less than eight hours from Scottsdale. Tony Plampton did the drive in January and really enjoyed the easy journey. “It was only the last half hour or so that was more difficult due to winding mountain roads,” he told me. “Well worth doing as you can just throw everything in the car and not worry about luggage allowances. And by the time you factor in getting to an airport in advance, waiting around for takeoff, getting luggage and then waiting for a shuttle or rental car, it is probably about the same timing.” There’s considerable rubber tire traffic coming into Telluride each winter from Texas, Arizona and other parts of Colorado. But once they are there, they park up for the duration of their stay due to the thoughtfully linked lift and bus service. 
View over Town of Telluride - courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort

Skiing down into the town of Telluride is a bit of a
surreal vertiginous experience!
Tip: If you fly in, get the Telluride Express Shuttle from Montrose Airport – you will NOT need a car once in the resort! The Mountain Village is connected to the 19th century mining town of Telluride by free Euro-style gondola and it is an enchanting experience to descend through the star-spangled darkness into the beautiful box canyon where downtown Telluride has snuggled in the shade of the Bridal Veil Falls (the longest free-falling waterfall in CO) since 1878 when miners discovered gold and other valuable minerals.
View from gondola over downtown Telluride - courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort
Tip: Get Ski Butlers to home or hotel deliver your skis and any other rentals. I arranged an 11:30am delivery, arrived at The Peaks at 11:26 and Dessa from Telluride Ski Butlers was there within 2 minutes with all my equipment. By 12 I was on my way on the chairlift to meet friends at Bon Vivant for mouthwatering mid-mountain munchies.

Dessa from Ski Butlers Telluride fitting my Rossignol rentals in the ski valet area at The Peaks
Telluride - courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort
Tale: Telluride’s savvy CEO, Bill Jensen is intent on filling beds and enhancing the experience for the resort’s current capacity - but not in diluting the skiing by developing the resort’s accommodation any further. “Our assets are incredible terrain, an incredibly beautiful part of America, and beds – my job is how do we fill them up in winter and in summer,” he told me over breakfast buffet at The Peaks. As a 10 percent partner in Telski, he has not only realized but over-reached an ambition from age 21 after his parents gave him the news that he was moving out. Having recently graduated from college, he had no career plans but saw a personnel office at Mammoth and decided to enquire. “I said do you guys have jobs? Could I get one? And they said yes,” Bill recounted. “Mark Twain said that the two best days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. I said to myself at Mammoth I want to run a ski resort by the time I am 40.” He's run quite a few since then!
CEO and partner, Bill Jensen - courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort

Martha Lenihan at The Peaks, Ski Host for Telluride
Tip: Stay at The Peaks Resort & Spa in Mountain Village (built in 1987) for instant downhill ski in/out access to the slopes (no ponderous poling to a lift), sensational ski valet service, a yellow-jacketed mountain host on hand for daily orientation, spacious and substantial modern rooms, five-star service, sunset-soaking outdoor pool and hot tubs, ski fitness classes, vast breakfast banquets and double nightly happy hours (2pm-6pm and 7:30pm-9pm) in Altezza Restaurant, overlooking the panoramic Palmyra peaks.
The ultimate White Winter Wedding at Telluride - courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort
Rudy and Linda, married 27 years after meeting at
Tale: Rudy Sharp is a long-term Tellurider, having fallen in love with the resort and his wife there 27 years ago. Now VP of Hospitality for The Peaks Resort & Spa, he sees a lot of romance at the resort: “There’s a big wedding business here, with almost limitless venues for summer and also winter. It’s odd seeing people in short-sleeved white dresses when it is 20 degrees and snowing.” With around 30 winter weddings each season, one recent bride was desperate for a big dump of snow for the ceremony. She was lucky, as 17 inches fell that day (Jan 20). “You would think with all the things I run, I would get stressed but I don’t,” says Rudy. “If I look out there, I feel humble. I’ll be gone soon and that guy, ‘Mr. Wilson’ there, will still be here.” He added that around 80 percent of summer climbers who ascend Wilson Peak take a can of Coors with them for iconic photo opps. The Peaks is 'a four-season story', he said, with ski in/out in winter and tee in/out in summer. The ski valet/rental area transforms into a golf valet and the ski shop shifts into golfing gear. So, basically, when you ski down to Lift 1 each morning, you are skiing right over the first tee. I haven't ever seen a golf course quite so close to a ski hotel!
Wintry wedding at Telluride - courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort
Dr Kim Hewson, Telluride
Tip: Unique to Telluride, try Dr. Kim Hewson’s Biomechanics Ski Camp to learn techniques only available to ski instructor professionals until now. Find out, from an Orthopedic Surgeon and veteran ski instructor, how to improve ski stance, maximize performance while minimizing effort, and creating careful skiing longevity without injury. For every age group, intermediate and above, the Biomechanics Camp focuses on body awareness, understanding your own unique anatomy and body movement in relation to efficient skiing techniques. The biomechanic progression starts in the feet and follows with a natural postural response in the legs and upper body. Intrigued? Book now for next season as the camp fills up quickly.

Chris Branch (left) learning the lie of the land with Dr Simon Hudson, author of Winter Sport Tourism, who
was researching for a blog on Telluride

Instructor Vince at work
Tale: Don’t expect to be satisfied with one visit to Telluride – most people come, fall in love, and add it to their regular ski circuit. Chris Branch, Oscar-winning producer of The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, visited in January on a boys’ driving jaunt from Scottsdale to stake it out for future family trips: “It’s an amazing resort. I don’t think as a family we’ll ever ski anywhere else.” He also loved our day-long lesson with New Zealand ski instructor, Vince Boelema: “The classic Kiwi that you meet in London, all cricket and rugby – a great character straight out of central casting,” quipped Chris, staying in character himself!

Tip: Although Telluride has all the attributes and activities of a world-class ski resort, it is not about fur coats and matching dogs, but more a question of having the right skis for the day ahead. 

Tale: On pow days, Lift 8 has a unique etiquette, according to Vince: Locals know to arrive early, park their skis in the lift line and then go for a coffee until chair opening time, in the happy knowledge that no-one will buck the system. Goodness knows what happens if a European turns up without being briefed!!

Telluride Ski Instructor, Vince Boelema 
Tip: Unlike most resorts, you are welcome to visit the Ski Patrol huts dotted around the slopes. There are t-shirts for sale, raising money for the avi dog service and the dogs themselves love to be petted by passersby.

Helitrax Telluride
Tale: My first time at Telluride and I was totally awestruck by the sheer variety of the encircling San Juan Mountains - and remember I have been skiing since 1973 at resorts all over the world! A serendipitous 17-inch dump at the weekend had set the scene for widespread wintry whiteness and, with a second 2-inch layer, helped open up lifts 12 and 14 for the first time this season during my four-day foray in January. I was also lucky enough to go on a heady helicopter ride to get an eagle's perspective of the area. By the way, for those on a sightseeing heli jaunt or heli ski trip, the Telluride Helitrax pilot picks you up right outside The Peaks

Tip: Ski Telluride’s corduroy carver, See Forever (a popular hike in summer). It is named for the 100 miles of shimmery vista visibility stretching as far as Utah’s La Sal Mountains on a clear day. Groomed every day, you can access it from Lifts 6,9,14 and 14, overseen by iconic Wilson Peak (of Coors beer fame).

I also bumped into Joe Basta from the Thunderbird Ski Club at High Camp, another charismatic cabin on the mountain
Giuseppe's Telluride
Tale: While sipping hot choc and munching on a macadamia cookie at New Orleans-inspired Giuseppe’s, I happened upon a group from the Thunderbird Ski Club (named for its affiliation with Ford Motor Co rather than the cartoon TV series!) “There are 37 of us staying at Mountain Village,” 70-year-old skier, Joe Basta told me. “I’m having a great time. This wide open terrain is ideal for me and it’s neat how they are using snowguns to make these big piles of snow and then move it around where it’s needed.” As well as eating at the cute mountain cabin favoured by locals and ski instructors, the group was also enjoying discovering downtown: “There’s so much charm that many ski towns just don’t have,” Joe said. “It’s not too posh and glitzy. And the Historic Bar at the Sheridan is a really classy place.”

Allreds mid-mountain dining at Telluride 
Tip: Plan some on-mountain dining. Try the gondola ride to Allreds for après ski from 5pm or, later, contemporary American cuisine, fancy cocktails and top wines in a grand and glamorous setting – I recommend the potato croutons and the sticky toffee pudding if you're craving carbs. 

Snowcat dinner at Alpino Vino, Telluride - courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort
And the snowcat excursion to Alpino Vino, right at the pinnacle is a must. At 11,966ft it is North America’s highest fine-dining, featuring European-themed snowcat-accessed dinners with whimsical wine pairings. Jump in the snowcat first so you can bag best seats: Facing uphill the same way as the driver going up and facing uphill, with your back to the driver, on the way down. This will ensure you won’t have to brace yourself to keep from slipping off the seats the whole way! Greeted with champagne on the patio, it is an evening of cute cabin culinary finesse, with professional sommeliers recounting the stories behind the hut, the Northern Italian food, and the wonderful wines, many exclusive new arrivals from Portugal. It’s also open 11-3:30 for leisurely lunch and libations.

New Sheridan Hotel - courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort
Tip: Although there are lots of restaurants and great après ski on-mountain, and it’s tempting to languish in the sunset-viewing hot tub at The Peaks, make sure to check out the Wild West wonders of downtown. The gondola, celebrating 20 years of operation this season, is the gateway to cowboy culture clustered around the Historic Bar at the New Sheridan Hotel: think long beer-sliding bar, old wood paneling, pressed-tin ceilings and Victorian mirrors. While modern development has made Mountain Village into a mini Whistler, downtown has been able to stay unscathed, with even the most minor renovation around Colorado Avenue subject to strict local ordinances.

Daniel Davenport at The New SheridanChop HouseTelluride 
Tale:The New Sheridan Chop House is my favourite restaurant,” said ski instructor Vince as we sailed up The Plunge chairlift after a teaching tour of the mountain. “It’s where I go when I take my better half out to dinner.” And he was right to recommend the four-fromage mac cheese to go with the succulent beef and elk – I also added the truffle fries. Try and get Daniel Davenport as your waiter – he’s polished and professional with a prolific memory for ingredients, but, best of all, a personality.

Tip: When exploring the historic downtown, turn left at the gondola station and explore the residential district (most people turn right). The houses are as cute as those in Charleston, SC and eventually you will come upon There Bar, a lively locals’ cocktail hangout specializing in the trendiest tapas with Asian overtones – menus tied with ribbons - and a ‘blacklist’ of decadent drinks. The décor is funky, too, with the ritziest restrooms. Make an arrangement to meet someone (preferably in the know), so you can legitimately say “I’ll meet you there” without specifying the location. Get the grapefruit martini, curried mussels and patatas bravas. 
Playful menus at There Bar, Telluride
Tale: This remote canyon deep in the San Juans in Southwestern Colorado has attracted camera-shy celebs like Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise to buy and build homes in the area and many film producers to shoot movies there. “When they were filming Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, the actors and crew were all stuck in town waiting for the right weather window,” said Vince, who incidentally has been instructing at Telluride for 20 winters. “It was amazing to see Kurt Russell or Samuel L. Jackson just hanging out in bars and restaurants around town and not really being bothered by anyone.” Other films shot in and around town include Christopher Nolan's The Prestige (2006), Scrapple (1998), Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979); and True Grit (1969).

Tip: If you’re lucky enough to score a bottle of Telluride red when shopping downtown, transport it home safely by putting it in your ski boot and stuffing socks around the top – trust me, it will survive the plane!

Great room into Altezza Bar at The Peaks Resort & Spa, Telluride
Tale: Mindful skiing has reached Telski. Level 3 instructor in alpine, Nordic and telemark and supervisor of training at the Telluride Ski School, Deb Willits is an advocate of mindful meditation. “By being able to have almost laser focus on my students and their feelings, a side effect is great relationships and success as an instructor/trainer,” she told me over a glass of Happy Hour Prosecco at Altezza. “If an instructor has the ability to quiet their self-talk it allows them to be aware of all the elements of the environment including the weather - windy, snowy, low visibility or sunny – temperature, cold or comfortable, snow conditions (hardpacked, powdery, deep powder, cold snow, icy), ability and feelings of your student, others on the hill and of your own intuition about them. Putting all that gathered information together allows the instructor to make a decision of where on the mountain to go that would be the most helpful and safe, physically and emotionally, what information to give the student and how to present the information to them so it is received the best. This allows for a true connection between the instructor and the student as people.” She gets lots of repeat customers and that day had been teaching three returnees from North Carolina. Maybe they caught the same direct flight as me?
Skiing into downtown Telluride

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Finding a Paradise in Purgatory

The pain and the passion at Purgatory
Daunting name and didn't know much about Purgatory before we arrived, but oh what a perfect Paradise we found! 

Me 'suffering' in Purgatory 
We skied on Locals’ Day (Jan 21) which coincided with their first huge dump of the season – it started around 3pm on Jan 20 and was still snowing when we woke next morning. The first hour was not the big bundle of locals vying for first tracks that we expected - turned out they were gradually infiltrating the resort from a long snaky line of traffic down the hill. After an hour pounding the pow on our own, there followed a frivolous frolic the rest of the morning with local expert, Chip Vogel who was on his 39th season as ski instructor there. Of course, we were hell-bent on seeing runs called Nirvana, Heaven Can Wait, El Diablo, Demon, Hades, Styx, Pandemonium, Limbo, Catharsis, aptly named terrain parks such as Paradise, Pitchfork and Divine Comedy and Dante's mountain restaurant but there were other more typical names commemorating local personalities around the Legends chairflift. By the way, the name Purgatory was not some devilish prank intended to make the resort infamous: it came from Purgatory Creek which runs down the mountain and was probably chosen by pioneering Spanish Catholic conquistadors. If only they had skied, they wouldn't have found it such punishment!
Purgatory - credit Scott DW Smith
But first things first. We arrived at Montrose Airport on a direct flight from Charlotte to clear weather. But it wasn't far along the two-hour double black diamond journey to Purgatory that the hellish snowstorm started - our route the tortuous, winding, ear-popping, switch-back Million Dollar Highway (US Highway 550) that cost $1million per mile due to the treacherous topography through Red Mountain Pass - incidentally, one of the USA's Top Ten scenic highways (when you can see it). Luckily for us, we had been tipped off that this route is not relaxing in a tempest and so we had booked a seasoned driver with Telluride Express to navigate the hair-raising hairpin bends and narrow roads with vertiginous canyon drop-offs! Highly recommend this rugged route on a clear winter's day, in spring, summer or fall - it wends through the most spectacular San Juan scenery and the historic hotsprings and mining town of Ouray, perched on the mountainside, is utterly gorgeous. The clouds lifted momentarily to show us an ice climbing competition going on when we went through Ouray and the festival-feeling made us want to stay overnight. But the promise of powder at Purgatory persuaded us to push on. 

Purgatory Village - credit Scott DW Smith
We arrived at the Purgatory Lodge slightly ahead of the snow which, an hour later, proceeded to pound Purgatory all night (yippee!) Our suite was straight out of The High Chaparral with the best native American clothing, weapons, and artifacts I've ever seen outside of a museum, scattered around the Southwestern-themed rooms with amazing woven rugs and wall-hangings. 

You don't know how hard I had to resist trying to take down the Southern Ute outfits off the wall to try on!! 

Durango Mountain Club, Purgatory Resort - credit Scott DW Smith
Durango Mountain Club, Purgatory Resort
credit Scott DW Smith
Perks with the lodge reservation include membership to Durango Mountain Club which is a swish slopeside members-only establishment, built in 2008, resembling a South Carolina Golf and Country Club if you filter out the snow outside and ski-clad clientele. Think gated clubhouse with ski in/out access to the base area, panoramically overlooking the lower slopes, with restaurant, bar, and friendly staff, great breakfast buffet at reduced price ($5 per head!), ski lockers, private ski racks, boot warmers, games room, soft sofas and roaring fireplace, outdoor heated swimming pool with winter waterslide, large outdoor hot tubs, fitness facility, events schedule and après ski - all the extravagant extras that make for a super-luxurious stay. We loved it so much we had breakfast there daily and went for lunch, too, the first day. 

Talking of price-points, another advantage of a lower-profile Colorado resort is the cost of the day ski pass - $89 per day at the window but much lower if you go online to the discount store. For example, when I looked, Feb 28 was just $30 for the day! And One, Two, Free (sound at all familiar?!) is for all newbies to skiing or snowboarding, giving them a free two-hour lesson to get them on their feet. Meeting Kim Oyler, the resort's Director of Communications, we discovered that Purgatory, owned by Mountain Capital Partners, has four sister resorts - Arizona Snowbowl, Hesperus, Sipapu and Pajarito - which all come under the same ski pass. 

Powder Purgatory 
"I've been here seven, nearly eight years," said Kim. "I'm a skier but I don't get out there as often as I used to. I used to have my office right at the resort but when James Coleman bought Purgatory in 2015 my office was moved down into Durango." It is the next gen that is getting Kim back on the slopes, with a stepson in a ski program on Sundays. "I always hit the backside, via Lift 8, which is the newest quad that we put in just two years ago. There are a lot of really nice runs back there. And there is nice tree skiing, too. It's great to do Poet’s Glade, McCormick’s Maze, those are fun trails. Even just big laps on 8, where there are some great cruiser runs – like Sally’s and Vincent’s." 

Finally made it to Paradise! (Sporting my Alchemy of Ride ski jacket) 
We also loved Sally's which was one of the runs Chip introduced us too. "And then we always go to Dante's upstairs, the Backside Bistro, to grab a beer and some food," Kim added. 

"I also like the frontside off the Lift 1 sixpack, and from there Paradise is one of my favourites, especially for the beautiful views which always make me stop and take a pic." We did the same! The base is set at 8,000 ft altitude and the summit 11,000 ft so the San Juan views are staggering. 

Backside Bistro, at Dante's Lodge, Purgatory - credit Scott DW Smith
The village centre is encircled conveniently by all the lodging and includes all the usual services in a nice tight radius. The demo ski shop - Expert Edge Ski & Board – was just downstairs from our apartment and a great place to rent high performance Volkl Mantras (Simon) and Rossignols (me). Simon also got his new boots punched out there and went from pinched to perfect for about $30. He also picked up a pair of Boot Sleeves, also just $30, which could be invaluable next time we ski somewhere cold. By the way, Colorado was not cold when we were there - it was positively balmy compared with our earlier Canadian trip - so mild that, just like Europe, every mountain eatery puts out deck chairs which are bagged (literally) by locals' backpacks to save them for sunbathing picnics later.  

Purgatory base area - credit Scott DW Smith
One thing you must do when you ski Purgatory is have dinner in the posh fireside dining room at Purgy’s Slopeside Restaurant. Although it is in the daylodge (where you might be thinking self-service and sweaty ski boots) this is no typical base lodge experience. The restaurant is off-set from the rest of the lodge, with its own host podium and views right onto the slopes. The room, centred by the huge hearth, is cosy, comfortable, with professional service and a great menu. But the key to its preeminence is new Head Chef John L. Wooters (a keen snowboarder) who caters for high altitude snowcat dinners as well as the restaurant and has also has a hand in finessing food offerings around the resort. "We are trying to encourage the locals to move away from the typical burgers and try something more upmarket," he told us. His new menu is modern American with vegetarian and gluten-free options. Local breweries, such as Ska and Steamworks, are featured as well as a varied wine list but the main event is the food. 

Purgy's Slopeside Restaurant
Our six course extravaganza started with octopus in a saffron potato couli. The next plate was my favourite - a potato lattice nest containing rice gnocchi in an alfredo sauce. The soup course was roasted Portobellos with Yukon Gold potatoes garnished with crisy asiago and white truffle. Next came roasted beet and kale salad with orange, walnuts, avocado and ricotto. We tried both the Montana-raised New York-cut steak with a garlicky bone marrow butter and the surf and turf: a ribeye wrapped in bacon topped with ruby red trout in a Bearnaise sauce with Chef Wooters' specialty mashed potato. And just in case we had a centimetre of space left in our burgeoning stomachs, we were offered a cast iron skillet apple pie with cinnamon in a shortcrust pastry lattice with incredible butterscotch ice cream and also amazing brioche pecan bread pudding with vanilla ice cream topped with caramel drizzle. Needless to say we felt like human foie gras afterwards! 

The Before picture - the After was unpublishable!
Groomed frontside skiing at Purgatory 
Now, like the whole of Colorado, this winter so far has been notable for its slow snow. But Purgatory is in a great position to supplement nature with a comprehensive snowmaking system. "Our snowmaking team has done wonders this year," Kim told us. "It is amazing that we have so much open considering the lack of natural snow. Mountain Capital Partners invests a lot in snowmaking infrastructure. And we were still able to open Nov 18 as scheduled and have been open daily ever since." When snow permits, Purgatory Snowcat Adventures, which explores 35,000 acres of backcountry terrain, is accessed from the snowcat stop at the top of Lift 1. 

James Coleman (in orange) directing the snowmaking on the backside at Purgatory
credit Scott DW Smith
With a 20km Nordic Centre right across the road, the resort is home territory to the Olympic Biathlon Barnes twins who both competed in Turin 2006 and who became famous four years ago when one twin, Lanny, gave her Sochi Olympic spot to the other, TracyDiversifying for non-skiers and active apres ski enthusiasts, the resort also runs snow tubing, snow biking, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, dogsledding, snowmobiling. Just a mile from Purgatory is Cascade Canyon, a mecca for ice-climbing where Kling Mountain Guides runs an outfitting outlet, guided climbs and also guided backcountry skiing. 

The area swaps to rock climbing, trekking, camping, mountain biking, rafting and fly fishing during the summer. In tune with the latest trend for four-season resorts, Purgatory is building an Alpine coaster with work going on right now to get it open by spring. Launching on Memorial Day Weekend with the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, other summery sports include stand up paddleboarding on the lake across from the resort where visitors can also rent kayaks and paddleboats. As well as a scenic chair, alpine slide, bungee tramp, mechanical bull, zipline and ropes course right in the resort, new this year is a summer tubing alley (with plastic instead of snowy lanes). A newly-appointed mountain bike director is expanding the biking offerings, orchestrating a new uplift at Purgatory this summer. 

Telemarking with Purgatory Ski School - credit Scott DW Smith
So, who has already discovered this authentic corner of Southwestern Colorado? "At holidays and spring break we get a lot of people who drive from Texas - Dallas, Houston, Austin and northern Texas. And also from Arizona and New Mexico, the Southwest. Then there's Louisiana – especially over Mardi Gras, when many people choose to leave Louisiana to come here. And people come here from Northern Mexico over the holidays, Easter and Holy Week. We also get some visitors from Florida," Kim told us. The new flights to Montrose from Charlotte should open up an alternative air market, especially from the Southeast. 

Town of Durango (Strater Hotel on right) - photo credit Sven Brunso
Not everyone who skis there stays at Purgatory Resort, though. Some choose the bustling town experience and more varied nightlife opportunities of Durango, which is a 33 min drive away. Even if you are not staying there, downtown Durango is a total must for an evening or day trip, especially for Western fans! It is so historically intact that it has been used as a movie set by John Wayne, Dennis Weaver, Quentin Tarantino, and Johnny Depp as well as many others over the years. Main Avenue is steeped in cowboy culture and the 1887 Strater Hotel has incredible saloon bar costumes, carefully preserved decor, an antique museum, and plush velvet drapes. The Diamond Belle Saloon has an original Old West ragtime piano still used for entertainments, the prerequisite long shiny bar for sliding beer along (complete with clientele all sporting stetsons when we were there) served by waitresses clad in 1920s outfits. Fun fact: Louis L'Amour wrote some of his Sackett's novels there. They also stage gunfights just outside from June through October as well as musical entertainments in the bar and Henry Strater Theatre

Diamond Belle Saloon, Strater Hotel, Durango
The Snowdown Festival is another draw to Durango with all businesses getting involved in parades, partying and pranks over the five-day winter carnival, now celebrating its 40th year. "We have more restaurants per capita than San Francisco, and six craft breweries as well as one distillery," Kim told us, pointing out that the restaurants are unique, owner-operated rather than chains. "Every business really pulls out the stops to make a float, and dress up and take part in Snowdown. If you live here, you end up with a closet full of Snowdown costumes as it's a different theme each year." She also told us about themed scenic train rides around the area, between Durango and Silverton, including the Polar Express at Christmas when passengers can be seen around town afterwards in their pjs. 
Scallops at El Moro Tavern
After wistful window shopping (I could imagine spending a whole day here), we dined at El Moro Tavern, where the motif is modern-cowboy. It cleverly combines the authenticity of the preserved historic building, steeped in old cowboy stories - including a memorial to a sheriff who lost a gun fight with his marshal - old artifacts and black/white prints with a contemporary ambience and eats. The designers used an ancient door to repurpose into a chandelier with jelly jars suspended (reminiscent of a project from Flea Market Flip). And old movies are screened on one exposed brick wall. With trendy bistro bites and bevvies, it was rocking even though we went on a Monday night in Jan. As Kim told us, Durango has a strong year-round population with a university, medical centres, agriculture, oil and gas and ranching and, even though it is a tourist town in its own right especially in summer, it is not susceptible to the peaks and troughs of a ski resort.

Lower Hades at Purgatory