By Brad Chamberlin
Many Denverites or visitors from out of state typically visit the Summit
County areas consisting of Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Breckenridge, and
Copper or other large destination places like Vail, Aspen, Telluride,
Crested Butte and Steamboat. While all of these ski areas are world
class, there are some hidden gems that are off of the beaten path.
Southern Colorado is home to the San Juan mountain range. Rising above
the surrounding desert-like terrain to the west, it is evident that the San
Juans are a much newer, jagged set of mountains. At their base lies
Durango, an outside-oriented individual's dream city. Durango offers year
round activities such as mountain biking, hiking, rafting, golfing, and of
course skiing. Durango Mountain Resort (DMR), formerly known as
Purgatory, is anything but that. The ski area rises abruptly above US
Highway 550, only about twenty minutes outside of town.
DMR offers skiing for all levels, from easy groomed runs to more
technical glades and bump runs. The front side, served by the Purgatory
Village Express has the most consistent fall line. Runs such as Hades,
Styx, and Pandemonium usually offer challenging bumps with few crowds.
The Hermosa Park Lift has the best intermediate groomed trails on the
mountain. Runs like Boogie, Peace, and Where are good choices for
skiers looking for a cruising day at the area. Past Hermosa Park is the
Grizzly lift. This area typically only operates during weekend and holiday
periods. While most of the terrain can be accessed by the Legends lift,
runs like Wapiti and Elevator Shaft can not.
On the far back side is the Legends area. Legends tends to offer more
advanced skiing but confident intermediate skiers will have no problem.
Paul's Park is a great way to spend a powder day, with a northern
exposure and wide open glades. Trails such as Elliott's, Ray's Ridge, and
Boudreaux's offer top-to-bottom bumps.
A short hour and a half drive from Durango is Wolf Creek Ski Area.
Wolf Creek boasts the most snow in Colorado, and they don't lie!
However, resort goers beware; Wolf Creek is solely a ski area with no
on-site lodging. A few years back, the ski area greatly increased its
terrain by adding a new quad chair in the Waterfall area. The Alberta lift
serves this along with the Knife Ridge chutes. Knife Ridge, while it does
not have a long fall line, is has pitches upwards of fifty degrees. Other
trails off of the Waterfall area have rock outcroppings, steep chutes and
The main part of Wolf Creek Ski Area has everything from bowl terrain to
easy groomed runs. Beginners enjoy the Nova Chair, which solely is
dedicated to first time skiers. Intermediates tend to ski the Bonanza,
Dicky and Treasure Chairs. Alberta Face, off of the Treasure lift usually
has nice soft moguls with glades as you move to the skiers left.
Lift tickets at Wolf Creek are not expensive either, especially when
compared to some of the larger resorts. Look for end of the season deals
and college ski days, when tickets are as cheap as $25.
Driving west on I-70 past Aspen towards Grand Junction becomes pretty
arid and imaging a ski area nearby seems strange. Powderhorn is a short
half hour drive from Grand Junction on the way to the Grand Mesa.
Powderhorn is the opposite from places like Aspen or Vail. The ski area
is located in a sleepy valley overlooking magnificent sandstone walls.
Unlike Wolf Creek, the ski area does offer slopeside lodging.
The front side of the area offers everything from groomed trails to expert
glades. An interesting aspect of Powderhorn is most of their trails are cut
pretty narrowly, as where most ski runs pre-1975. Many resorts have
widened trails over the years to accommodate more skiers and riders.
Across from the Take Four lift is the West End chair. Back on a trip I
made to Powderhorn last March, there were no more than 40 people
skiing this general area. Trails such as the Made Dog glades, Thunder
Mountain glades and Snowcloud where challenging. While Powderhorn
does not have the extreme terrain of Wolf Creek, if you are looking for a
laid back relaxing day of skiing, this is a good place to go.
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