Having raised two skiers to ages 19 and 16, I’ve come to realize that teens aren’t that different from toddlers.
When the boys were little, they needed naps and to avoid parental aggravation, we preferred slope side lodging. As teens, they sometimes need to sleep in, and again, slope side lodging eliminates parental frustration.
Teens and toddlers also have their own ideas about where and when to ski. Easily distracted, they like diversions and neither group should ever miss a meal.
We’ve also found that both toddlers and teens need to explore and while toddlers aren’t going to explore on their own, teens are, which makes skiing at a smaller resort especially fun. Whether your kids are 12 or 19 or somewhere in between, this age group can determine their own schedule, set their own pace, and meet you for lunch.
Or if you’re lucky, they may spend the entire day with you – just like your toddlers.
Last March, we visited Purgatory, Colorado with an eye to finding out what makes this mid-sized resort in Southwestern Colorado work for families – of all ages.
Purgatory celebrates its 50th anniversary this season. Founded in 1965, in an area named by early Spanish explorers, the resort started as a local ski area serving Durango, Colorado.
Tucked into the southern slopes of Colorado’s stunning San Juan Mountains (truly, these mountain views are among the best!), Purgatory has been through some name changes, becoming Durango Mountain Resort and then most recently Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort.
Last winter, James Chapman, a local businessman, purchased the resort and restored it’s original name and logo, in honor of the mountain’s golden birthday.
Getting to Purgatory is either easy or challenging, depending upon where you’re coming from. If you’re flying in, it’s easy. If you’re driving from anywhere north or east of the resort, it’s more of a challenge requiring three mountain passes or long detours.
Tip Number One: Come for several days or a week to make the drive (or flight) worth it.
There’s plenty to ski and plenty to do.
Purgatory has 1,360 skiable acres, 88 trails, five terrain parks, 10 lifts, a tubing hill, cross-country skiing and a full service village.
The mountain is divided into two distinct parts, Front Side and Back Side.
Front Side Fun
From the Village you’ll see three lifts rising up the mountain.
The Purgatory Village Express goes to the top and is famous for a set of advanced and expert runs including Styx, Hades, Pandemonium and Catharsis. Here you’ll also find Paradise, a great warm-up for intermediates. From the base you’ll also see the Twilight Lift, with access to some winding gentle greens, along with the Needles Lift, which parallels the Express and which I’ve never seen running.
The mid-mountain Engineer Lift is another great spot with a wide variety of terrain, including numerous green runs. To get there, take the Express lift and then follow Mercy, a green run, Limbo (blue) or West Fork (blue) to the lift base.
Park, Park and More Park
You’ll also find the resort’s park terrain on the Front Side. Pinkerton Starter Park, with tiny features, is perfect for the littlest sliders and those just getting their jump legs under them. The Angel’s Tread Park, featuring flat boxes and other features, is also here, at the top of the Twilight lift.
In between the Purgatory Village Express and Engineer Lift, you’ll find Pitchfork Terrain Park with medium features, and a halfpipe. The Paradise Park, underneath the express lift has the mountain’s biggest features. Another medium size park, the DC Park is right above the Village.
If your teens love park, they’ll love Purgatory and appreciate being able to lap the larger parks from a high-speed lift.
There’s even something special for the littlest skiers in this area: The Animas City Adventure Park, just off the Engineer lift’s green runs.
Back Side Bliss
Three lifts serve the Back Side of the resort. Chair 3, the Hermosa Park Express, is a high speed quad. Here, you’ll find wide, rolling groomed runs that wind and intersect for countless variations. There are some fun pitches in the trees and you can easily ski here all day. Our teens’ favorite run in this area? Peace. They love it for the numerous pitch changes and rollers.
Chair Five, also known as the Grizzly lift, rises up to a lodge, home to Dante’s cafeteria and Backside Bistro. You can get off at the lodge or ride a bit higher, but with no real gain in terrain.
Tip Number Two: Get off at the lodge and save yourself some time.
The terrain here is steeper toward the bottom of the lift, with some intermediate runs turning to black diamonds. Still, this area is largely blue.
Chair 8, or the Legends Lift, is our favorite. In winter, when the snow is cold and deep, you’ll find fun steeps and tree skiing. Come springtime, the snow softens here in the afternoon, making the moguls extra soft and forgiving. Best of all, this lift was upgraded over the summer to a high-speed quad.
Tip Number Three: Skip the long, flat BD&M Expressway back to the Village. Instead, use Chairs 5 and 3 to your advantage, zigzagging from lift to lift to make your way back. This is an especially good plan if you’re with little kids or snowboarders who will find the Expressway exhausting.
Like most resorts, Purgatory has an excellent ski school, with lessons for all ages and abilities. There is a magic carpet in the village teaching area for little ones, as well as a Burton Riglet Park to help the littlest riders get solid on snowboards.
Two short lifts lie below the Village. One of these, the Columbine lift, serves the resort’s tubing hill. The other lift provides access back to the Village, along with some gentle terrain. You’ll also find the resort’s adaptive ski and ride program in this area.
The Village is surprisingly expansive, yet self-contained. Although there are a few additional condo communities nearby, the Village is where the action is with shopping, outdoor pools, hot tubs and Purgy’s, the resort’s home base for après action and evening dining. Other options include Paradise Pizzeria and the Village Market & Deli.
Depending upon your family’s commitment to skiing and skiing only, some of these other winter attractions may be appealing. If your kids love animals, you’ve got your choice between horse-drawn sleigh rides or dog sledding.
Tip Number Four: Go dog sledding. The dogs are fascinating and they thrive on pulling. You can meet them ahead of time and they’re more friendly than horses. It’s something you should try someday.
Other options include snowshoeing, snowcat skiing and snowbiking.
Finally, Purgatory does an outstanding with special events for families, especially on weekends and during spring break. There’s almost always live music, teen only events and Kids’ Nights Out (to give parents are night out, too!).
When You Go…
As I mentioned, I’m a big fan of slopeside lodging, for families with both toddlers and teens. Purgatory’s village offers options from hotel rooms to condos, with other condo developments just a short bus-ride away (better for teens than toddlers).
Named one of Trip Advisor’s Top Ski Values in North America, Purgatory has everything you want and need, packaged together in a self-sufficient location.
With Durango just 30 minutes away, you can easily expand your dining and shopping opportunities. Lodging prices are significantly lower in Durango and you can find package deals on the Purgatory website.
Last spring, we stayed at the roomy, comfortable Homewood Suites (close to running and walking on the Animas River Trail and Ska Brewing Company).
Durango is also a destination in its own right, with a world-famous narrow gauge railway, fly fishing on the Animas River and Fort Lewis College.
Tip Number Five: Visit Purgatory and Durango. (You guessed it, right?)
Purgatory + More:
- Looking at Purgatory, Colorado Through Different Eyes, March 27, 2013.
- Ski Snacks, December 8, 2011.
- Dog Sledding, Skiing, Tubing and More at Colorado’s Snow Mountain Ranch, November 17, 2014.
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