Why Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort is a Family-favorite (and worth the drive)

The only bad thing about Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort is the long haul to get there.

That’s also why it is so great.

Make the seven-hour drive from Denver to Durango’s remote enclave in southwestern Colorado and you’ll feel like you’re in the frosty equivalent of Shangri-La. With 1,325 acres of snow-dusted terrain, the San Juan Mountains are arguably Colorado’s most beautiful range.

I skied Purgatory 10 years ago and my only memory is a jarring wipe-out that had me seeing snow.

And a lot of stars.

Much has changed at this premier family-friendly resort since then. If you look at Purgatory’s marketing materials, there is a common theme: new. The new Purgatory Village base facilities include a new village plaza, gorgeous new Purgatory Lodge, new and improved retail shops and a new mountain Activities Center.

In the same vein, my husband Jamie and I were delighted for our newfound freedom as we dropped 3-year-old Bode and 5-year-old Hadley off in ski school. Hadley attended the full-day classes ($75) while second-timer Bode tore up the slopes in a half-day lesson ($55), finishing off his day being spoiled by the doting staff at Snow Monsters child care.

We spent two days on the slopes and both kids’ skills improved exponentially. Bode was a tucking speed demon, expertly weaving in and out of traffic. Pizza-carving Hadley started to get a bit cocky, mocking the incompetent.

“You know those grown-ups learning to ski on the bunny slope with me?”


(Chuckling) “They fell. A lot.”

Ski Bunny Mommy

While the kids were in ski school, Jamie and I rented some demo skis. Conditions were epic: a bluebird day, 50 inches snow in the past week and a generous dump of it in the last 24 hours.

From the offset, I rocked the terrain. The snow was superb but I quickly attributed my rockstar status tomy demo skis: Nordica Hot Rods. My turns were seamless, my velocity fast. I floated through fresh powder and my miracle skis made me slightly delusional, giving me confidence to conquer terrain beyond my ability level. I concluded that they treated me better than my high school boyfriend.

My imaginary perfect one.

Jamie hadn’t slept well so he ended his ski day after lunch. Undaunted, I skied alone and found a new beau: Chet’s powder playground. I later raved to Jamie about the moves I put on Chet’s bumps, promising to introduce the real love of my life to it the next day.

Until I discovered Chet’s powder perfection had been groomed and ruined.

Best to just stick with the imaginary boyfriend when it comes to ski runs to avoid disappointment.


There are plenty of affordable lodging options in Durango along Main Avenue. But if you don’t want to make the 25-mile drive to Purgatory, be sure to stay slope-side at the Purgatory Lodge. Completed in December 2008, this luxury ski-in/ski-out property is the anchor of the new Purgatory Village with units ranging in size from 2 to 4 bedrooms. All rooms in Purgatory Lodge have unparalleled views of the ski area and Needles Mountains.

What really sets Purgatory Lodge apart is the Durango Mountain Club. Many resorts have an alpine club but very few do such a stellar job catering to the younger set. When my family was not skiing, we were playing Wii or swimming in the pool with spray jets and a water slide. Other offerings include a hot tub, fitness center, fire pit, cabana bar, board games, pool and an adjacent bar and eating area.

Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs

One of my favorite ways to unwind after skiing is to soak my weary muscles. Located just outside of Durango, Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs has naturally heated mineral pools, saunas and the area’s largest heated outdoor swimming pool. There is nothing fancy about Trimble but the minerals will still work their magic on you. Just be sure not to ingest the water like my 3-year-old son, after which he sputtered, “Dat was DANGEROUS!”

Consider yourselves warned.

Sleigh Bells Ring

New for this season, Buck’s Livery offers horse-drawn sleigh rides that depart from Purgatory’s base area and climb high above the resort. My family’s best photo opportunities took place as we dashed through the snow to an overlook of the Needles Mountains set afire by Alpenglow. Sleighs depart at 5, 6 and 7 p.m. The cost is $30 per adult and $20 per child. For reservations and information, call 970-385-2110.

Glorious Food

Steamworks Brewing Company

This brewpub just off Main Avenue in Durango is zany, fun and family-friendly. Many restaurants offer crayons in an effort to appease children. Steamworks takes it a step further and distributes sidewalk chalk and encourages budding artists to graffiti the floor. You can’t go wrong with anything you order off their extensive menu but I recommend the Cajun Bowl, where quality bar food meets Cajun with ½ pound of crab, ¼ pound of shrimp, ¼ pound of sausage, 3 new potatoes and 2 cobs of corn.


Conveniently located in the Purgatory Lodge, this hoppin’ hub offers an omelet station and breakfast burritos in the morning. In the afternoon, you will find live music and their famous burgers and pizza. Purgy’s transforms into an upscale restaurant in the evening. Best of all, Purgy’s is connected to the Durango Mountain Club at Purgatory Lodge. As guests, we were able to eat our filet mignon in the game room while our kids stayed entertained. Talk about the best of both worlds.

Creekside Italian Kitchen

The last thing I want to do after a long drive is cook or go out to eat. Conveniently located on the Plaza level, Creekside Italian Kitchen delivers—literally. We pre-ordered their delicious calzone, pizza, spaghetti, cheese bread, Panini and a dessert pizza my children are still raving about. We devoured our meal from the comfort of our condo.

All in the name of carb-loading before our big ski day, of course.

Best Deal

When you book three nights of lodging at Durango Mountain Resort properties and three days of lift tickets, they’ll throw in a fourth day and night for FREE. Add three days of rentals and ski or snowboard lessons, and you’ll receive a fourth day of rentals and/or lessons also free. Call 800-982-6103 to book the “Buy 3, Get the 4th Free” package. Some restrictions apply; based on availability. Minimum four nights stay required. Price based on four-person occupancy at Tamarron Lodge.

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