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Snow lovers flock to Purgatory Resort on opening day

‘Now that everyone wants to share a chair it’s kind of nice’
Purgatory Resort celebrates the opening of the season on Saturday as the first chair heads up the mountain. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Parking lots at Purgatory Resort were filling up fast on Saturday morning as skiers flocked to the mountain for opening day.

Calls to Purgatory Resort for an estimate of how many skiers and guests showed up for opening day were unsuccessful Saturday.

Austin Pack, 31, of Cortez said he was anticipating “some nice man-made snow” and hoped to avoid any rocks among the ski paths. He was a little disappointed the mountain wasn’t open to skiing from top to bottom, but shrugged and said he isn’t keen on what the rationale is behind the scenes. His favorite ski run at Purgatory is Lift 3.

Pack said the ski season will probably be busier than the last two years, which had lower turnout because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic also caused long lines for skiers who did show up because people were reluctant to share ski lifts with strangers.

“It was pretty crowded on the lift lines (during the pandemic) because everyone wanted their own chair. But now that everyone wants to share a chair it’s kind of nice,” he said.

Pack hadn’t seen snow until he was 21 years old because he grew up in south Florida, but it was love at first sight when he finally experienced it. He didn’t try skiing until he was 23, he said.

Levi Newman, 14, with Purgatory Resort, scans Emma Artz’s lift pass on Saturday during opening day at Purgatory Resort. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Skiing appeals to Pack because of the adrenaline he gets from taking jumps, free-floating across the top of the snow and the similarities to wakeboarding.

“You’re just floating. But instead of having to hold on you’re just using gravity,” he said.

Pack said he and his wife just bought a house in Cortez, but the nearly hour and a half drive to Purgatory is still well worth it.

Lance Wigton, 63, is a ski instructor at Purgatory Resort and was getting ski bindings checked before he hit the slopes on Saturday. He said he has only taught skiing for going on four years, but he’s been an avid skier since he was 3 years old.

Born and raised in Durango, Wigton skied in high school and was a seven time state champion in ski jumping. He said he used to practice on Chapman Hill, which they called Calico back in his youth.

He loves Durango and he loves skiing, but the reason he became an instructor is for the kids, he said. His own kids are in their 30s and they haven’t had grandchildren, so in a way, the kids he teaches on the slopes are his grandchildren.

“A lot of kids in their 20s and 30s these days, they’re just not having kids,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

He said he has a number of families that visit Purgatory Resort from Texas who request his instruction for their children, and he gets to watch returning students grow year after year.

The first chair leaves the base on Saturday as Purgatory Resort opens for the season. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

He said young children are flexible and athletic and so they make for great skiers in no time at all. The kids who play other sports are particularly fast at getting the hang of skiing, but even those without athletic experience are quick to learn and can usually hit the slopes the same day they are introduced to the sport.

His students are in awe of the beautiful view the first time they reach the top of the mountain.

“Just looking at the Needles from up on top, it’s stunning,” he said.

Wigton has skied in Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Vail and Beaver Peak – he’s even skied the three valleys of Courchevel, France. While working in international sales, he traveled the world, visiting places such as Sydney, Tuscany, Italy, and the French Riviera.

But Durango and Purgatory Resort stand out among them all. Durango is the world’s best kept secret, he said. And Purgatory has a topology unlike the other mountains.

“It’s so different than all the other ski areas because you get a headwall and then a flat and a headwall and a flat,” he said. After a pause, he added, “It’s just good to be home again.”


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