This Lesser-known Colorado Ski Resort Has Après Hot Spring Pools — and $9 Lift Tickets

It also has 1,600 acres of skiable terrain to boot.

<p>Scott D.W. Smith</p>

Scott D.W. Smith

It was as if Facebook knew. (And, of course, it did.)

Two days before my ski trip to Purgatory Resort in Durango, Colorado, Facebook added a suggested post to my feed: A photo of the resort's rates in 1965, the year it opened.

Back then, an adult lift ticket was $4.50 a day, roughly the cost of a latte today. It's cheap, yes, but the rate is significantly less shocking when you learn that the starting price for a lift ticket at Purgatory today is $9.

Purgatory's outrageously cheap lift tickets are what brought me to the resort in January 2024 — along with a gaggle of deal-hungry friends. The mountain's new variable pricing, which it announced in August 2023, goes up with demand — so the earlier you book, the less you pay.

For my visit in January, lift tickets weren't $9, but they were less than $60 a day — and that was the last-minute weekend rate.

And if you're thinking the skiing has got to be subpar, keep reading. Purgatory, or "Purg" as locals call it, has 11 lifts, 107 named trails, and multiple terrain parks, accounting for 1,600 acres of skiable terrain. It's got excellent tree skiing and a rolling-hill-roller-coaster vibe that's playful and, at times, just the right amount of scary.

Although the resort's name, which signifies a place of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners en route to heaven (according to Roman Catholic doctrine), might be off-putting at first, it's a sense of pride for locals who fought for its return after the mountain was renamed "Durango Mountain Resort" for a highly contested 15-year stint.

Theresa Graven, who has lived in Durango for 16 years and runs the public relations company Treehouse Communications, said, "If there's one thing Durango loves more than its quirky independence, it's access to nature." And it's safe to say that one of Durango's largest natural playgrounds is back in full force. Proud Purgatory remains independently owned, family-friendly (kids 12 and under ski for free), and devoid of the Epic and Ikon crowd. Plus, there's a natural hot springs right down the road.

  • Lift tickets start at $9.

  • The mountain is super family-friendly, with a dedicated learning zone and free skiing for kids under 12.

  • Chances are the sun will be out, and Purg is known for its light, dry powder (all 260 inches of it, on average). Put the two together, and you’ve got a dreamy ski day.

  • From the top of Lift 8, the resort’s highest point at 10,822 feet above sea level, you can see across the valley to the Twilight Mountains.

Get ready ladies and gents, this mountain has soul.

When to Go

The mountain is typically open from mid-November to the end of April, weather permitting. The skiing tends to get really good between January and March. Like any ski area, it’s busiest on holidays and weekends. During the week, you’ll find fewer people and cheaper prices (and, in some cases, a $20 resort credit — more on that under “Tickets”).

<p>Christian Ridings</p>

Christian Ridings

Where to Stay

Purgatory is 30 minutes from Durango, Colorado, the nearest town. You have two options: you can stay at the base of the ski area in the village, which has mostly condos and home rentals, or stay in Durango and drive to Purgatory to ski. The former makes for easier access to skiing, while the latter is better if you want to do more than just ski.

Purgatory Lodge, base of Purgatory: For my January 2024 trip, I stayed at Purgatory Lodge. It’s directly at the base of the ski area and includes access to the Durango Mountain Club, which has free breakfast, ski lockers, and a back door to the base of the mountain. There were five of us in the ski group, so the lodge’s multiple bedrooms and full kitchen were perfect. There’s also a heated swimming pool, hot tub, fitness center, and heated garage parking.

Almost Heaven Home Rental, base of Purgatory: If you have a big group, check out 23 Power Ridge in the Purgatory village. You’ll have the entire multi-level home, which has a three-car garage, private hot tub, and an outside gas fireplace. There are five bedrooms and five bathrooms to accommodate up to 10 people.

Strater Hotel, downtown Durango: The heart of downtown Durango lodging is found in the Strater Hotel, a historic landmark property with just 88 guest rooms outfitted in Victorian decor. It’s just down the street from the launch point for the famous Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and a few blocks from the city’s best bars and restaurants. That said, don’t miss dropping by The Office inside the Strater for a cocktail.

Where to Eat

Because Purgatory is 30 minutes from downtown Durango, you can choose to eat on the mountain, back in town, or en route. Below are a few favorites for all three options.

Backside Bistro, on-mountain at Purgatory: Head to the upper level at Dante's Lodge, mid-mountain for the best on-mountain dining. The Backside Bistro has big picture windows and excellent views of the San Juan Mountains (it's set at over 10,000 feet). "European alpine classics such as Wiener Schnitzel, Parisian Steak Frites, and French Onion Soup are complemented by an all-European wine selection," said Graven, noting that reservations are recommended. If you can't nab a spot, you can still dine at the cafeteria on the lower level.

James Ranch Grill, between Purgatory and Durango Hot Springs: You can find James Ranch meat and cheese at various restaurants and shops around town, but nothing compares to dining right where the meat is raised and the cheese is made. The farm-to-table fare doesn't have to travel far, and the result is notable food and an authentic atmosphere.

Mountain High food truck, at Durango Hot Springs: If you follow your ski with a soak at Durango Hot Springs Resort & Spa (always a great idea), don't leave without trying the fare from the Mountain High food truck. During my visit, I was treated to an array of falafels, lamb sausage, and James Ranch cheese. The food is elevated but casual, and everything you need to refuel following a soak.

Sage Fresh Eats, downtown Durango: Graven says Sage Fresh Eats is "healthy, casual and affordable," noting that they're known for working with "locally grown and ranched fresh eats, such as meat-based or vegetarian soups, salads, sandwiches, grain bowls and more." (Though the only spot that might win out over Sage Fresh Eats is its sister restaurant, Zia Taqueria.)

Eolus, downtown Durango: Graven says, "When we crave something extraordinary, we visit Eolus downtown." She says they have a great selection of meat, seafood, and vegetarian dishes, along with excellent sushi. "The sushi rolls are the best in town, no question; it's a testament to the amount of energy they put into sourcing fresh ingredients and professional preparation."

Where to Après Ski

Purgy's Slopeside Restaurant, base of Purgatory: Purgy's is where everyone gathers — albeit unofficially — to share stories from the day over a drink. "At the resort, it's all about Purgy's and live music on the beach; locals and visitors mingle near the firepit," said Graven, who calls it your "Classic après."

The Nugget, between Purgatory and Durango: During my trip, we went out of our way to visit The Nugget, which has earned something of a reputation for its colorful cast of characters and cozy atmosphere. It lived up to the hype. If you're feeling social, grab a seat at the bar. The tiny upstairs space is best for rehashing the day and catching up with friends.

Durango Hot Springs Resort & Spa, between Purgatory and Durango: If you're smart, you'll follow your ski with a soak at Durango Hot Springs, a series of 41 pools set above a natural hot water aquifer. During my trip in January, I spent a full three hours hopping between the terraced pools. The sulfur-free water contains 19 minerals that will help your ski legs recover and leave your skin silky smooth. If you want to enjoy your post-ski soak with a cocktail, visit the onsite bar or grab a bite from the food truck court. A new Zen garden, a private club, and more food truck options are underway (and that's following a recent multi-million dollar facelift). Just make sure to make a soaking reservation in advance.

Ska Brewing, downtown Durango: Graven says there are six breweries in Durango, but notes that if you have to pick just one, head to Ska Brewing, which "is one of Colorado's top-rated, best breweries with a state-of-the-art tasting room and outdoor beer garden." Inside, you'll find the brews that made them famous, along with a few seasonal beers and hard seltzers. Grab a table at the outdoor beer garden if the weather is nice.

Bookcase & Barber, downtown Durango: One of Gravens' favorite downtown spots is a speakeasy that's behind a bookcase in a barber shop. The aptly named Bookcase & Barber requires a password for entry (you can find it online) and has a literary theme. She notes that "they mix incredible cocktails that change seasonally."

Off-mountain Activities

Durango Nordic Center, across from Purgatory: If you're not interested in downhill skiing, you'll find the Durango Nordic Center across the highway. There are over 14 miles of Nordic ski trails and three miles dedicated to snowshoers. A day pass is $16 for skiers and $8 for snowshoers. If it's your first time, or you need to rent gear, you request both online.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, downtown Durango: Riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a must — no matter when you visit. In the winter, the narrow gauge steam train departs from the downtown Durango depot and makes its way to Cascade Canyon in the San Juan National Forest. "Along the ride, guests take in magnificent views of the snow-covered San Juan Mountains while relaxing in heated coaches," said Graven. "The train takes a 60-minute stop at Cascade Canyon, the perfect setting for a fireside lunch, photo opportunities, or a walk along the Animas River before returning to downtown."

Chapman Hill, Durango: In addition to Purgatory, Durango has a tiny, in-town ski area with a snow tubing hill and an ice rink. Chapman Hill has been in operation for over 70 years and is operated by the city. In addition to tubing and skating, the family winter sports spot has "two rope tows, a bumps course, and kids-sized park features," according to Graven.

The Powerhouse, Durango: This science center is located in the perfect setting: an old hydroelectric power plant. The Powerhouse makes for a great down-day activity with "interactive exhibits and displays that engage visitors in hands-on learning experiences to make science more accessible and fun for people of all ages," according to Graven.

How to Ride 

Tickets: Purgatory is one of the few ski areas in the United States where buying a single or multi-day lift ticket is somewhat affordable. Their variable pricing means that the earlier you buy, the better price you’ll get. As more people buy a ticket for a particular day, the pricing goes up — meaning high ticket prices will coincide with a busier day on the mountain.

As an incentive to ski on less busy days, Purgatory released “The Fun Fund,” a $20 per person, per day resort credit for skiers who buy lift tickets for select dates throughout the season. The credit can even be used to buy future lift tickets so if you play your cards right, you might get in a day of free skiing. Tickets must be bought 24 hours in advance to qualify.

Purgatory is also on the Power Pass, an affordable multi-mountain pass that includes mountains like Arizona Snowbowl, Brian Head Resort, and Willamette Pass Resort. Kids ages 12 and under always ski for free at Purg.

Rentals: You can get your ski and snowboard rental from Purgatory Rentals, which has slopeside pick-up and drop-off. The basic ski and snowboard package starts at $45 a day.

Skiing and Snowboarding Info

Purgatory has 11 lifts and 107 named trails set on 1,600 acres of skiable terrain. The frontside of the ski area is where you’ll find most of the green runs, while intermediate, blue-run skiers can ski off any lift on the mountain with ease. Purg has plenty of single and double-black diamond runs, with some of the best located on the backside of the mountain.

Ski School: Purgatory is a family-friendly mountain and, as such, has a great ski school with offerings to suit rippers aged 4 to 104. They also offer private lessons, multi-week programs for kids and adults, and a well-regarded adaptive ski and snowboard school. For kids who are under the age of 4, there’s a full-day childcare program known as “The Den.”

First Tracks Brunch: If you crave having a run all to yourself — and first turns on a powder day — you can book their new First Tracks Brunch for an extra $39 on top of the cost of your lift ticket. You’ll get access to the mountain before it opens to the public, followed by a plated brunch served with Champagne.

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