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Southwest Snow: Three Days at Purgatory and Wolf Creek Resorts

Wolf Creek Ski Patrolby Kristen Lummis

Im not the betting type, and I certainly dont bet on the weather. But from everything Im reading, Colorado is going to have a great El Nio winter.

And while the entire state can anticipate above average snowfall, the forecasts show especially bountiful blessings for the southwest Colorado resorts of Purgatory and Wolf Creek.

Two Perfect Purgatory Days

20150222 PurgatoryA mid-size Colorado resort, Purgatory has a new owner, a restored name and a new high-speed quad.

With 1,360 skiable acres, 10 lifts and a vertical drop of 2,029 feet, Purgatory also has a full service base village. Its a great place to stay, especially if youre here for just a few days.

The main lift from the base is the Purgatory Village Express. From the top of this lift on the Front side, warm up on famous runs like Paradise and Upper Hades.

Feeling confident? The steep pitches of Lower Hades, the bumps and steeps of Styx and the all-around challenge of Upper Catharsis await.

Also on the Front Side, youll find the Engineer and Twilight lifts, with plenty of green and blue runs, terrain parks and snowmaking. Two additional lifts below the village, Columbine and Graduate, serve teaching terrain, the Adaptive Center and the tubing hill.

The other side of the resort is called, no surprise, the Back Side. Here youll find Lifts 3, 5 and 8 (the new high speed quad, also known as Legends).

Over here, the groomed runs ebb and flow with the mountain and are super fun to ski and ride. If you like trees, the top of Lift 8 has plenty, along with a surprisingly steep final pitch.

When you get hungry, stop by Dantes near the top of Lift 5. While you can take your time with table 20120225_Purgatory1service upstairs, we prefer the downstairs cafeteria and sundeck.

When the lifts close, soak and play in an outdoor pool or hot tub before heading to dinner at one of the village restaurants: Purgys, Paradise Pizzeria and Ice Cream, or the Village Market and Deli. The tubing hill is open on weekend evenings and on selected dates you can try snowshoeing as the sun goes down on an Alpen Glow tour.

For day two, revisit your favorite runs from yesterday, or try cat skiing with San Juan Untracked. Offering full-day adventures, with a minimum 5-run guarantee (the average is between 8 and14), you have to book way in advance to score this experience.

Welcome to Wolf Creek

20151117_JasonLombard_WolfCreekLocated at the top of Wolf Creek Pass, Wolf Creek Ski Area celebrated 75 years of skiing last season. Blessed with around 430 inches of snow each year, Wolf Creek enjoys some of the deepest, earliest falling, and most consistent snow in Colorado.

Wolf Creek is surprisingly large, with 1600 skiable acres spread across a ridgeline and several peaks. For expert skiers, there are chutes, bowls and glades galore. There is also fantastic powder skiing.

If youre new to either skiing or snowboarding, the Beginners Special, with a full day lesson and lift ticket, might be for you. This package costs $65 for skiers age 9 and up and $68 for snowboarders. For younger children, check out Wolf Pups for skiers ($77 for a full day) and Wolf Riders for snowboarders ($112 for a full day). There are also half-day options. These lessons are a great way to learn new skills and get oriented to the mountain.

A dont miss run at Wolf Creek is Tranquility, off of the Treasure Chairlift. Its a flowing intermediate trail, known for almost always having good snow. Beginners wont want to miss Kelly Boyce, a wide green run, while advanced skiers should seek out Treasure Falls, a run that alternates between steep pitches and benches.

Another dont miss? The Wolf Creek Fun Race Series, a free, all-ages, all-comers timed racing extravaganza.

Finally, since youre going to be hungry, dine on-mountain at The Raven (gourmet pizza upstairs, 20151114_JasonLombard_WolfCreek_3southwestern red and green chile downstairs) or choose from two cafeterias in the Wolf Creek Lodge at the base.

Pagosa Springs is the areas dining and lodging hub. This small mountain town is rightly famous for hot springs, our favorites being the 23 pools at the Springs Resort. Book a suite here, or choose from a wide variety of local lodging. As for dinner, the Alley House is highly recommended.

Get There

Southwestern Colorado is a bit off the beaten path, which adds to its uncrowded charm. Durango, a medium-sized university town on the southern edge of Colorados beautiful San Juan Mountains, is near Purgatory and is home to a regional airport served by American, United and US Airways.

If youre driving, Durango is 6 hours from Denver, and Purgatory is 25 miles north of the town. Wolf Creek is closer to Denver, only 4.5 hours.

If you find yourself in Durango and you find yourself hungry, we recommend Steamworks Brewing Company and Fired Up Pizza. There is also every type of lodging in Durango.