Snow slides delay Purg opening

Snow slides delay Purg opening

Purgatory's Chair 8 eventually opened late in the afternoon on Tues., Jan. 1, after the ski area received more than a foot of snow. According to resort officials, the delay was due to mitigation of "pocket slides" on the mountain./ Photo by Missy Votel

Tracy Chamberlin - 01/03/2019

Snow slides delay Purg opening

After more than a foot of fresh powder fell over the southern San Juan Mountains to start the New Year, the avalanche danger was extremely high.

An official warning issued by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) for the areas north of Durango and Pagosa Springs – both prime spots for backcountry enthusiasts – described conditions as very dangerous and travel was not recommended through at least Wed., Jan. 2.

The CAIC’s warning for New Year’s Day suggested, “Today is a great day to ski your favorite run at a ski area.”

But, even the resorts had some slides to contend with Purgatory Resort didn’t fire up Lifts 1 and 4 until almost 9:30 a.m. Tues., Jan. 1, because of concerns with “pocket slides,” according to Stacey Glaser, marketing director for Purgatory’s parent company, Mountain Capital Partners.

With 13 inches of fresh powder sitting on the hard-packed base of manmade and natural snow, conditions were prime for these smaller, isolated slides, she said.

“Avalanche is too strong of a word,” Glaser said of the slides.

Several were triggered when employees cut across the top of the resort’s steep slopes, something they typically check for on a powder day at Purgatory before opening the slopes.

Later that morning, lifts 3 and 5 got rolling on the back side. Lift 8, however, didn’t start running until around 2:30 p.m.

Dealing with pocket slides wasn’t Purg’s only hiccup that day. Due to mechanical issues, lifts 4 and 5 were shut down for a time that day. The fact that throngs of powder-starved skiers all showed up at once, first thing in the morning also complicated matters. Glaser explained that on typical days, it’s more common for guests to space out their arrivals. But after the epic New Year snowfall everyone was ready and waiting for the lifts to fire up. Parking lots were full and, according to Glaser, New Year’s Day was one of the busiest days so far this season. (The resort does not release skier numbers, she said.)

Purgatory hasn’t seen a powder day like this since February of last year, according to Glaser, when 15 inches fell Feb. 13.

Although it took time to make sure conditions were safe before opening, she said the heavy snowfall was a welcome sight. “We understand people were ready to ski ... but the safety of our guests and staff is priority,” she said. “We’ve missed this kind of powder. To start 2019 with over a foot of snow is fantastic.”

To get the latest avalanche alerts from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, visit avalanche.state.co.us. Check out the snowfall and latest news for Purgatory at www.purgatoryresort.com.