There’s a time for reflecting and deep inner thought. Then there is a time for powder skiing and snowboarding. During a long dryspell to start January, it was time for the former. For the last two weeks, it’s been all about the powder.
Ullr finally rewarded Southwest Colorado with heaps of snow. It was enough for Hesperus Ski Area to finally open Thursday, giving the Durango High School alpine ski team its slopes to train on ahead of its season-opening race Feb. 3 at Ski Cooper in Leadville. And for all the powder hounds across the region, Purgatory Resort and Wolf Creek Ski Area have been a haven with never-ending refills of perfect snow.
Wolf Creek has once again been blessed the most with 51 inches in the last week to bring the season total to 228 inches. That’s good for a 98-inch midway depth. After two sell-out days last weekend, locals around Wolf Creek enjoyed bottomless snow and no lift lines.
All the snow, including 37 inches just in the last week, has helped Purgatory go from a 26-inch base depth only two-and-a-half weeks ago to a 50-inch depth, unlocking nearly 100% of the mountain’s terrain and all of the locals’ favorite tree runs. The mountain has now seen 113-inches of snow this season as of the writing of this column, with more on the way Friday night to make for more fresh turns Saturday morning.
This column may come in handy for killing time in traffic on the way to Purgatory if last weekend was any indication. U.S. Highway 550 looked more like Interstate 70 with the flood of cars trying to get into the packed parking lots. With more folks avoiding carpools because of COVID-19 and visitors flocking to Southwest Colorado for the best snow conditions in the state, it was a zoo. The lift lines? The longest this snowboarder has seen in 10 years as a Purgatory passholder. But once strapped in, all the stress of those lines evaporated with the sweet feeling of effortlessly floating on clouds.
It felt good to let go of all stress and concerns for the world even on a busy day on the mountain. Only a few days earlier, Jan. 20, I found myself interacting with three different gentlemen, and a theme prevailed throughout the day.
First, I ran into my old pal Brandon Mathis, a former weekend reporter at The Durango Herald and the first editor of Adventure Pro Magazine. Mathis is now head of marketing at Backcountry Experience. He was leaving the mountain as I was just going up, and we got to talking about the people we love most in our lives as well as our careers. The usual conversation between an active print journalist and someone who has left the print side of life for the world of marketing ensued. As those talks usually do, it had me thinking of my own career as I walked up to the mountain and rode alone up the six-pack charlift.
As I boarded my second lift of the day, I met a man named Eric, who was from Durango but had been living in Denver until being laid off from his oil and gas job in Denver during the COVID-19 pandemic. Back home, Eric has been fully enjoying getting out to snowboard as often as he can. Though, in the back of his mind, always wondering when his job might return. Eric has long thought about getting into solar energy or another line of work, but he loves what he does and can’t bring himself to leave.
“To me, it’s worth something waking up happy every morning and loving what you do,” he told me.
Well said. There’s no doubt, much like the oil and gas industry, the print journalism world has seen its share of adversity over the last 20-plus years. More than 1,800 newspapers across the country have been closed or merged with another paper. More than 30,000 journalism jobs have been eliminated since 2006. It’s the dark cloud hanging over the head of journalists all over the country every day. But, like Eric said, there’s something beautiful in loving what you do. That, and the access to places like Purgatory and Wolf Creek, have helped keep me going through hard times for seven years in Durango.
After I said my farewells to Eric and we went our separate ways down the mountain, I found myself boarding a lift with a fellow Johnny. He told me of how he had sold his share in a company he owned before the pandemic hit and launched himself into a mid-life crisis as a bartender. Enjoying the freedom of his new position and the time it allows him to spend with his young family, I’d say Johnny had it figured out more than being in any kind of crisis. He’s enjoying watching his 3-year-old get into skiing and loving life on the mountain every day.
“No idea what I’m going to do next, just figuring it out as I go,” he told me.
As I cruised back from Lift 3 down to the base area on my final run that day, I was left thinking about the juxtaposition of hanging onto a job you love albeit in a tumultuous industry or the freedom and excitement of changing everything and entering the unknown with no expectations. I like the idea of both.
But with the arrival of big snow to the area, it’s not time to think about the more serious questions in life. Moe powder days are in store over the next week, so it’s time to get out and enjoy every last inch that comes our way and to embrace it with the enthusiasm of an elementary kid on a snow day without a care in the world.
And, if you’re heading to Purgatory on a busy powder day, allow me to depart with a friendly reminder: We’re all going to the same place. Passing on the left into oncoming traffic or a snow plow or passing on the right shoulder and dodging back into the line of traffic when a snowbank sneaks up on you is only going to make the line longer for all of us. And it’s really going to agitate the state troopers who have beefed up enforcement along U.S. Highway 550 after last weekend’s shenanigans.
Let’s all get to the mountain safe and have a good time together. I’ll see you on the lift.
John Livingston is the Regional Sports Editor of The Durango Herald. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.