Powder Day Report From Colorado

Dec 14, 2009
Outside Magazine

Over the last week, it has dumped up to six feet of snow on the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, where, luckily, I live. The entire town of Durango looks like it has been frosted with buttercream. The sight of obese snowflakes wafting down from dark skies invariably provokes the same response from me: elation followed by scheming. My policy when it comes to big snow is it demands immediate appreciation, whether its cross-country skiing through the streets at midnight or lapping powder runs on a local hill. 

120809 A Break in the Storm

Living in Durango, Colorado, it sometimes feels like you have your own private mountain range. We’re far enough from big cities (Denver, 6 hours; Salt Lake, 6.5 hours; Albuquerque, 3 hours) that the peaks stay relatively people-free. And since we’re right next to the desert, the snow that falls here tends to be dry, feathery, and in no short supply. On powder days when it’s too dangerous to ski the backcountry, it’s always tough to decide on a plan: Schlep 90 minutes over one pass to Wolf Creek; drive an hour and over two passes to Silverton Mountain; or hit up Purgatory (a.k.a. Durango Mountain Resort), about a half-hour away? 

Is there a winning formula to the decision? It seems more of an art than a science and often involves calling the Colorado Dept. of Transportation for road conditions, factoring in snow reports from the ski areas, and sussing avalanche potential with the help of the avy advisory (steeper areas might have less open). 

Yesterday my friend Kelly and I chose Purg, and what ensued was what you’d call a prime example of a Excellent Powder Day: pillowy snow, near white-out conditions, and next to no lift lines. I knew we had bet right when I got a text message from my boyfriend Andrew, who was stuck at his house in Silverton. Friends of ours had spent two and a half hours driving over the passes only to find that Silverton had shut down for the day due to slide potential. And Wolf Creek Pass closed. 

I hate to admit it, but I felt a mild sense of schadenfreude. Choosing the right venue for your powder day is like winning a bet but the winnings are fresh tracks. Priceless. I almost felt like thumbing “thbbbbt” into my phone but then I thought better of it, put my phone away, and slid off the lift for the next run. Welcome to winter, people! 

--Kate Siber

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