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It’s a thin beginning at Purgatory

2012-13 opens with early-season conditions

Kyle Kitka of Durango is about to find out how hard the snowpack is on Friday during opening day at Durango Mountain Resort. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Kyle Kitka of Durango is about to find out how hard the snowpack is on Friday during opening day at Durango Mountain Resort.

Just a foot of snow graced one lone run at Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort on Friday, but that didn’t dampen the mood for skiers and riders at the resort’s opening day.

“It’s great to be able to ski,” said Maria Hornack, who was visiting from Phoenix with her two daughters. “It’s a nice warm-up for the upcoming season.”

Those who strapped on their skis and boards were greeted by blue sky, abundant sunshine and temperatures fit for late spring. Many were shedding layers as the clock inched toward noon.

Sven Brunso, marketing director at Purgatory, declined to give visitor numbers, but the empty lower parking lots and almost nonexistent lift lines indicated a sparse crowd.

Lift 4, or Twilight, was the only chairlift running, and Demon was the only run open thanks to a coating of natural snowfall mixed with a healthy dose of the manmade white stuff. Skiers and boarders also could entertain themselves on two terrain parks off the Demon run.

The resort’s 12-inch base is supplemented by 12 to 18 inches of manmade snow coverage, said Kim Oyler, spokeswoman for Durango Mountain Resort.

The resort has received 15 inches of snow this season and has been blowing snow since early November, she said.

The terrain park features were well maintained, and it was nice that the resort had them ready on opening day, said Nathan Stilwell, a student at Animas High School.

Minimal crowds made getting on the slopes a breeze. By mid-morning the lift line wait wasn’t more than a minute or two, and even late-arriving cars snagged spots in the upper base parking lot.

The mountain’s snow wasn’t as good as Wolf Creek or Telluride, said Bridget Ellerbe, who was visiting all three resorts during a trip from Louisiana. Wolf Creek opened Nov. 14 and Telluride officially opened Thanksgiving Day. But the conditions were certainly better than Copper Mountain’s opening day, when Denver residents Keith Bell and Bryan Butler said the crowds were overwhelming and the runs icy.

“It’s a little crispy, but nice for opening day,” Bell said after a run on Demon. The two men were in town for a wedding and decided to come a day early to get in a few runs.

Purgatory’s base is less than the last two years when skiers were greeted with 20-plus inch bases and 10 to 12 skiable runs. The conditions in 2009 were similar to Friday’s, with one lift and one run open.

The resort is budgeted to continue making snow through December, Oyler said. In coming days, the mountain operations crew will expand snowmaking efforts near the base and between lifts 1 and 2 to get more of the front side open, Oyler said.

But skiers and boarders hoping to carve turns on fresh, natural powder may have to wait a while. Forecasters predict blue skies well into the coming week.

“Right now, it looks like a bigger storm could be brewing along the West Coast,” said Jim Daniels, a meteorologist with National Weather Service. “The best potential (for snow) looks like the first weekend in December.”

The resort will be open through the weekend with discounted lift tickets, then will close Monday through Thursday. The mountain will be open Fridays through Sundays only until conditions permit full-time operations.

Adult day passes are $42 each, and season passes, including weekday passes, will be honored until the mountain is open seven days a week, Oyler said. The resort will continue to offer discounted lift tickets until the majority of the mountain is open.

Today, the resort will host season kickoff festivities at Purgatory Beach from 2 to 4 p.m.

Though the early-season skiing wasn’t as good as they had expected, Dallas residents Courtney and Marty Brasfield said they would return to the mountain, hopefully with more snow.

“We’ll be back, but a little later in the season,” Marty Brasfield said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald Lift operator Tyler Reynolds helps Paul Kosnik maneuver his daughter Quinlyn, 3, onto the chairlift Friday at Durango Mountain Resort.

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