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Has snowy winter delivered economic rebound from 416 Fire?

Purgatory Resort reports skier visits up 50 percent from last year
Heavy snow this winter was a “godsend” for Purgatory Resort, which is reporting 50 percent more visitors this year compared with last year. The snow is also credited with bolstering tourism in town.

A wet winter is helping jump-start the Durango economy after the 416 Fire.

Deep snow is drawing more skiers and snowboarders this winter to Purgatory Resort compared with last year, and more visitors are passing through the Durango Welcome Center, said local tourism industry officials.

“This winter for Purgatory has been a godsend,” said Greg Ralph, vice president of sales and marketing for the resort.

Visitation is above average this year and is up 50 percent compared with last year, he said.

He expects above-average snowpack will boost summer tourism, including rafting and fishing.

“It’s going to help us all,” Ralph said.

Sales-tax collections were down for six months of the year in 2018 – February, June, July, August, September and December – compared with 2017, according to city records.

“It started off really good and then it felt like the sky fell,” said Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Business Improvement District.

But the year ended with sales-tax collections up 1.9 percent compared with 2017, according to city records.

“It wasn’t as bad as we initially feared,” Walsworth said. “We ended the year on a high note.”

He has high hopes for sales-tax data from January and February in Durango because of the heavy snow and increased visitation to the Durango Welcome Center, he said.

The center had a 40 percent increase in visitation in January and a 15.4 percent increase in visitation in February compared with the same months last year, he said.

While many residents likely grumbled while shoveling the heavy snow, Walsworth said he expects increased snowpack will draw rafters and bolster the summer tourism season.

A good snow year was key for Purgatory Resort after last year’s dry winter and month-long closure during the 416 Fire, Ralph said.

“This winter has been our chance to recover, put a little money in the bank and pay some bills,” he said.

This summer, the resort plans to promote the mountain coaster that opened in August, he said.

Tourism officials and local businesses – including Purgatory and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad – are already thinking about the winter holidays and how to promote Durango as a Christmas destination, Walsworth said.

The second and third weekends of December in particular are a good time to draw additional visitors, he said.

Ralph said new events such as a small arts and crafts fair and a warm wine festival could also help draw people to town.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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