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Livi on the Lift: Frog ponds and reunions on the slopes

Members of the 1971 Durango High School state champion ski team get together for a photo last Saturday at Purgatory Resort.

My 10-year high school reunion at a brewery didn’t sound like a lot of fun. But a reunion at a ski area? Now that I could get into.

February provided some great skiing and snowboarding in Southwest Colorado. Storms early in the month provided the foundation for soft groomer days as February turned to March. And a fresh storm Thursday delivered six new inches at Purgatory Resort and 11 at Wolf Creek Ski Area, leaving Wolf Creek only four inches shy of 300 inches of snowfall this season. Wolf Creek should eclipse that mark Tuesday with another mid-week storm in the forecast. Purgatory sits at 154 inches for the season with a 51-inch base depth.


That adds up to good news for spring breakers from across the Southwest in the coming weeks, who will undoubtedly make the annual pilgrimage to our ski hills for their getaways. I encourage any visitors reading this to please adhere to the health guidelines in place that have allowed our ski areas to avoid any COVID-19 related shutdowns this season. Remember, we didn’t get any spring break skiing last year when the novel coronavirus initially began to appear in Colorado’s high country and led the governor to shut down resorts. We’d sure like to finish our season this year.

Trash should also find appropriate bins or be packed out. It’s crazy the amount of bottles, cans and other liquid receptacles that seem to litter the slopes when spring breakers arrive. And if you absolutely can’t make it to a bathroom to relieve yourself, at least find some trees to dip into. The middle of a populated run is not an ideal place to unzip. It sounds crazy, but in 10 years of being a Purgatory passholder, I’ve seen it nearly every year.

While it wasn’t quite the party scene of spring break, last week saw a couple of reunions at Purgatory Resort. First, the 1971 state champion ski team from Durango High School gathered for not only its 50th reunion but also for some racing. Stars from that team, Daryl Tomberlin and Ron Yeager, even raced head-to-head, something they didn’t get to do in 1971 at the state championship races held at Purgatory, as Yeager, a two-time Olympian in 1972 and 1976, was in Finland that day competing in the World Junior Championships for cross-country skiing.

Ron Yeager and Daryl Tomberlin line up in the start gate for a little head-to-head slalom racing at last weekend’s 50th reunion of the 1971 state champion Durango High School ski team.

Tomberlin organized the wonderful event and shared a few old stories of what it was like to be part of a ski team that won five state titles in six years under the coaching of Jerry Davis.

“To be on the team, you had to run the frog pond,” Tomberlin said, sparking my interest in where this frog pond was in town.

Before the North College Drive leading up to Fort Lewis College existed, Tomberlin explained there was a dirt trail that went past a frog pond and up to the rim, and every athlete who wanted to be on the ski team had to run up and down that grueling hill once a week. If that wasn’t the key to Durango’s ski team success, it at least provided plenty of chances for team bonding.

“Every week, Jerry Davis made us run that dang hill. Yeager was always first,” Tomberlin said. “You would run there, and the frogs started singing.”

A few days after the DHS reunion, I shared a lift with another man, Tom, who was visiting Purgatory from Florida for a 1978 class reunion from Fort Lewis College. Still a property owner in Durango along with his brother, Tom likes to visit a few times a year.

After the high-speed six-pack Lift 1 at Purgatory Resort was out of order for multiple days a few weeks earlier, Tom and I got to talking about how much the mountain, especially the lift, has changed since his days of skiing in college.

“It’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s gotten so much better. Back then, there was just a two-seater here on the front and then another small one where Lift 3 is, and that was it. There was no Chair 8 or any of that great skiing. They were those funny chairs with the bar down the middle and took a long time to go up. It’s incredibly better these days.”

Tom, who was a business major, had a long run in the food and beverage industry in Florida after leaving FLC. He’s gone into business with his son doing outdoor enclosures for pools and back porches more recently.

Before we got off the chair, Tom asked if I knew Dolph Kuss.

“Sure, but I know his son a lot better,” I told him.

Tom asked who Dolph’s son might be, and I informed him how Sepp Kuss had competed in last year’s Tour de France and was one of the top road cyclists in the world.

“That’s pretty good,” Tom said. “I guess I’m not surprised. Dolph was, and still is, an incredible athlete.”

It was then I realized Dolph Kuss and Yeager were both at the 1972 Olympics for Nordic skiing for the U.S, with Dolph as a Nordic combined coach and Yeager competing in cross-country skiing.

I hope someday I can share a ski chair with both of them.

John Livingston is the Regional Sports Editor of The Durango Herald. He can be reached at jlivingston@durangoherald.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram, @jlivi2.

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