Southwest Colorado is home to the largest mountain range in Colorado. The rugged San Juan Mountains aren’t the tallest, but they are the most expansive. The region boosts some of the finest terrain in Colorado that rivals almost anything in the Lower 48, and snow quality is often rated among the best powder in the Rockies.
By Scott DW Smith
Where To Ride
The area boasts four major resorts: Wolf Creek, Durango Mountain Resort (also known as Purgatory or DMR), Telluride, and Silverton Mountain. Neither Silverton Mountain nor Wolf Creek have a shuttle, and if you’re lucky enough to hit them during a storm cycle, you’ll be very stoked to have four-wheel drive—the roads can get pretty gnarly.
Telluride—Views, Jumps, And Deep Pow
Telluride is surrounded by high alpine peaks creating basins and bowls that load heavily with deep powder. The mountain itself is amazing for its diversity with mellow to extremely steep slopes and Southwest Colorado’s best parks—hands down. The main park is located on Lower See Forever. The Hitchin’ Post rail was built sideways—perfect for practicing 50-50s. Just below that, the park crew set up a nearly twenty-foot quarterpipe wallride that begs to be slashed. A series of four large tabletops and the rail zone end the park, while higher up on the mountain, the halfpipe resides on the Butterfly Trail.
The quality park is only part of the power of Telluride; the high alpine runs are what make it one of best mountains in Colorado. Prospect Bowl and Gold Hill are local favorites, both are serviced by high-speed quads, so you’re guaranteed to feel the burn from quantities of quality powder runs.
Cost: $79 (2006/07 price)
Best for: Park and powder.
Web site: tellurideskiresort.com
Silas Hatch knows that Telluride is a hotspot for SoCO park shredding. Photo: Scott Smith.
Silverton Mountain—The Raw Experience
If your plan is to snowboard steep and deep, look no further. However, you’d best know exactly what you’re doing. This place is not for the weak, it is 100-percent expert terrain. There’re no parks, no groomers, no running water—but the beers are always cold. Silverton Mountain is just plain sick.
All the runs (except the liftline) were created naturally by avalanches, and the possibility of frequent avalanches is very real. The terrain on the mellowest pitches is into the 30-plus degree zone, and the true steeps have hundreds of feet of sustained pitches well above 50 degrees. Avalanche gear (beacon, shovel and probe) is required (rentals are available) and knowing how to use the equipment is paramount. Silverton receives more than 400 inches of average snowfall annually—steep and deep is the name of the game!
Much of the season, the mountain is reserved for snowboarding with a guide. Check the Web site to find dates for unguided riding if you prefer.
Cost: Unguided: $49, Guided: $119–129
Best for: Steep and deep.
Web site: silvertonmountain.com
Skylar Holgate hammers another nail into one of Silverton’s iconic mining buildings. Photo: Scott Smith.
Durango Mountain Resort—The Family Hill
Locally known as Purg (short for Purgatory, the former name), Durango Mountain holds stunning scenery with views to last a lifetime. For the most part, the mountain is fairly interesting, yet forgiving, with its rolling stairs and benches. The trails seem to drop and roll constantly, creating a flow unlike most resorts. Combine this almost terraced terrain with tall, widely spaced aspen groves surrounded by deep powder, and it’ll have you smiling into the night. Generally regarded as an intermediate area for its terrain, Durango Mountain has something for almost everyone, but it’s sure to please the families.
Watch for the Demon headwall, as tempting as it looks, the patrol watches the “no jumping sign” with a vengeance.
Cost: $59 (2006/07 price)
Best for: Groomers and wholesome fun.
Web site: durangomountainresort.com
Durango Mountain Resort. Photo: Scott Smith.
Wolf Creek—The Powder Dream Machine
Wolf Creek is the mecca for powder. The snow is legendary; at least a few times each season truly bottomless powder can be ridden, often for several days per storm. The unique geography of Wolf Creek provides copious amounts of cold, dry powder—on average it boasts the snowiest resort in Colorado with 465 inches of natural snowfall each year. The snow is only part of the equation, though, as the vibe is stellar, and while there’s no park, the terrain has something for everyone.
Wolf Creek’s style is au naturale, so if you can’t find what you’re looking for, just ask around. The best bet is to head for Alberta Peak, a short fifteen-minute hike from the top of the Treasure lift. Keep your eyes peeled as you hike, as there are a ton of quality kickers and rock drops along the way. From here you can drop into the Waterfall area, beginning with a 600-foot face, followed by a multitude of tree lines, and a taste of incredible snow. From there, hop on the Alberta lift, which will take you to the Knife Ridge, the steepest lines on the mountain.
Wolf Creek was created as a family resort, truly a mom-and-pop operation. Davey and Rosanne Pitcher have managed to hold off the mega-development resort mentality, keeping things simple. Wolf Creek is 100-percent wind-powered and fashions itself as an environmentally and locally sustainable resort.
Cost: $46 (2006/07 price)
Best for: Early season powder (shh).
Web site: wolfcreekski.com
Chad Otterstrom getting deep at Wolf Creek. Photo: Scott Serfas/Keep Talkin’
Go Cheap: Local Shred Hills That Don’t Cost A Fortune
There are a small handful of tiny operations dedicated to rookies and families. Kendall Mountain is a small hill located within the town of Silverton operating Friday–Sunday with life-ticket prices ranging from four to seven bucks a day. Chapman Hill in Durango sports a ropetow, a sledding hill, and an ice rink. Ski Hesperus, just west of Durango, deserves mentioning not only for its funky groovy vibe, but also because it rocks the region with the only night riding available.
Kendall Mountain: (970) 387-5522
Chapman Hill: (970) 375-7395
Ski Hesperus: skihesperus.com
Chances are you’ll fly into Durango or Telluride. The rest of the towns are spread out. The town of Silverton is nestled into the peaks at 9,300 feet, 50 miles north of Durango. Pagosa Springs services Wolf Creek 30 miles south—but watch out, between the town and the resort lies Wolf Creek pass, one of Colorado’s meanest passes.
Photo: Scott Serfas
Tequilas Mexican Restaurant
Look no further for simple but tasty traditional Mexican, and a nice view overlooking the river and hot springs. Pagosa Springs,
A fine-dining restaurant a few miles northwest of town looking out across the local airport runway. Pagosa Springs, (970) 731-2021
Mobius Cycles And Cafe
A cup of excellent fresh-brewed java and breakfast burritos always seem to hit the spot. Silverton, (970) 387-0777
A local’s favorite, serving quality traditional Italian dishes such as eggplant Parmesan and a ton of pasta plates sure to fill the void.
Silverton, (970) 387-5352
Brown Dog Pizza
This is a great pizza and beer family restaurant right downtown. Telluride, (970) 728-8046
Up on the mountain, just below the top of Chair 9 at 11,850 feet, is Giuseppe’s—the highest restaurant in Colorado. On a clear day, it’s possible to see well into Utah. Telluride, (970) 728-6900
Honga’s Lotus Petal
Located just a block off main, this is the place to hit for sushi and mojitos, complete with a room of pillows and low tables. Telluride, (970) 728-5134
Life is complete with a pitcher of beer and a jukebox around these parts—there’s no shortage of great dive bars.
Pride of the West Bar And Grill
A watering hole that is second to none. Silverton, (970) 387-5150
Bear Creek Saloon & Grill
A classic easygoing spot offering the standard bar food. Pagosa Springs, (970) 264-5611
Fly Me To The Moon Saloon
A great downstairs hideaway, and a good bet for live music. Telluride, (970) 728-MOON
The Last Dollar Saloon
A great dive bar; it’s also referred to as “the Buck” by locals. Telluride, (970) 728-4800
There are plenty of spots to lay your head. These ones are tried and true—a little something for every budget.
The Triangle Motel
Clean and cheap. Silverton, (970) 387-5780
The Grand Imperial
A classic Victorian hotel. Silverton, 1-800-341-3340
Purgatory Village Hotel
The best on-mountain lodging in Durango.
Near the mountain—good but pricey.
The Durango Lodge
Cheap and very central to downtown.
Durango, (970) 247-0955
The Springs Resort
Located on the west side of the pass from Wolf Creek, it has the best hot springs and is well worth the cost.
Pagosa Springs, 1-800-225-0934
The Wolf Creek Lodge
Located on the east side of the pass from wolf Creek, this is your best bet. South Fork, 1-800-874-0416
The Ice House Lodge
A sweet, but somewhat pricey, option in town. Telluride, 1-800-544-3436
Pull Over In Pagosa
Pagosa Hot Springs is world famous for its healing waters. There are thirteen small soaking pools and one large pool for lap swimmers. Most of the soaking pools are located on the banks of the San Juan River, varying from lukewarm to very hot. The lobster pot normally steams at around 114 degrees, so a quick dip in the icy river and plunge back into hot water are sure to set you up for a great night’s sleep and recharge you for more powder surfing at Wolf Creek.
Homegrown: Venture Snowboards
After putting in a few years in Durango, the Venture Factory moved to Silverton during the summer of 2007. Stop by the factory on Greene Street to see the making of fresh powder- and split-boards. venturesnowboards.com