ONCE UPON A DREAM
For nearly six decades, the visionaries, leaders, and stakeholders of Purgatory Resort have focused on one mission: to give people like you the freedom to ski. As the ultimate collaborative, creative project, the establishment of Purgatory and its evolution into the premier family ski destination in the Southwest is a story of camaraderie, community, and a commitment to inspiring change one mountain at a time.
With Mother Nature’s canvas as a fresh backdrop, ski visionaries stepped onto the scene, orchestrating the symphonic handiwork that would become Durango’s treasured home mountain. Some of these key developers include Forest Service snow ranger Chet Anderson, beloved Olympic ski coach Dolph Kuss, innovative painter Paul Folwell, and the inimitable Ray Duncan, the man who wrangled them all together.
Chester “Chet” Anderson (yes, of Chet’s run on the backside) had a simple recipe in mind when he sought out ideal ski terrain: easy access, at least 1,000 feet of vertical drop, availability of private land for commercial development, and room to grow. In 1963, he picked an area 25-miles north of Durango just off Highway 550.
Two years later, Ray Duncan, a young oilman and eager newbie skier, founded the Durango Ski Corporation in hopes of building a ski resort in the area. He enlisted Anderson to help him design and manage Purgatory Ski Area, named after the creek that flows through the base area. The dynamic duo got to work establishing Southwest Colorado’s most approachable ski resort.
First up, they needed money, and in pure Durango fashion, the community delivered. Local skiers, like Bob Beers, recall that “A number of us got together and put in a thousand dollars each to form the nucleus of the company… we then undertook to sell stock up and down Main Avenue.” In a little over a month, community funds empowered Duncan and team to secure a $350,000 small business loan.
With the support of contour maps and aerial photos, Anderson got to work noting where the roads, rocks, swamps, and benches loomed. He walked the entire landscape during summer, ironing out the details when there was little or no snow on the ground. Anderson took great pride in the creative process behind his mountain planning, a true craft not unlike painting or photography.
As Anderson conjured up the skiing possibilities, Duncan assembled a team of maintenance workers, administrators, ski instructors, architects, and even bakers. Nine months after the scheme launched, Purgatory opened in December 1965. A month later, in January 1966, Duncan was honored for bringing his audacious dream to reality as Durango Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year.