Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald
Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald
In the two weeks since Ski Hesperus opened for winter under new management, the slopes have seen a steady flow of skiers and snowboarders who say it offers an affordable and convenient option for a day on the snow.
Thursday brought a cloudless sky and sunshine to the slopes, where dozens of locals said the same thing about the 11-mile drive from town to the ski area: It’s cheap, laid-back, and lines are short.
“It’s just nice that it’s so close,” said Jamie Denier of Durango, comparing the trip to the 25 miles to Purgatory Resort.
It’s a mellower experience, as well.
“We like the smaller crowds and the local feel here,” said Russell Haertl of Austin, Texas. Heartl brought his family on Thursday for the day and took advantage of the private lessons. “We hate tourists, even though we are tourists,” he joked.
Ben Beresford, newly appointed manager in charge of all operations at the ski area, could not provide an estimate of how many have visited the hill since opening day on Dec. 17.
“We’ve been super busy,” Beresford said in an interview. “From talking with the previous owners to put it in perspective, things are busier than years past.”
Beresford said he would have specifics on lift tickets sold and other statistics likely in the next week.
Opening day, a Saturday, was sluggish, but over the past two weeks and with some fortuitous weather, business has picked up.
Some of the traffic is owed to new policies introduced this year, including free lessons offered with the purchase of lift tickets and rentals, discounts for kids and, above all, access for Purgatory season pass-holders.
“I think a lot of locals have had a Purgatory pass and are taking advantage of Hesperus now,” Beresford said. “We’ve seen a lot of the local population skiing.”
The ski area, which does not have a snowmaker, has also been lucky thus far with wintry weather. Christmas snowstorms brought 18 inches to the hill, which has 26 trails spanning 160 acres.
Starting Jan. 2, it offers night skiing and boarding until 9 p.m. except Sundays.
James Coleman, who purchased Purgatory Resort in 2015 and co-owns four other ski resorts, bought Hesperus Ski Area in September. He takes the reins from Jim Pitcher, who held a lease at the ski area since 1988.
Coleman said he plans to operate the area through the season, which ends in March, weather permitting, and then decide what changes need to be made. He said accessibility and affordability are objectives for the future.
Amy Fehr, who has skied Hesperus off and on for the past 15 years, said she lives just down the road and will be taking advantage of that more often now.
“Being able to use your Purgatory passes here gives you another option,” she said.
“It’s affordable,” said Chris LaRose of Dolores. “I pay $65 a day, and I have four kids. I can get five lessons for $189 for one of my kids, and a discounted adult lift ticket. There’s only one lift, but it’s a perfect place for kids.”