Filler Downhill, To Death

By Kevin Franklin

THE HOWL OF the snow hurtling past my skis continues to jump in pitch as my speed increases, despite attempts at slowing.

Out There I thought I had the hang of this downhill skiing thing, no sweat. Why not go faster--I was sure I could handle it. Now I'm paying for my overconfidence.

Racing downhill, out of control, I make a sorry attempt at turning onto a green run, one of the easier routes. The turn whizzes past me like a mile marker on the freeway. What I need now is a run-away skier ramp.

The downward angle of the mountain grows only steeper ahead. In my mind, only two options remain: crash now/ crash later at greater speed.

But wait! A large patch of snow looms large ahead on the side of the run. It's not exactly a truck ramp, but it'll do in a pinch. I aim for it and hope my seat cushion can be used as a floatation device.

My skies plow into the snow and I'm rapidly slowing, but I'm also rapidly approaching a row of pine trees. On the verge of bringing new meaning to the term "tree hugger," I tumble over like a badly built skyscraper in a major quake.

"Eject! Eject!" I scream to my feet. Wham!

Ah, peaceful lack of motion, what a joy.

A demon crafted this run. Clearly hills like these are made for people such as two-time giant slalom Olympic gold winner Alberto Tomba.

I should have known better. Taking Highway 666 to a place called Purgatory doesn't boast much in the omen department.

"Are you all right?"

I come out of my daze to see a 10-year-old girl peering down at me. An icy winter sun halo radiates around her head.

Image "Yeah, sure fine, just relaxing," I reply, feigning nonchalance.

"OK," says my guardian angel, who zooms effortlessly down the straits of terror. Damn kids.

I scoot over to the turn-off I'd tried to make before. Then I continue skiing on the hills made for people like me. Thankfully, there are quite a few runs of that nature here at Purgatory Resort near Durango, Colorado. Of course, with 75 trails and 745 acres of ski runs, complete with black and double-black diamonds, there's plenty to keep even the most talented content.

The costs and benefits of a ski slope are difficult to sort out. On the one hand, one can certainly question the damage done to National Forest property by cutting a bunch of trails through it and running almost a half-million skiers down it over the course of a winter.

On the other hand, the resort generates millions of tourist dollars in a relatively clean industry. Perhaps some of those tourists will look at the surrounding San Juan Mountains, admire their beauty and remote nature, and side with their protection next time some joker wants to put in a giant mine.

At least in Colorado snow-covered, forested slopes are not the rare and isolated phenomenon they are here in Arizona. To boot, Purgatory sits right next to the highway, so if it is going to be done, it ought to happen here.

In any event, the deed was done 30 years ago.

Wanting to try our joints against the slopes of Purgatory without taking out a second mortgage on the afterlife, we come up with a few ways to do it on the cheap and easy. By renting our gear in town we save a few bucks and the hassle of dealing with resort crowds. Next we hit the slopes ahead of the crowds, at about 11:30 a.m. The first little lift up the mountain is free, so we ski that for a while and get the hang of the gear and our own shaky abilities. Then a little after noon we go to the ticket booth and get the guy to sell us half-day lift tickets early. Getting on the longest lift just before it closes can add another 20 minutes to your day. Altogether, that adds up to nearly five hours of continuous skiing on a $29 lift ticket.

After the lifts shut down, we drag out our sleds and ride the bunny hills for another half hour. Not bad for a couple of desert rats in snow country.


Skiing is supposed to be good until early April, so time remains for would-be snow bums. A road trip to Durango makes an interesting adventure (see "Out There," February 15) but you can also fly from Phoenix.

Call (800) 962-4077 for information on reservations and rates in Durango and at Purgatory. TW

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