Shouldn’t the Purgatory and Heavenly ski areas be joined at the hip?
DURANGO, Colo. — The story of North America is usually told as one of westward expansion. That’s an incomplete telling, however, and a recent news story about the renaming of a ski area north of Durango serves as a reminder.
The Durango Mountain Resort was sold recently to James Coleman, who promptly announced he was renaming it Purgatory. The ski area had been called Purgatory for the first several decades of its existence and only within the last decade had taken on the name Durango.
Purgatory reflects the Spanish influence in the region. After Hernan Cortés subjugated the Aztec in Mexico from 1519-21, conquistadors moved north. Soon, they had established Nuevo Mexico with Santa Fe as the provincial capital in 1610.
In 1765, Spanish explorer Juan Maria de Rivera set out from Santa Fe to explore the mountains to the north. In the San Juan Mountains, he found a river that he called the Rio de Las Animas, which in English means the River of Souls.
Some think the full name the explorer gave the river was Rio de las Animas Perdidas. In Roman Catholic doctrine, that’s a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven. Hence, the name Purgatory for the ski area.
It would be a delicious synchronicity if the owner of Purgatory also owned Heavenly, the ski area at Lake Tahoe. But Vail Resorts owns Heavenly and Coleman’s chain has a southwestern flavor: he owns Sipapu, a ski area near Taos, and is acquiring the Pajarito Mountain Ski Area in Los Alamos, both in New Mexico. He is also acquiring Snowbowl near Flagstaff, Ariz.