Purgatory reports stellar season

Though summer is in full swing, a strong winter ski season is still echoing through the San Juan Mountains. Colorado Ski Country USA announced its skier visitation numbers this week, and Colorado as a whole posted gains that were “up by a nose.” However, Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort helped drive those gains with a banner 2009-10 season.

As a whole, CSCUSA’s 22 member resorts hosted 6.74 million skier visits during the season, an increase of 29,000 skiers over the prior season, or 0.4 percent. Purgatory, on the other hand, hosted 255,048 skier visits, a leap of nearly 15,200 skiers. The 6 percent jump in visits came as good news for the resort and Durango as a whole.

 “More than half of the Colorado increase came from our little ski area, Durango Mountain Resort,” said Beth Holland, DMR director of communications.

Holland credited one major factor for the increase in skier days – snow. For much of the year, DMR boasted the best snowpack in the state. In addition, many storms coincided perfectly with traditional tourist high times.

“We have the advantage of being a drive-to market, and we had great snow that timed perfectly with people planning their vacations,” Holland said.

The rest of the state’s numbers were tame by comparison. However, CSCUSA is still celebrating growth during challenging economic times.

“We’re pleased visitation is up even if only by a nose,” explained Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA. “We held our own in attracting the destination skier, and even with the challenges the travel industry still faces, we found that several indicators are moving in the right direction.”

Visitation from Front Range and other in-state skiers was actually down slightly, while out of state and international guests increased. Visits from overseas were up approximately 6.5 percent.

Though Southwest Colorado enjoyed the benefits of an El Niño winter, the rest of the state suffered under drought-like conditions. Overall, Colorado snowfall was down by 26 percent compared to the 2008-09 season. “Snow always plays a role in skier visits, especially with our in-state guests,” continued Mills. “And while some resorts saw near record amounts of snow, others relied on their expert snow maintenance staffs to provide a great product all season long.”

The season ended with a robust spring and showed signs of visitation getting back on track. “Starting March 1, visitation rallied, growing by 5 percent over the previous year during that period. This was fueled by heavy spring snows and a favorably timed Easter,” said Mills.


Trespassing threatens motor mecca

Motorized trespass into the Weminuche Wilderness may lead to the closure of a newly opened motorized recreation route. This week, the Forest Service announced that it was considering closing a section of The Lakes, a motorized mecca near Vallecito, after users have failed to respect the wilderness boundary.

In 2004, the Forest Service proclaimed that off road vehicle abuse was a top threat to national forests and ordered regional and local offices to confine motorized use to designated roads and trails and prohibit cross-country travel.

The San Juan National Forest took a roundabout approach to the order. Rather than cracking down on illegal ORV use or further policing the situation, the Forest Service set out to direct use to certain areas and create specific areas for off-highway vehicles. The San Juan National Forest selected “The Lakes” area as one motorized sanctuary. The Lakes encompasses a large portion of

Missionary Ridge as well as Lemon and Vallecito reservoirs and the Middle Mountain and East Florida areas. The San Juan Trail Riders, a local advocacy group for motorized users, was instrumental in spotlighting the region.

However, now that the ORV refuge is open for business, some riders are struggling to play by the rules. The Middle Mountain Road, above Tuckerville, has been especially problematic, and ORVs have been straying beyond “closed” signs and into the wilderness area, where motors are strictly prohibited.

“Our travel plan for this area states that the road beyond Tuckerville will be monitored for three years after implementation of the decision, and that if we see chronic violations into the wilderness from motorized vehicles, we will close the road at Tuckerville,” said Matt Janowiak, Columbine District Ranger/Field Manager. “This is year two of implementation, and we had violations last year, and again this year.  If we see this pattern continue, we will close this portion of the road next year.”Federal law-enforcement officers are also stepping up patrol of the area, and violators risk fines of up to $5,000.


Colorado city places ban on bicycling

Bicycles have been officially declared off-limts in a Colorado city on the Front Range. Citing safety concerns, the City of Blackhawk has made cycling illegal and this month started issuing tickets to pedalers making their way through town limits.

City Manager Mike Copp explained that there simply was not space on Blackhawk streets for both bikes and cars. Gambling is legal in Blackhawk, and city leaders also made the move in part to accommodate that tourist market.

“This City Council is looking out for the best interest of its citizens, its businesses, which are the casinos, and its visitors, who is (sic) the gamers,” Copp told 9News in not-quite-perfect English.

Cyclists and advocacy groups are crying foul. The closure cuts off the only link between the Peak to Peak Highway and the Central City Parkway, a popular Front Range bike tour. In addition, Bicycle Colorado noted that the highway in question is a public road, and Blackhawk should have no jurisdiction over the thoroughfare.

Blackhawk countered that cyclists are still welcome in the city, but only as long as they dismount and walk approximately ¼ mile through town before getting back in the saddle. After issuing warnings for a period, police began handing out tickets this month. So far, eight $68 tickets have been given to rogue riders.

– Will Sands