While the generous winter snowpack has definitely helped Purgatory Resort, word about the expected fat spring runoff and the benefits it will bring to other businesses is principally confined to locals and to avid rafters.
Still, the abundant snowpack has businesses looking toward a prosperous spring and summer season, an almost direct opposite of spring and summer 2018.
It is still early in the booking season, but Al Harper, owner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, said the deep snowpack does not really come up as a topic for discussion with customers looking to make reservations for summer.
“Of course, I don’t answer the phones, so I can’t tell you for sure, but I haven’t heard that the snowpack comes up,” Harper said.
D&SNG is on track to have record bookings through mid-March, but Harper said the railroad was in the same position last March, when the drought and eventually the 416 Fire led to a horrible season for the train – with more than 40 days of runs to Silverton lost during the blaze.
“I think the snowpack is a more important thing locally right now,” Harper said. “I’m not sure tourists track it, but we know it’s going to be a better summer. The rivers will be full, and that’s going to help the farmers, the ranchers, the wildlife and the rafting companies.”
The expected bountiful spring and summer also mean D&SNG should be launching its Cascade Canyon Express, its new, bargain-priced diesel-led trains from Rockwood to Cascade Canyon, with lush forests and flush rivers, and Harper said he’s excited to provide a more affordable option.
“The cost of riding to Silverton has gotten so high a lot of young families can’t afford it, so we’re happy to offer an option that young families can take advantage of,” he said.
David Moler, owner of Durango Rivertrippers & Adventure Tours, said the business is prepared to adjust its raft trips and all-terrain mountain tours based on differing snowpack conditions.
Staffing levels are largely unchanged whether snowpack is heavy or light, Moler said.
Actually, Moler said light snowpack years can require a need to increase staffing compared with heavy snowpack years because only three or four customers can be put on a raft in light runoff from light snowpack compared with eight people in a raft during average or heavy runoff.
“We can get creative (with light runoff),” Moler said. “We use smaller rafts, we use inflatable kayaks, we change where we get in and out of the river. It’s part of being a business that’s dependent on Mother Nature.”
Even last summer, as dry as it was, wasn’t a total loss for rafting Moler said right up until the 416 Fire delivered a crushing blow.
“We’re just hoping for no catastrophic events,” he said.
Greg Ralph, vice president of sales and marketing at Purgatory Resort, said of the snowpack, “It’s been really nice to be the first beneficiary. Now, we’re ready to hand it off to the farmers, the rancher and the rafters. It looks like we’re going to have some nice moisture.”
Ralph said Purgatory at its peak this season had 900 people on its payroll compared with a maximum of 700 during winter 2017-18.
“Last year was tough,” You hired people, and then you really couldn’t give them the hours they wanted. It’s tough when you don’t have everything up and supervisors are running things because you have to make cutbacks.”
This year was different, with Purgatory offering employees more hours.
Grooming trails was a bigger expense this winter, but Ralph said that’s a cost the ski area was happy to pay because it comes with a huge increase in skiers.
“We’ll take that trade-off every year,” he said.