For Purgatory Resort's new owner James Coleman, replacing the notoriously slow-moving Legends Lift 8 is only the first step of his long-term vision that looks to improve the ski mountain.
"We want to make it the best resort in Colorado for both locals and destination visitors," Coleman told The Durango Herald.
"We plan on making lift improvements and adding new trails every year. We're trying to give skiers what they want, and that's a better, more fun mountain. That's the baseline of why people come up here. We really believe in that."
This summer's estimated $5 million enhancement project includes dismantling the plodding, three-person Lift 8, which used to take about 13½ minutes to climb 5,000 vertical feet. The new, high-speed four-person lift, complete with padded seats, will traverse that same distance in just five minutes.
This week, crews will continue to pour concrete for two of the tower foundations at the top of the mountain, and then begin the terminal foundation. After that, the new towers will be assembled in the resort's parking lot, and helicopters will lift and install them in the next two weeks. Purgatory officials hope to have the 97-chair lift ready to go by early November.
Mike McCormack, senior vice president of mountain operations, said the new lift will start at the bottom of the mountain and climb to the top nonstop, as opposed to the old lift, which had a mid-way transfer. The original 1965 chairlift will be kept in storage for eventual repurposing.
"A lot of people are going to be disappointed they're not going to be able to feed the gray jays," said McCormack, referencing the fact the lift moved so slow, skiers would feed birds, also known as camp robbers, on the way up.
McCormack, about to enter his 34th year with Purgatory, said he doesn't expect there to be added traffic as a result of the faster lifts. The resort also added two new trails off of Ray's Ridge and bolstered its snowmaking capabilities there.
"We've done a number of improvements throughout the years but never the lift," McCormack said. "That's going to be a big difference."
All across the community, skiers and snowboarders expressed relief the antiquated lift would be taken down, and getting to the top would take about one-third the time.
"I think it's a really great deal for the skiers," former ski patrol member Paul Folwell said. "There's a lot of new terrain they can open up. The only problem is at 76, I really liked the slow chair."
Folwell was one of the first members of Purgatory's ski-patrol team, and even in his mid-70s, he still skis the mountain each winter. Taking in the views and having long conversations on the old chairlift were pleasures, but he said he understands the resort needs infrastructure updates.
"Skiing is a competitive business, and you have to keep up. And this is one of the things people expected," he said. "It's a different sport than it was in 1965, so the new lift is necessary to attract skiers."
Even the business community heralded the new lift. Sarah Rome, owner of Cliffside Ski & Bike on U.S. Highway 550, said any improvement to Purgatory intrinsically helps her business.
"The better Purgatory does, the better all of us in the ski industry here will do," she said.
"They are the one controlling the game, really. And we are really looking forward to see what this new ownership means to our whole community. We're excited."
Coleman has long been invested in Purgatory Resort. He said it was the second mountain he ever skied on, and his family continually returned throughout his childhood. He traveled between Texas and Colorado but always dreamed of owning the ski spot. Ten years ago, when he moved his wife and two children to Durango, that hope started to become a more realistic possibility.
"It's near and dear to my heart," he said. "It's a big part of my life."
Coleman closed on the sale of what was then Durango Mountain Resort in February from the previous managing partner, Chuck Cobb, and the Duncan family.
The Duncans and a group of local investors were the original owners in 1965.
In his first order of business, Coleman changed the name back to Purgatory.
"Like many of the locals and our longtime guests, I've always known this mountain as Purgatory, and with next winter being our 50th anniversary, we believe it's appropriate to officially change the resort's name back to Purgatory," he said at that time.
Since the purchase, Coleman has been putting in motion a master improvement project that was headed by Cobb in the early 2000s. However, those plans stalled when the 2008 recession hit, and only minor upgrades have been made since.
Purgatory's 50th anniversary celebration is important, and Coleman said he understands a thriving ski area is essential to local skiers and ski business. He said he hopes the mountain will get better year after year.
"It all works together," he said. "It's really important that the community does their part, and we do ours. The foundation of skiing is trails and lifts. That's the starting place for us, and we'll make additional improvements from there."