Paradise is closing.
Terry Zink, bartender at the popular pizzeria at the base area of Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort, was stacking chairs and breaking down the restaurant’s patio on Sunday. It marked the ski area’s official last day of the regular season.
“It was January yesterday,” Zink said. “It’s sad. It’s always sad. The place is called Paradise, oddly enough, and paradise is closing.”
Not far from Paradise Pizzeria & Ice Creamery at ‘the beach,’ just below chair lift 1, a few hundred people were drowning their sorrows in a different way – with beer.
The day is unofficially known as “gaper day,” a day when patrons deck themselves out in everything from disco threads and bikinis to ’70s ski wear and fruit costumes.
Ralph Dinosaur and the Fabulous Volcanoes, a Durango staple, provided live music. A silent auction was held to raise money for longtime DMR Realtor Zane Bilgrav, who was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer this year.
Kim Oyler, DMR’s director of public relations, said the season ended strong, with skier visits surpassing the previous winter.
“We have no final numbers, but we met our goals for skier days this year,” she said.
Early storms laid a solid foundation of snow over the resort’s 88 trails, and at 202 inches, resort executives were happy with an increased accumulation compared with the year before, she said.
Dennis Martin said his first year as owner and operator of San Juan Untracked was more than encouraging. The snow-cat operation set up shop in DMR’s village, and it is the largest of its kind in the nation, accessing 35,000 acres of backcountry terrain for skiers and snowboarders.
“For a first year, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” he said Sunday. This season, he said, the business catered to clients ranging from professional A-list athletes and Olympians, film crews scouting locations, a snowboarding magazine and more.
“It was a real honor to have all those guys come out,” Martin said. “They were all blown away by the terrain. It is untracked powder – the stuff that you dream about.”
The outfit just purchased two new vehicles, and Martin is excited about next season.
So is Justin Roberts. He was enjoying the beach in his stinging bright-orange tuxedo, complete with top hat. To him and his friends, he said, DMR is a meeting place.
“This is our mountain,” Roberts said. “You come out by yourself, and then run into 10 people you love. This place is our home.”
His friend, Stevie Jaworsky, in her zebra tights and green and purple vintage jacket with obnoxiously striped shoulders, called the ski area “the place to be.”
“All of our friends are here,” she said.
Despite good times and powder coming to an end, the two already are talking about winter 2014-15.
“I’m always sad the season is over, but I’m hungry for more,” Roberts said.
On gaper day, seeing a gorilla in purple underwear isn’t that odd.
Victor Longinotti was loaded with every piece of ski and mountaineering equipment he owns hanging off of him from head to toe, “just in case anything happens to transpire,” he said.
A zebra skied by, holding some sort of canned beverage. An unidentified superhero followed. A beach ball volleyed over the crowd. The sun was nowhere in sight.
DMR will open for operation this coming weekend. Oyler said the resort wants to give locals one more chance to enjoy the snow, and all season passes will be honored. She described the last days as bittersweet.
“People are just reluctant to hang up their skis. A lot of people are passionate about this mountain.”
Longinotti wrapped it up. The shovel and snowshoes he loosely strung to his huge pack swayed as he moved. He held his avalanche tranciever in one hand and a red, white and blue can in the other.
“Sad,” he said. “There’s always next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.”