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Across the street from Purgatory Resort, the Durango Nordic Center offers a recreational alternative to downhill skiing and snowboarding. This winter wonderland features 23 kilometers of trail for classic and skate skiers and another five kilometers for snowshoers. From a peaceful ramble through snowy forests to a lung-burning workout, skiers enjoy glimpses of the majestic Needle Mountains in the background and up-close wildlife footprints.

Helen Low, the Nordic Center’s manager, described the terrain as “wedding cake topography,” layered-on benches of limestone that roll flat and then drop off and ease back to flat. Trails are groomed daily, ranging from blacks like Deadman’s Drop to greens like Aspen Loop, inviting skiers to be as brave or mellow as they feel.

Peace and quiet can be found even when the parking lot is full. Newcomers are encouraged to embrace their inner Bambi-on-ice awkwardness and gaze in amazement at the old-timers gliding along gracefully. Programs are catered to all ages, beginning at five years old, and no one is too old to start.

“The little kids’ programs are the best,” Low said, adding that more than 100 kids participate each season. “They’ll head out on the trails and play silly games to get them thinking it’s fun without realizing they’re learning. And then you’ll hear a gaggle of moms rounding the corner, laughing and enjoying the freedom of a couple of hours of playing in the snow while getting a good workout.”

Volunteer instructors offer affordable lessons every day of the week. Rentals include classic and skate skis, boots, poles, and snowshoes for preschoolers up to “the biggest dudes you can find,” Low said. Each lesson starts with how the gear works, body mechanics, and basic techniques, like how to fall and get back up. Instructors offer gentle reminders to “Engage your core.”; “Get into your body and your breath.”; “Slow down!”; “Be grateful for the cadence your body is asking of you today.”; and “Listen, focus, and enjoy!”

The Nordic Center runs on the power of volunteers who return every year in the tradition of the Durango Nordic Ski Club, founded in 1952. Today, the Nordic Center is operated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit club, funded through memberships, trail fees, programs, events, and generous donations from sponsors and community members. In 2016, a local family of philanthropists, who wish to remain anonymous, bought the parcel to ensure mansions and developments don’t overrun this haven for making memories.

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