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Unforgettable: An Afternoon With Dante

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

Skiers leaving the slopes
Sundown at Purgatory Ski Resort

I consider myself an athlete. I also consider myself a "driver". I do drive a car, just not professionally. I also consider myself a skier, especially during the triathlon off season which, in the Northern hemisphere, is right about now. And that's where our story begins. A trip to the Durango, Colorado ski resort with an unusual name: Purgatory. By the way, it was called Purgatory from its founding in 1965. In 2000, the name was changed to Durango Mountain Resort and then in 2015 it was changed back to Purgatory. Fans of Dante, no doubt.

At 12pm in Durango, we met up with Jason. He's our friend from the town of Bayfield which is a 20 minute drive from Durango. The plan was to move the ski equipment from our car into Jason's truck and we would car pool to the ski area. After all the equipment was loaded, Jason paused. He nervously glanced back and forth between me and Lori.

"I forgot to put my boots in the truck when I left the house", he told us. He's a shredder, a snowboarder. Just like skiing, snowboarding is best done with special boots. We might have called off the trip if he hadn't brought the board. We did consider driving to Bayfield to get his boots, but an alternative plan hatched rather quickly.

The three of us may have been suffering from hunger stupidity. That's the unofficial name for an official condition characterized by irrational thought due to a poor nutritional state. We decided to get burritos at Macho's and then go to Durango Outdoor Exchange to find a cheap pair of used boots. This is where the metaphorical snowball began to build.

At the store, Jason did find a pair of inexpensive boots that were not at all "cheap." In fact, at a very good price they were an almost ideal replacement for the crappy boots he left at home. And then it happened again. Somewhere in the store, there was the realization that buying a new pair of boots was not enough to solve our problem. Jason had not only left his boots at home, but he also left his helmet, goggles and snow pants.

When I learned to ski back in the 70's, no one wore a helmet. Very few people I knew wore snow pants. On the slopes today, everyone seems to be wearing helmets and snow pants, so we felt those were necessary pieces of equipment. And because Jason had found a great deal on a pair of boots, he just figured that he would look for some used snow pants as well. He found them.

The helmet and goggles issue was also solved rather quickly. I bought a cheap pair of new goggles and let Jason use my old pair. Then we found a great deal on a used helmet.

By this time it was getting a bit late in the day, so we drove as fast as possible from Durango up to Purgatory (the ski area, not Dante's Purgatorio). During the drive, Jason informed us that he had received a phone call while we were in the store. His girlfriend called to say that her car had been stolen!

Stolen? That didn't sound quite right. The car had been waiting to be towed from the Walgreens parking lot because it had been in a wreck the previous day and now no one could account for it. Jason didn't seem too concerned and there was no way he was calling off this ski trip. Besides, there was nothing we could have done. Katie wasn't stranded anywhere and she was taking care of the situation.

Finally we arrived and I could not have asked for better conditions for an afternoon ski. Maybe I could have requested a bit more sun, but skiing is skiing. It's like pizza. Event when it's bad, it's still pretty good.

People sitting in red adirondack chairs on the snow
The chairs at the base are a great place to sit and watch skiers

Lori did not want to ski that day, so her plan was to people watch and sit in one of the plastic adirondack chairs outside the lodge. Jason and I donned our equipment, got in line at the chair lift and then I saw it again. Jason paused just as we approached the front of the line.

"My lift pass is in the snow pants I left at home."

We are five meters from getting on the lift and he says he has no pass to ride up the mountain. I'm not surprised. At this point, why should I be? Actually, this isn't a deal breaker. It's not going to stop us from skiing. All he had to do was go to the ticket office and explain the situation. While he did that, I went out for one quick run.

I guess Jason was able to quickly secure a new lift ticket and was tired of waiting for me to come down the mountain, so he made a run of his own. But we did eventually meet up after his run. This time, it all came together. We rode up the mountain and carved and shredded our way down. To say it was fun would be an understatement. It was 17 minutes of pure snow sport enjoyment.

We stopped to rest about 100 meters above the base and checked our clocks: 1547. Lifts close at 1600. "Let's GO!"

As fast as we could get to the lift was not fast enough. Maybe our clocks were off. Maybe they closed a bit early. Our day at Purgatory Ski Resort was done... or so we thought.

Somewhat dejected, we made our way to the adirondack chairs where Lori had been sitting 30 minutes earlier. No Lori. However, the chair she once occupied was now occupied by a small bag of popcorn and a small bag of oat cookies, the two snacks we brought to the mountain. Surely Lori would be returning soon.

Because we couldn't ski anymore, both Jason and I wanted to leave as soon as possible to avoid the rush of cars out of the parking lot. The sun was going down and skiers were coming off the mountain in droves. While we waited for Lori, Jason fished for his keys and I locked my skis together for the long walk through the parking lot back to the truck.

I noticed something was not right. Jason didn't have the truck keys in his hand. His hand was burried deep in the pocket of his new/used ski pants. Then he paused.

"No way! This can't be", he said with more disbelief than if he had just seen Santa Clause.

The keys were gone. Vanished. Lost to the void where lost things go. All pockets were void of keys. Lost and found had no trace of the keys. The ticket window where Jason received his lift ticket had no clue about lost keys. Maybe they fell out while he was riding the lift. If that's the case, they're gone. Adios. Vaya con Dios.

One thing about Jason, is that he rarely, if ever, loses anything. He is meticulous. He is organized. He is prepared. He always carries a spare set of keys. Unfortunately, they were locked inside the truck. Today was a very odd day.

At times like this I know better than to think that our situation can not get any worse. Because it can, even if it is just a matter of perspective. The horses back home still needed to be fed. The dogs needed to be let out to pee. The law enforcement officer couldn't (or wouldn't) help us. Triple A said it would be at least 2 hours before they could get someone to help us. And when Triple A says, "... 2 hours...", what they really mean is, "get a hotel room and check back in the morning."

When Lori returned, I told her about the situation and she immediately called the neighbors to ask them to feed the horses. That's why she is the smart one in the family.

"Wait a minute... their phone isn't ringing"

No cell service. Now our situation is really getting scary. We are going to come home to dead horses and pee stained carpets. We are stuck in Purgatory, literally and figuratively.

Between texting from the least likely dead spot at the resort and calling with Jason's phone, we were able to contact the neighbors who were more than willing to help out. One problem solved. The next problem: unlock the truck.

Triple A was not in a hurry to help and hunger stupidity must have overcome us, because it wasn't until we sat down for barbeque chicken pizza that one of us suggested we reach out directly to a locksmith. And reach out we did. That pizza tasted so much better knowing we only had to wait 45 minutes instead of several hours. What didn't taste so good was the $125.00 it was going to cost to get the truck door open.

At some point between hunger stupidity and the last slice of pizza, we learned that Katie's car had not been stolen. Instead, a towing company that no one knew about had towed the car to the wrong location. This was the weirdest day.

When we finally left the restaurant, appropriately named Paradise Pizza, the sun had gone down completely and the walk through the parking lot was long and dark. Thinking about it now, we actually were stuck in a metaphorical mental Purgatory. It wasn't until we stepped into Paradise (Pizza) that our lives seemed to regain a recognizable level of normalcy. Sure, the cheeseless BBQ pizza gave us gas, but it gave us the clarity of mind to find our way out of Purgatory.

The locksmith arrived in the parking lot and, after driving around a bit, found us standing by the locked truck. As he drove up I dropped one of my gloves on the ground and in the time it took to bend over and pick up the glove, the truck had been unlocked. We thanked him profusely and showed our appreciation with a smartphone transaction worth $125.00. It had to be Jason's smartphone, because he's the only one among us that had cell service and as soon as the transaction was done, the phone died. The battery gave him the middle finger and died. Coincidence or a sign from beyond?

After a couple of minutes of chatting, the locksmith drove off and we were left to pick up the pieces of a day that seemed like an excursion into the Twilight Zone. Here's where things got really really weird. Jason was taking off his newly purchased snow pants and felt a hard object down by his ankle. Could a slab of ice have gotten in there? Something had gotten itself wedged inside the liner of those used/new snow pants.

Wilie E Coyote hangs in the air after running off a cliff

There's that moment when a person realizes something so profound, their brain function seizes momentarily. At that point electrical brain waves are at such a high activity level that neither speech nor action can occur. I'm reminded of the cartoons where a character, usually the coyote, runs off the edge of a cliff. Rather than immediately fall to his demise, there is that moment before realizing he had run off the cliff. Only when he knows his fate, does gravity pull him down.

Jason's moment was brief, but when he realized the object in his pants liner was the missing truck key, All he could do was laugh. All Lori and I could do was laugh.

In the song, Free Four , Roger Waters wrote,

The memories of a man in his old age are the deeds of a man in his prime...

It's not the expected event that stays in our memories. It is the unexpected surprise. The best stories to tell at the pub are about the things you did not plan for. This is one ski trip I'm not likely to forget.

Pretty soon the triathlon off season will be over and training will begin again. Until then, if you want to ski with me, be prepared for something between Purgatory and Paradise.

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