Durango Job Guide – How, When, and Where to Work in Durango, CO

Long a darling of southwestern Colorado, but just recently gaining more nationwide recognition, Durango is having a moment. Stretching out along the Animas River, Durango sits at the southernmost edge of the San Juan Mountains, the range’s tall peaks looming large above the town’s tree-lined streets. With Mesa Verde National Park to the west — and world-class skiing, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and a host of other outdoor activities all within an hour’s drive — the city is the perfect home base for adventure seekers. And thanks to its liberal arts college, a film festival, the Durango Arts Center, and varied galleries, it is also a cultural hub, drawing visitors from around the world.

town of durango, co

Durango’s growing number of perma-vacationers is a testament to its alluring livability. The infrastructure, weather, and amenities make it an extremely desirable landing place for not only adventure seekers, but families and couples looking to settle down, as well. Boasting an airport, excellent public school system, tons of dining options, multiple grocery stores and markets, and access to plenty of fresh powder, Durango is the ideal hometown for outdoor lovers seeking steady work, in a highly desirable location.

GETTING AROUND

Located in a fairly remote region of the Western Slope of Colorado, part of Durango’s charm is its seclusion. That feeling of solitude, however, belies the fact that the town is actually very accessible — and super easy to get around once you’ve arrived. The Durango-La Plata County Airport (DRO), southeast of town, is a 20-minute drive, and offers daily flights via United and American Airlines. There are several shuttle services between DRO and Durango, and both Lyft and Uber operate in town.

Laid out along a grid, with wide open, easily walkable (and bikeable) streets, downtown Durango is very pedestrian (and cyclist) friendly. Additionally, the Durango Transit system, consisting of the T bus and a trolley system, offers cheap transportation to every corner of town. Individual trips are $1, and you can get a month-long unlimited pass for only $30. 

Access to a car is going to be a necessity for many jobs outside of town (especially those at the ski resorts), as there are very few options for regional shuttles or other buses. Consider carpooling with local co-workers to save on gas.

WHERE TO LIVE

Given Durangos’ rise in popularity, and subsequent housing demand, average home values ($450,000+) and rents ($1,400 per month) have increased recently. While there aren’t many inexpensive neighborhoods in Durango, there are certainly some subdivisions and areas of town that are more affordable than others. The Western Slope Craigslist, Zillow, and the Durango Herald are great places to start your Durango housing search.

Many potential residents are drawn to Durango’s downtown, where access to restaurants, shopping, and entertainment is easiest. Beautiful historic bungalows, upscale condos, and quaint townhomes dot the streets, allowing residents to walk almost anywhere they need to go. Be prepared to pay a bit more than you would outside of town (according to Zillow, average rents downtown are over $2,000/month); and know that you’ll also likely be subject to noise and traffic.

Some of the most popular neighborhoods for families (Durango Cliffs, Timberline View Estates) are located northeast of town, along Florida Rd., where homes have easy downtown access, but are far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the Central Business District. Both apartment complexes and single-family homes are plentiful in the area.

Falls Creek, nestled in the aspens north of town, is an upscale community of gorgeous alpine homes. One of the most expensive neighborhoods in Durango, it offers incredible views of the mountains and the Animas Valley below.

Generally, late spring and summer are the best times to try to find a place, as it’s slightly less busy, the weather is milder, and the ski season is still months away. Do lots of research, and give yourself plenty of time to find a place that fits your specific needs and budget.

FINDING A JOB

Ever gaining in popularity — and no longer in the shadow of Telluride and its other vaunted neighbors — Durango is thriving. This boom in development comes with a concurrent rise in job opportunities. Between the city itself, Fort Lewis College, public schools, restaurants, retail, and a wealth of other commercial activity, Durango’s job market is extensive. And in January 2020, the state of Colorado raised its minimum wage to $12/hr., well above the federal minimum, so there’s never been a better time to make the move to the Centennial State.  

When you first start job hunting, the big online job boards at Indeed and LinkedIn can help give you an idea of the market. You’ll then want to narrow your search to local channels, like MountainJobs.com Durango, the Western Slope Craigslist, the Durango Herald (4cornersjobs.com), or even word-of-mouth. Local job fairs are also great for getting a feel for what opportunities are available.

CITY/SCHOOLS

Of course, one of the first, and most reliable places, to look for work is with the City of Durango itself. The city hires for diverse roles, employing everyone from mechanics, to administrative assistants, to fitness instructors. Many admin, reception, and Parks and Recreation jobs are paid around $12-$14/hr., while custodial and maintenance jobs are generally paid $15-$17/hr. Technicians, mechanics, and certain supervisors can make anywhere from $18/hr. to $40/hr., and department directors are some of the most well-compensated at around $60,000+/year.

The 3,000-student Fort Lewis College is one of the largest job creators in the area, employing hundreds of locals for faculty, staff, and administrative roles. Salaries for professors start at $50,000+, while administrators and other staff generally make $40,000-$50,000. In addition, the school has a nearly 4-star rating on Glassdoor, insurance and retirement benefits, and an absolutely beautiful campus.  

Durango School District is highly sought-after, making it a very attractive landing place for those looking to put an education major to use. Most teacher salaries start at $41,000/year, while coordinators and other administrative staff members can make $60,000-$80,000/year, depending on the position. 

SERVICE INDUSTRY

While a number of different industries are present in town, Durango’s economy still relies, in large part, on tourism — meaning the service industry is a major job creator.

According to Yelp, there are over 100 restaurants within the city limits, ranging from high-end wine bars, to food trucks, to pizzerias. Hourly pay will normally be $9-$10/hr. for servers, bartenders, and baristas (tipped employee minimum wage in Colorado is $8.98 as of January 2020), and that’s not counting gratuity, so servers can make a lot of money when the town is busy. Wages for cooks ($11-$15/hr.) and managers ($15-$20/hr.) are steadier and less dependent on the whims of tourists, but are oftentimes lower overall than they are for tipped staff.

Between small boutiques, large chains, and charming bed and breakfasts, there are dozens of lodging options, and hundreds of hotel workers, in and around Durango. Depending on the hotel, desk staff and housekeepers will generally make close to the minimum wage. Bellpersons can make a bit more, given they’ll make at least $9/hr. plus gratuity as tipped workers. Managers and supervisors can make upwards of $50,000/year.

RETAIL

Outdoor sports are omnipresent in southwest Colorado, and nowhere is that more obvious than in Durango’s ski/snowboard, skate, bike, or fly shops. If you know how to sharpen a snowboard or find trout in the Animas, and have good people skills, try looking for retail work. Hourly wages are going to typically be low, at or near the state’s minimum wage of $12/hr. Many shops, however, offer bonuses in the form of commissions on sales, which can make a huge difference.  

If you’re handy, there are several hardware and auto parts stores in town. Autozone, Sears, Home Depot, and Walmart all have stores within five miles of downtown. Other retail options include clothing boutiques, t-shirt shops, and one of several dispensaries concentrated within the Central Business District.

LEGAL/ACCOUNTING

Lawyers in big cities across America daydream about moving to a town like Durango to hang a shingle. Due to the small population size (<19,000), transplanted lawyers will find it best to start a general practice, as opposed to trying to specialize in something like tax or family law.

Whether you’re balancing the books for a local business, helping residents file taxes, or working with one of the small accounting firms in town, there will always be a need for those who are good with numbers. Accountants can make over $70,000/year working for the city, or in-house at a local business.  

SKI RESORTS

Ski areas are major job creators in any region, and lucky for you, there happen to be several situated amongst the mountains that surround Durango. The ski season normally runs from November to April, so resorts will begin the hiring process as early as May.

Purgatory is one of the most beloved ski resorts in North America, and is a short 30-minute drive from town. The resort employs food and beverage personnel, snow-school operators, and a wide variety of other workers. Compensation varies according to position: lifties will earn around $12/hour, while technicians make up to $50,000/year, and those in supervisory and managerial roles can take home $60,000/year.

Hesperus, just west of town, has the benefit of being the closest ski area to Durango; but its small size means job opportunities are more limited than the larger nearby resorts.

Wolf Creek — known for receiving more snow than any ski area in Colorado — is family-owned, and a favorite of seasonal workers. For skiers and snowboarders, instructor pay can be solid once you’ve established yourself, reaching $20/hour and above. 

SMALL BUSINESS OWNERSHIP

If being your own boss sounds better than letting someone else set your schedule, think about setting up shop in Durango. The Colorado Business Resource Book is a great place to start when planning your small business. For more local resources, the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center (sbdfortlewis.org) and the Durango Chamber of Commerce (durangobusiness.org) offer plenty of information, along with networking opportunities and personalized help.

For more tips, read our complete guide for starting a business in a mountain town.

TRADE/OTHER

According to locals, some of the more in-demand jobs are trade-based — think mechanic, plumber, or electrician. Licensed trade workers can make around $30/hour, depending on experience, making these jobs some of the highest paid in town. 

Both Uber and Lyft operate within Durango, giving drivers the opportunity to make decent money, while meeting new people. You can even rent a car to use, if you don’t already own one (Uber/Hertz or Lyft Express Drive). Rideshare driving can be profitable in mountain towns, as there isn’t much competition; but business will definitely vary based on the time of year.

WHAT TO DO

Very few places do old-west-boomtown-turned-artsy-outdoor-mecca like Durango, Colorado. Centered around vibrant Main Ave, Durango’s downtown is lined with shops, restaurants, bars, and galleries; and while there are countless options for entertainment and nightlife within the city limits, there’s also amazing skiing, hiking, rafting, or biking to be found outside of them.

FOOD

When the previous night’s festivities necessitate a hearty meal, El Moro’s elevated brunch menu delivers. Also take advantage of the eclectic and delicious lunch and dinner menus later in the day for a reasonably priced date night.

In the heart of Main Ave., Fired Up is a local favorite for pizza, with a cozy interior, fun cocktail menu, and a rooftop deck to take advantage of the cool Durango summer nights.

Mexican food is a staple of the area, fueling many Durangoans’ late nights and ski trips. Gazpacho does New Mexican favorites like stacked enchiladas, while Nayarit serves burritos, tacos, and margaritas alongside fresh, authentic Mexican seafood like tostadas de ceviche and aguachile.

For your espresso fix, Durango Coffee Company sells its small-batch coffee and delicious pastries in a stylish, rustic chic shop on Main. Remember to grab a bag of locally roasted beans to go.

Ore House on College Drive has been a Durango institution since 1972, offering steak and seafood — alongside a well-filled-out wine list — in an intimate atmosphere.

DRINK

For being a relatively small town, Durango’s craft brew scene is popping off. Situated on the banks of its eponymous river, Animas has a fantastic selection of year-round and rotating beers; while Ska pumps out nationally recognized craft brews from its wind-powered facility south of town; and a smattering of other brewpubs can be found throughout the city.

Inside the historic Strater Hotel, the Office Spiritorium mixes unique cocktails in a sophisticated setting.

The Wild Horse Saloon, as the name suggests, is one of the rowdier bars in town, offering live music and dance lessons in a western-themed setting. 

OUTDOORS

Taking advantage of Durango’s 300+ days of sunshine a year, you’re going to have plenty of chances to get on all of the hiking trails, slopes, and rivers the region has to offer.

Very few places in the US benefit from having multiple world-class ski resorts so close to home. Between Purgatory, Wolf Creek, and Hesperus, there are 250 runs, spread across over 3,000 skiable acres for Durango locals to explore. Oh, and of course the 2,000+ acres and nearly 150 trails of Telluride await, just up the road.

Hiking trails around Durango are extensive, yielding spectacular views of town, and the surrounding San Juan mountain range. All within a 25-minute drive from town, Goulding Creek Trail, Raider Ridge Overlook, and Animas Mountain Trail — along with countless other routes — provide hikes of varying degrees of difficulty, as well as gorgeous, sprawling vistas.

river in durango

The Animas isn’t just a backup tap water source for locals. It also offers excellent rafting and kayaking, with Class III rapids in stretches near town, and Class V rapids on the upper part of the river. And for fisherman, it happens to be a gold medal trout stream. Excellent fishing can also be found on the San Juan River, and the multitude of lakes and ponds near town. Make sure you obtain a Colorado fishing license before getting out on the water.  

Of course, climbing, hunting, paddle boarding, ziplining, horseback riding, and a bevy of other activities are also available in and around town — making Durango a veritable outdoorsman’s paradise.  

FESTIVALS AND EVENTS 

Every year during mid-winter, Snowdown takes over Durango, spreading out to amongst businesses, parks, and other areas around La Plata County. Like Mardi Gras in the snow, the 5-day themed festival hosts numerous events, including a fly casting contest, a party at Purgatory, and an adult spelling bee.

For movie buffs, the annual Durango Film Festival takes place in March, and showcases indie selections from around the world.

A number of events take place on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (durangotrain.com). The perfectly preserved historic train runs through the San Juan National Forest, and offers several different tours, including a trip to breathtaking Cascade Canyon, and a Romance on the Rails ride for Valentine’s Day.

Music in the Mountains is a festival that takes place every summer, with the aim of educating and entertaining locals about classical music, in venues throughout La Plata County.

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