Pajarito Mountain takes stage at LTAB

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Board > Hears ski hill update and proposal for gravity park

By Arin McKenna

Pajarito Mountain took center stage at Tuesday’s Lodgers’ Tax Advisory Board meeting.
Stacy Glaser, marketing director for Sipapu Ski Resort/ Pajarito Recreation LP, provided an update on efforts to finalize the partnership with Los Alamos County and open for skiing and snowboarding this winter.
Contract negotiations are ongoing, but Glaser reported that all parties are committed to the effort.
“We fully anticipate that by ski season the contract will be in effect,” Glaser said.
Besides negotiations, Pajarito’s primary effort has been obtaining water for snowmaking.
The U.S. Forest Service is holding a public meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at Trinity on the Hill concerning Pajarito Recreation’s application for a temporary pipeline to run water from the Los Alamos Reservoir to the ski area.
“This is a temporary solution. This is something that we could do for 12 months,” Glaser said.
“This would essentially buy us some time to investigate more permanent solutions.”
The county has offered Pajarito 5 million gallons of free water, which must be siphoned off the reservoir in order to dredge it.
The company is also requesting the use of potable water to supplement reservoir water. According to Utilities Manager Tim Glasco, there has been some talk about reducing costs by forgoing the reservoir water and pumping instead from the tank on West Road.
Pajarito is also investigating long-term solutions, including drilling a test well near the mountain and improving the water collection system onsite.
Glaser stressed that Sipapu is adept at leveraging small amounts of water for snowmaking, since water is extremely limited at their current venue.
Despite last year’s drought, in which Sipapu only received 80 inches of snow instead of its usual 170, the venue opened Nov. 16 (the first New Mexico ski area open last year) and stayed open until mid-April.
“A lot of it comes down to mastering the art of snowmaking,” Glaser said.
Pajarito is anticipating a Thanksgiving Day opening. The ski hill would be open weekends until Dec. 20, when it would go to daily operations. On March 29 that schedule would return to weekends for the rest of the season.
Joe Lehm, of Skate School Santa Fe, advocated for a gravity park on Pajarito Mountain.
The park would take advantage of existing jeep trails. Lehm has received a paving estimate of $30,000 per 16-foot by 10-feet wide stretches.
The paving could last 20 years, since no cars would utilize the road.
“Longboarding established itself as the fastest growing segment in skateboarding a few years back,” Lehm said.
According to Lehm, Longboarding appeals to a broader audience than skateboarding, and is popular with not only teens and young adults but with parents wanting an activity they can do with their kids and adults in their fifties. Some use it in the offseason to improve their snowboarding skills.
“Longboards are longer and more stable (than skateboards) and easier to learn on and easier to get out and be having fun sooner, just cruising around a bit,” Lehm said.
Lehm described the number of activities a gravity park could accommodate, including several longboarding activities and styles and other gravity sports such as street luge, drift trikes, gravity bikes, inline skates and zip lines.
Mountain bikers have expressed interest in mountain biking in the morning and utilizing gravity bikes in the afternoon.
Lehm stressed the economic growth a gravity park could generate.
“There are about 1,000 dedicated downhill skateboarders in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area, and about 10.000 in the Arizona/Texas/Colorado area who would travel to come to a place where they could take chair lift rides and do all the riding they want,” Lehm said.
“I traveled to a freeride in the Columbia River Gorge. There are only a few of these in the world. I drove an hour and a half, stayed in a hotel every night, ate out every night, probably spent $1,000 and got 44 miles of downhill without a single push.”
“We’re estimating that it could pay for itself in only one or two years with two weekends a month and an event or two,” Lehm said. “That’s with people driving from throughout the Southwest because there is not a place to practice freeriding or longboarding in an enclosed environment except by paying to go to races or freerides.”
The 2011 Atomic Bomb Race, which utilized one mile of road below the Pajarito ski area, drew approximately 80 racers from as far away as Australia. Participants keep asking for a repeat of the event. Erosion ditches up to three feet deep, created alongside the road after the Las Conchas fire, have made conditions too dangerous for that.
Lehm delineated the advantages of a permanent gravity park.
Organizers had to set up 700 hay bales along the road for Atomic Bomb race.
“It’s a lot of expense and effort to have to set up that to create a closed road and then take it all down,” Lehm said.
“If there was a dedicated venue, you wouldn’t have to do that every weekend.”
The first longboard public park in the world opened in Kamloops, British Columbia last week.
According to Lehm, a gravity park on Pajarito Mountain would have the added draw of providing a ski lift, and could be the first such venue.
“Albuquerque is already on the map as being a popular, well-known destination for the longboarding community,” Lehm said.
”I’ve put on over 50 events, both locally and nationally. About half of those were in the Albuquerque area. And people identify Albuquerque with longboarding, and they would fly in to drive up and stay in Los Alamos.”
A dedicated venue would also address growing concerns for safety. According to Lehm, incidents between longboarders and vehicles are increasing in frequency.
Glaser has approached Angel Fire and Wolf Creek with the proposal.
Both felt the idea was “to far ahead of the curve.”
A board member asked Glaser how Pajarito Recreation feels about the proposal.
“Sipapu has been early, early adopter of things that are not traditional sports. We were one of the first mountains that got snowboarding. We continue to have trial mountain bike races, which is kind of unusual for ski areas,” Glaser said.
“So this is in line with something that we might do.
“However, our first priority and where we’re putting our resources is in snow, and ensuring a ski and snowboard season. So this is something we would definitely be interested in. We couldn’t commit to it right now.”