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Pajarito still battles burn scars

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Ski area works to combat Las Conchas Fire damage, finalize agreement with county and private company

By Jose Corral

Damages from the 2011 Las Conchas Fire still poses a problem for Pajarito Mountain Ski Area.
Most recently, a damaged tree broke and struck the Mother Lift, which provides access to Pajarito’s expert-level runs. The Mother Lift was closed for a month, as mountain officials were cautious about fixing the lift due to height restraints and snowfall that hit the mountain.
“It made a challenging project for us to do,” Pajarito general manager Tom Long said. “The project was 32 feet in the air and everything to do the work was heavy. I didn’t feel comfortable putting my staff up 32 feet in the air during a snowstorm. So we had to pick and choose when we were going to work on it. But we were able to fix the problem.”  
After completing successful test runs Wednesday and Thursday, the Mother Lift began to operate normally Friday.  
Despite being almost six years since the Las Conchas Fire burned thousands of acres at Pajarito Mountain, the ski hill still battles with the aftermath, especially when it comes to aesthetics and grooming of the mountain.
“Aesthetically we want this place to look nice. But the burn scars and burnt trees present a number of problems,” Long said. “We want to keep cleaning up and working on that to encourage re-growth. We want to enhance that and keep improving the aesthetics of the ski area.”  
Long hopes the aesthetics portion of the ski hill operation will get a boost after its current ownership transition is complete. Three years ago, the Los Alamos Ski Club, which used to own the ski hill, decided to bring in a private corporation to claim ownership of Pajarito.
“After the fire and some poor years, we, the ski club, just could not financially support the operation,” Long said. “The club voted to give the ski area to the county. The county was willing to accept it but was nervous about operating a ski area. So Mountain Capital Partners stepped in and is forming a partnership with the county and the Los Alamos Ski Club.”
Los Alamos County also joined the ownership transition and is working with Mountain Capital Partners to finalize the process, which will allow the ski hill to operate as a private entity.
“They’re still working on the details but this will eventually be some county property and some Mountain Capital Partners property,” Long said.    
When the ownership process is complete, Mountain Capital Partners will be the official owner of the ski area but the Los Alamos Ski Club will still conduct mountain operations such as maintenance, grooming and food and beverage. This agreement allowed previous staff members to keep their jobs.  

“The best part about it is this ski area was able to live,” Long said. “It would’ve been a tragedy to lose this thing. They left the staff in place and it’ll fit together pretty good. They hold the purse strings, we do the work.”
Mountain Capital Partners also owns Sipapu Ski Resort, Purgatory Resort, Arizona Snowbowl and Hesperus Ski Area.
The ski area owning company has invested more than $4 million dollars in its properties to help with aesthetics and maintenance of those ski areas. Long believes Pajarito will reap the monetary benefits once the agreement between the three parties is complete.
“You’ll see when the actual legal transfer is done, they (Mountain Capital Partners) will do more with Pajarito,” Long said. “Everyone of their properties that they owned, they’ve started to upgrade and put resources into. They’ve done well supporting us here even though they don’t own us.”
Weather update: After having to delay its opening day, Pajarito has seen a substantial amount of snowfall that’s allowed the ski area to be almost 100 percent open.
“This year was a little bit of a slow start,” Long said. “It was a little sketchy but then all of the sudden we got feet of snow. And we’re in really good shape right now.”