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Recently, the board of directors that govern the Pajarito Ski Area held a couple of meetings to catch residents up to date on what the future of “the mountain” could look like.
Due to a severe lack of snow in the past five years, the Pajarito Ski Area’s finances deteriorated to such an extent that, according to the board, it’s become nearly impossible to keep the 750 acre area in operation. For the past year, the board and the County of Los Alamos have been working to come up with solutions that would secure the area for skiing in the future.
Last week, the board and the county introduced their most recent plan to the public.
It involves transferring its 750 acres to Los Alamos County, who would then lease the majority of it long term to Vadito New Mexico-based Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort. A small part of that transferred land, most likely the part that contains the cell towers would go to Sipapu. Basically, the county gets the land, Sipapu would get the assets and the mortgage, including the equipment it takes to run the ski area.
Though residents and Los Alamos Ski Club members who attended the meetings had many questions, most seemed at ease with the deal.
Many audience members, especially members of the Los Alamos Ski Club, wanted to know exactly how things were going to look if and when the deal went through and things were underway. Longtime LASC members, for instance, wanted to know if they would be keeping the same lockers as well as maintain other benefits that came with being a long-time member.
James Coleman, a managing partner in Sipapu, told club members that they would probably be able to hold on to their benefits, as well as have a few more than customers coming in under the new management.
Others wanted to know how much investment would Sipapu be putting into the ski area once the deal went through.
According to Coleman, Sipapu, as well as the county, are prepared from the outset to invest $5- 7 million into the venture. Most of that money would go toward updating the infrastructure, and getting enough water to the mountain so the resort can make much more snow when the need arises to make the resort profitable.
“The county is very on board with improving the mountain and the facilities up here,” Coleman said at the meeting. “We anticipate, by working together, we are are going to be able to improve things rapidly.”
Board members also assured the public that for the most part, management of the resort will be done locally, most likely by the same team that’s in place now.
“Our team will still be managing our mountain, with the guidance and investment, with a whole lot more resources than we’ve had to date,” said Board member and incoming chair Susan Brockway.
Some asked why the county had to be involved at all, why couldn’t the Los Alamos Ski Club retain the land and work with Sipapu instead.
The answer to that was simply water access.
One of the problems the ski club has encountered during the recent drought is that it never had the financing in place to access the presumably hundreds of thousands of gallons of water that’s supposedly in the mountain and in surrounding areas.
“With the county, we can do some things directly that would be harder for a private developer or partnership to do,” said Dan Osborn, a senior planner for the county that was also there to answer questions.
Many audience members were worried that SIpapu might try to hedge its bets by building condos and other types of real estate on the land.
Coleman assured the audience that wouldn’t be the case.
“Our focus is to have a successful skiing operation,” he said. “The resorts that are doing the best and are consistent are the ones that focus on skiing,” he said, adding that they couldn’t do something like that anyway, since most of the land on Pajarito Mountain is not zoned for that purpose.
By the time the meeting was over Saturday, most in attendance seemed agreeable to the transfer.
“I see this as a perfect move at a perfect time, and I think that everyone in the room should feel really proud that we have put so much into something that’s worth passing to someone that’s going to put millions of dollars into it so we can have it forever.”
This Thursday, the board will be voting to approve the county’s and Sipapu’s intentions of going ahead with the transfer.
The meeting will be held at the Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church Fellowship Hall, 3900 Trinity Drive and all members will be allowed to vote.