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Ski club to consider ownership transfer

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Members will vote Thursday on whether to hand Pajarito Ski Area to Colorado-based partnership

By Phil Scherer

Los Alamos Ski Club members will hold a special meeting Thursday to vote on a proposal that would transfer ownership of the Pajarito Ski Area from the Los Alamos Ski Club to the Pajarito Recreation Limited Partnership.

The proposal states that the partnership would acquire all 750 acres of the Pajarito Ski Area land in Los Alamos County, and assumes all of the ski club’s outstanding debt.

The move would also stabilize ownership of the Pajarito Ski Area after years of uncertainty. The ownership was expected to transfer to the county.

The ski club and its approximately 2,000 members have taken out $1.25 million in loans from Los Alamos National Bank since 2014.

PRLP would also commit to paying for half of the installation of a water-supply pipeline that would supply water to Pajarito Mountain for many uses, including snowmaking, fire prevention and providing potable water to Ski Area base facilities.

The construction costs of the pipeline are estimated to be $3.4 million. Los Alamos County has already set aside $2 million for its share of the pipeline costs. The county’s utilities department is currently designing the pipeline.

One of the main reasons for the proposal is the need for substantial improvements in the area, which the PRLP has been reluctant to make due to the lack of ownership of assets.

In a statement released Monday, the Los Alamos Ski Club board said, “The intention of the financial aspect of the transfer is to cover the debt, ensure the progress of the pipeline, as well as ensure that future investment dollars are available to deal with the many improvements needed at Pajarito from aging chair lifts to other facilities to ensure skiing for future generations.”

Under this proposal, the new ownership group would be able to take out additional bank loans with LANB using the entire ski area, which has been appraised at $2.4 million, as collateral. This would allow them to secure funds that would help pay for these developments.

Although the Los Alamos Ski Club board and senior advisors are in unanimous agreement on the proposal, certain members of the club aren’t so sure this is the best path forward.

Michael Altherr, who has been a member of the club off and on for 25 years, said that although PRLP has done a good job of running the facility for the past three years, he doesn’t know if the Durango, Colorado-based group is the best choice for the owners.

“I’m not sure I’m ready for them to be my landlord,” Altherr said.

Since PRLP is not a locally-owned group, Altherr is worried about their long-term plan, and how that would affect the people who use the ski area. He is worried that in the future, the site will no longer be a viable ski site due to the changing climate, and that PRLP could sell the site to a real estate company for a high profit.

He is also concerned that the group would be buying the site for $1.25 million, nearly $1 million less than the property value.

Altherr believes that the Los Alamos Ski Club is “desperate” to get rid of its debt load, and that this proposal would allow them to do that.

“I don’t think this has been very well thought out,” Altherr said.

His other concern is that most members of the club were under the impression that a sale had already taken place. In 2014, the ski club voted in favor of a proposal that would have transferred ownership to Los Alamos County and PRLP.

The county would have owned the majority of the land, while PRLP would have owned the lifts, buildings and equipment.

But the deal was never finalized. Despite numerous attempts to negotiate the terms, a resolution was never reached.

The sticking point appeared to be that LANB would not give PRLP a loan for improvements since they did not own the entire property and could not offer the entire site as collateral.

Since the loans can be secured under the new proposal, the Los Alamos Ski Club board and the county have expressed their support for the plan.

In the proposal, the ski club said they believe this plan is “the best way forward to assure the future of skiing in Los Alamos County.”

The proposal also states that the county “has no great interest in becoming a ski area operator, on top of the other recreational facilities for which it is presently responsible.”

In addressing the fear that PRLP has other economic interests in mind, the proposal states that, “it is believed that PRLP has operated Pajarito Mountain at a significant annual loss, which gives some indication of good faith and serious long-term intent.”

It also states that PRLP ownership would provide long-term facility improvements, as well as access to better ski equipment and more options for affordable skiing.

In its statement, the ski club board said, “The protective covenants of the contract are in place to protect the majority of the land for recreational uses and those that support the running of a ski area.  

The entire property is currently zoned as ‘wilderness’ and can only be developed after going through a public County process.”

Of note is that ski club property in Sandoval County cannot be sold to PRLP.

The land was originally acquired from the Dunigan Ranch, and there is a document that says that the Dunigan family heirs have right of first refusal if the property is transferred from the Los Alamos Ski Club to another entity. The club will locate and negotiate with the heirs, while continuing to lease the property to PRLP until negotiations are complete.

The special meeting to discuss and vote on the new proposal will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the ski lodge at Pajarito Mountain.