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Skiesta marks end of tough ski season

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Pajarito GM says loyal skier base has been vital

By Mike Cote

Long before the ski season started, Pajarito Mountain got its first bit of bad news. That would be a harbinger of things to come in 2010-11.
Saturday, Pajarito will celebrate Skiesta, the unofficial ending of the ski season. While in past years the mountain has been able to operate into late March, this season is one Pajarito may just as soon pretend never happened.
“We’re sorry about the snow, we’re sorry Mother Nature didn’t help us out this year, but what the hell?” said Pajarito general manager Tom Long. “We’ll have a party and enjoy ourselves before the summer.”
With dry, warm conditions this winter, Pajarito’s season never got on track. Poor snow conditions allowed the mountain just 15 total days of operation, all of them coming after its most critical time of the season, winter break.
While it has been a less-than-ideal season for most ski areas in New Mexico, Pajarito was hopeful it could use its new snow-making capabilities to get an adequate base going prior to the start of the season.
Unfortunately, this summer, the 10 million gallon, man-made pond that collects spring and summer run-off, which its snow-making apparatus draws from to freeze and form the snow, developed a tear in its lining. The tear required all the collected water from last year to be drained so that it could be repaired.
Long said that most years at Pajarito weather conditions become favorable enough to manufacture snow right around Thanksgiving. That would give workers plenty of time to cover approximately 40 acres of the ski area before its annual projected opening date, which is right around mid-December.
But La Niña — a Pacific Ocean phenomenon in which water surface temperatures drop several degrees, often causing dry spells through much of the United States — and some unseasonably warm temperatures in late January and February, impacted skiing in New Mexico this season.
Stacey Glaser of Sipapu Ski Resort, located approximately 20 miles southeast of Taos, said it has been a below-average snow season there, as well.
“Obviously, that hasn’t been ideal, but our count has been up,” she said. “It was a very pleasant surprise.”
Sipapu, despite snowfall that was 60-70 inches less than the area receives normally, has benefited by having good early- and late-season conditions, as well as, like Pajarito, it strives to be a family-friendly ski area.
Glaser said for the past eight years or so, Sipapu has been the first resort in the state to open and the last to close.
This year, Sipapu, which one of the areas with which Pajarito has a reciprocal agreement, honoring each other’s season lift tickets for three days of skiing, is projecting it will stay open through April 10.
Long said Pajarito sells between 2,600-3,000 season passes annually, a number that remains pretty consistent year-in and year-out. The season-pass holders, he said, have been vital for the area during thin seasons.
“Obviously, a ski area without a ski season, the financial impact is enormous,” he said. “This ski club has a tremendously loyal membership.”
Pajarito’s ski operations fall under the auspices of the Los Alamos Ski Club, a not-for-profit organization.
Skiesta, which will feature live music, games and beer brewed by seven different New Mexico microbreweries, will start at 9 a.m. Saturday. Atomic City Transit shuttles to and from the festivities will run from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
A good turnout for Skiesta could take at least some of the sting out of this season.
“This was one of the tough ones,” Long said. “You have good ones, outstanding ones and really tough ones. This was one of the really tough ones, but the staff is great, the support from the membership is great…we’ll pick it up next year and have a helluva season.”