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Skiing: Pajarito officials are hoping the skiers, snowboarders keep coming

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By Mike Cote

If this weekend is any indication of what’s to come, the staff at Pajarito Mountain is in for a busy ski season.

Pajarito, Los Alamos’ local ski area, was packed to near-capacity on several days during the holiday season.

Pajarito opened for the season Dec. 20, just in time for Los Alamos National Laboratory’s and Los Alamos Public Schools’ winter break. During the peak weekend sessions, lift tickets were being sold in the neighborhood of 1,000 a day.

“We had a tremendous Christmas holiday in terms of the number of people here,” said Pajarito business manager Don Sauer. “We were stretched to our limits and we were running out of rental gear.”

While this weekend may not have the kind of numbers Pajarito was experiencing over the holidays, conditions at the ski area are still among the best it has had in the recent past.

As of 6 a.m., Pajarito was reporting a 64-inch base. Crews were grooming slopes most of Thursday to prepare for this weekend.

Pajarito, which is only open Fridays through Sundays and federal holidays as long as conditions allow, doesn’t have snowmaking capabilities and is at the mercy of the weather year in and year out.

While in some years it has opened as early as Thanksgiving weekend, only a big mid-December storm, which dropped nearly two feet of snow on the mountain, allowed it to open at the winter break.

Apparently, the crowds were ready.

The ski area’s rental shop was virtually stripped bare several times during the holidays, so much so that staff was telling skiers to procure equipment before getting to the hill.

By midmorning during the peak days, north of 200 pairs of rental skis and 200 rental snowboards were on the mountain at any one time. The few pieces of snowriding equipment that remained at the rental shop were either very long or very short, not of much use to the average skier or boarder.

The mountain is expected to be 100 percent open throughout this weekend.

Sauer said all five lifts would be running this weekend, including the beginner’s lift which burned out a motor last week.

Pajarito may not see the kind of numbers it had, in part, because the weather this weekend is forecast to take a turn for the worse. Cold conditions, possibly combined with high-elevation snow, were forecast for late tonight and into Saturday.

While less-hardcore riders generally wait for a nice day before hitting the slopes, foul weather usually isn’t a problem for the serious ski bums.

“People who are avid skiers realize you can’t have skiing without snow and without cold,” Sauer said. “Sometimes, though, you get people calling us asking ‘is it snowing?’ If we say ‘yes,’ they’ll say they’re not coming.”

Pajarito will also have its Crazy Mother terrain park open this weekend, although the park’s official grand opening is slated for next weekend. A pair of radio stations — KTEG 104.1 FM and KKSS 97.3 FM — will be doing live remote broadcasts from the terrain park next weekend as part of the festivities.