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Storms give Pajarito a push to open

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Skiing: Local ski area set to start its season Saturday

By Mike Cote

Ski season is finally here, and for skiers and for Pajarito Mountain alike, it comes just in time.
Pajarito will open for the season Saturday, thanks to a pair of snowstorms that dropped more than a foot of snow Monday and Tuesday.
There is still plenty of work to do, said Pajarito general manager Tom Long, prior to the opening, set for 9 a.m.
“We’re still grooming the mountain,” Long said. “We’re getting the mountain dressed up, we’re getting the ramps for the unloading areas on the lifts. We’re putting up signs for the patrol area…just getting all that ready for Saturday.”
The school winter break time is also a make-or-break time for ski areas, particularly Pajarito, which gets a big chunk of its yearly business during this period because Los Alamos National Laboratory also has several days’ break.
Pajarito is projecting to be running at or near full capacity on its lifts several days during the period between Saturday and the New Year.
“Usually, the first week before Christmas is OK, but the week after Christmas is enormous,” Long said.
Long said he’s hoping to make up some ground lost during the 2010-11 season. Pajarito didn’t get cranked up for the season until January — snow depth on the mountain hovered in the 12-15 inch range for most of December, including the winter break.
Added to the frustration was the trouble with the ski area’s snowmaking capability. Pajarito’s newly-installed snowmaking apparatus was set to make its debut last year but trouble with the water collection tank necessitated the tank being drained so it could be repaired before snow could be made.
Pajarito was in danger of being in much the same situation this year with winter weather getting off to a slow start this month. At the beginning of the month, Pajarito had little base depth to speak of.
However, the area received more than a foot of snow from a Dec. 5 storm and 13-1/2 inches with Monday’s and Tuesday’s back-to-back storms, giving it the needed push to star the season.
Long is projecting three lifts to be running on Saturday, the Aspen, Mother and the Beginner lift, along with 30 groomed trails. The whole Pajarito operation, including the café, ski patrol and the ski and rental shop, should also be up and running.
As of this morning, the ski area was reporting an average base depth of 20 inches. Along with machine-groomed snow, there was also fresh powder.
Pajarito will operate every day between Saturday and Jan. 2 except Christmas Day. Following that, it will go back to its usual Friday-Sunday schedule.
Skiing is big business in New Mexico. In the last two years, skiing has had an estimated economic impact of $927 million, according to Ski New Mexico. Last year’s ski season was considered below average with less-than-ideal winter conditions around the area, but still brought in nearly $400 million.
“We’re really excited after last year’s challenges,” Long said. “Winter’s here. It’s time to go skiing.”