Pajarito slopes await 'the big one' to open

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The Christmas and New Year’s holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but particularly for those that are into snow sports.

And it’s a critical time of the year for ski areas across northern New Mexico, including Pajarito Mountain.

The holiday break from both schools and Los Alamos National Laboratory can mean big crowds and, more importantly, big bucks for local areas.

Unfortunately for Pajarito patrons, snow has been spotty this fall.

Although there was some early snowfall this season, it wasn’t quite enough to get the mountain up and running and, with higher than average temperatures in the middle of last week, the outlook hasn’t been good.

There was a chance of snow going into the weekend, but forecasts were sketchy at best in terms of the accumulation that could be expected.

Pajarito’s website states the area is “waiting for the big one” before it gets the season underway.

The area’s general manager, Tom Long, said it’s been a tough wait for him and Pajarito’s staff.

“Right now, we’ve got the best base we’ve ever had,” Long said. “There’s just not enough to open. Our preparation is on stand-by.”

If Pajarito can get the snow it needs, Long said the mountain crew and the café crew would only need about 24 hours to get everything prepped and get the mountain’s season started.

As of Wednesday morning, Pajarito was reporting a base of 21 inches, but that was prior to the start of unseasonably high temperatures around the 50-degree mark.

But this weekend’s storm coming up from the Baja California area was expected to contain enough moisture to drop some snow in the area. However, the storm was expected to have its greatest impact closer to the southern part of the state.

Long said he was keeping his fingers crossed that Pajarito could be up-and-running this week. A significant portion of seasonal crowds – not to mention cash – is riding on a good Christmas opening.

Pajarito isn’t the only ski area in New Mexico that’s struggled to open this fall season.

Taos, one of the primary ski destinations of the state, didn’t get up and running until the week of Dec. 9 and even now is only going at about three-quarters capacity.

Among other areas around the state, few are reporting bases significantly deeper than the one at Pajarito and only Ski Apache in Ruidoso, the smallest downhill resort in the state, was running at 100 percent capacity.

In 2012-13, Pajarito got going in mid-December, thanks to a big storm that hit right before the Christmas break. 

The year before, Pajarito didn’t open until January, after the break had ended.

Long said it would take about 4-5 inches of accumulation to get Pajarito into full swing.

Pajarito is still tentatively planning its Torch Light Parade on New Year’s Eve.

“We’ve done our part, now it’s up to Mother Nature,” he said.