By MAIRE O’NEILL
Despite a challenging start to the season due to warm weather, Pajarito Mountain Ski Area is now enjoying “really good snow”, including more than a foot in the past week General Manager Tom Long said Monday. The ski area, known for its short lift lines, friendly staff and extraordinary views, opened Dec. 4, a week later than planned.
Although numbers of skier visits per day are down from 1,300-1,500 last season to 700 to 900 so far this season, Long says the gap is narrowing.
“We have had a definite uptick with the last few storms. Mother Nature is helping us out,” he said.
A veteran ski area manager, Long has been at Pajarito since 2004 and prior to that spent 38 years at Sandia Ski Area in Albuquerque. He clearly loves his job and speaks openly of the enjoyment he gets from what he describes as a wonderful relationship with the local community, his staff of more than 100 – skiers, riders, hikers, the ski patrol and other volunteers who come to “the hill”.
Long particularly praised the Pajarito Mountain Ski Patrol, which has some 65 members.
“Our ski patrol is a unique and integral part of our operations. Our patrol is dynamic and very professional. I particularly appreciate how many families are involved and the number of young adult patrollers coming up, many of whom are second generation patrollers,” Long said.
Bill Somers has been the patrol director since before Long’s arrival in 2004. Dr. Robert McClees, owner of Trinity Urgent Care, has been the volunteer medical director for the patrol since 2007.
Long commended the ski patrol for their excellent response to an incident Jan. 4, when a large green Aspen tree fell and struck the Mother Lift causing the wire haul rope to come off the tower assembly. Long says the safety circuit worked as it was supposed to and the lift stopped, however, a chair bounced and became hooked on the tower assembly and another chair became entangled in the communication line that is strung between the towers. Eight people were on the lift at the time and were safely evacuated by the ski patrol.
“The ski patrol trains during the summer months for lift evacuations, which are conducted when there is an issue with a lift or loss of power,” Long said. “They did an amazing job and thankfully, nobody was hurt.”
Since the incident, the chair has been disentangled and staff continues to work on straightening the cross-arm and getting the lift back in operation. Work at a height of 30 feet has been slow due to inclement weather including high winds and snow storms. Atomic Testing was slated to conduct nondestructive materials testing on the equipment Tuesday. The lift is expected to reopen as soon as additional repairs have been completed.
“The lift closure has caused limited access to several runs but the lower parts are still accessible to skiers. Some people hike to the top and ski down,” Long said.
Falling trees have been an ongoing problem at Pajarito since the Las Conchas Fire in 2011 burned 350 acres of the 750-acre ski area. Long says any trees identified as hazardous are removed from the lift area and downed trees are removed from the roadways.
Long reported that his crew has operated the Townsight Lift and has been working on the snow in that area.
“We would like to get started over there, but we need more lift operators, he said.
Lift operators must be 18 years of age or older and applications are being accepted at the business office.
Asked about the ownership status of the ski area, Long said the ongoing complexity of working out an agreement between Los Alamos National Bank, Los Alamos County, Los Alamos Ski Club, and Texas Capital Partners has hit some snags. He is optimistic that an agreement will be signed by March. Meanwhile, Texas Capital Partners has sustained operations at the ski area and spent some $20 million on improvements, including snowmaking, work on lifts and buildings, and painting much of the complex a vibrant blue color.
Texas Capital Partners is a private equity investment and development group that specializes in multi-family housing, condominiums and ski area management, which also owns Purgatory Resort, Hesperus Ski Area, Arizona Snowbowl and Sipapu Ski Area.
Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, the ski area has added several activities and specials for weekdays this season including the increasingly popular “guided fun” for women and seniors who meet at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursdays in the Lodge. Informal instruction is being provided at no cost.
Local Appreciation Days also are scheduled for select Thursdays with tickets available for $39 instead of $49 for adults and $29 for children aged 7-12. Active duty military ski for 50 percent nearly every day. On Car Load Days, five people can ski for $99. Check the website for dates for all specials.
The cafeteria at the ski area is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays and holiday Mondays, and you don’t have to be a skier to eat there.
“We offer ample servings, quality food and darn good chili,” Long says, adding that the lodge is also popular for private celebrations such as weddings, retirements, reunions and receptions.
For more information, call 505.662.5725 or visit skipajarito.com.
Bruce Barrus on patrol room duty is a 17-season veteran of the Pajarito Mountain Ski Patrol. Photo by Maire O’Neill
A young skier gathers snowballs. Photo by Maire O’Neill
YAP Ethan Aulwes leads a toboggan to the patrol room. Photo by Sheila McClees
Patroller Eric Brown, center, and YAP Ethan Aulwes transport a patient by toboggan. Photo by Sheila McClees
Scene from Pajarito Lodge. Photo by Maire O’Neill