Pajarito Ski Hill Opening Soon

Pajarito Mountain Ski Area General Manager Tom Long speaks at a recent Kiwanis meeting at TOTH. Photo by Don Casperson

 

By CHARMIAN SCHALLER
Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos

Tom Long, general manager of Pajarito Mountain Ski Area and director of the hill’s ski school, visited Kiwanis recently, speaking on the history of the ski area and plans for its future.

Long was born in the Boston area, but during this coming ski season, he will mark 50 years of continuous full-time service in the ski industry in New Mexico.

In a biography provided to Kiwanis, he said, “I began my skiing career at Sandia Peak Ski and Tram Company, working at the tram and working at the ski area on selected weekdays. In 1970, I was selected as the ski school director and began working fulltime just at the ski area. In 1985, when Sandia Peak purchased Santa Fe Ski Area, I was promoted to the ski area manager position at Sandia Peak, while still maintaining my position as the ski school director.

“In 2004, I was presented the opportunity to become the general manager of Pajarito Mountain Ski Area. Currently, I am also the director of the ski school, filling both positions at the ski area. I’ve been heavily involved in all aspects of ski area operations—rental operations, lift operations and maintenance, grooming, cafeteria operations, and the myriad of other activities involved in the operation of a ski area. I was awarded lifetime membership in the Professional Ski Instructors of America organization, and I’ve been inducted into the New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame.”

Long looked back over the history of the Los Alamos Ski Club and commented, with a grin, “Being in the ski business has its ups and downs.” The Ski Club began during the Manhattan Project, and at one time, the club had 4,000 members, but now, he said, it is down to about 2,000.

Several years with little snow led to a decision to build a snow-making system, but initially, there was “no sustainable water source.” The club built a pond and put in a system to capture runoff, but essentially, no rain or snow came.

“Lack of snow and the (2001 Las Conchas) fire hurt seasons,” he recalled. “We lost 300 acres to the fire and two lifts, but the lifts were rebuilt.” The club is “trying to mitigate” the damage to the forest, and fortunately, “Mother Nature works miracles,” he said.

However, the Ski Club developed “significant financial problems” and finally suggested donating the Pajarito Mountain Ski Area to Los Alamos County. Subsequently, the organization that owns Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort got interested in Pajarito.

Here’s how it stands now, he said:

  • The Ski Club continues to be viable and very active.
  • The company that owns Sipapu also owns portions of the land on Pajarito Mountain, but Los Alamos County owns the bulk of the property.
  • The area includes about 750 acres, but about 200 of them are in Sandoval County. The Sandoval acreage was purchased from the Dunigan family, which once owned Valle Grande. The purchase agreement includes covenants.
  • The Ski Club, Los Alamos County, Sandoval County, Sipapu, and the Dunigan family are working together to make the ski area viable, but sometimes it is difficult just to find all of the people involved and get them together.
  • However, the precipitation picture has improved considerably. There are now about nine million gallons of water in the 10-million-gallon pond. “We’ve actually had a couple of nights of pretty good snow-making on the mountain,” Long said. “The long-range forecast calls for a heavy winter, but, he said, he “never counts the flakes until they’re on the ground.” The snow-making capacity now in place includes some portable equipment. In all, the system can improve five runs: Lone Spruce, Bruce’s Boulevard, Lumberyard, the Beginners’ West Area, and Mitey Mite.
  • Events this past summer went well. “We’re moving forward and trying to make everything work,” he said. And he added, the club is trying “to keep it like good old Pajarito Mountain skiing.”

Questions and answers from Kiwanis members brought out more interesting information:

  • Work is proceeding on the “Atomic City Motel” (previously Hilltop House), which is now owned by Sipapu, but much work remains to be done.
  • Food service—breakfast and lunch—is available in the lodge for everyone when the hill is open. In the long run, the new owners are even considering building a restaurant on top of the mountain.
  • Here’s the most important part for 2015: The hill will open on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It will operate on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from Nov. 27 until Dec. 18; daily from Dec. 18 to Jan. 3; and Wednesday through Sunday and federal holidays from Jan. 3 until April 10—or until the snow runs out.
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