Students Learn To Ski And Snowboard At Pajarito

Students get a lift up the mountain Wednesday during their training class. Photo by John McHale/

Fifth graders get some assistance to reach the top of Pajarito Mountain. Photo by John McHale/

A student takes a spill in the snow. Photo by John McHale/


Los Alamos Daily Post

Pajarito Mountain has taught youngsters how to ski and snowboard for many years but for the last three years, business has skyrocketed at the Snowsports School.

Not only does the school coordinate with all five elementary schools in Los Alamos to provide ski and snowboard lessons to fifth graders, but they also teach home-schooled students, Kha’p’o Community School (formerly known as the Santa Clara Day School) and Pecos Elementary School. Espanola Valley High School was not able to participate this season.

It gets busy on the mountain. For instance, the combination of the morning and afternoon sessions Feb. 22, more than 100 students attended Snowsports School.

The Snowsports School staff, which includes Manager Rick Hinckley, Assistant Manager Mitch Trkula, Snowboard Supervisor Lori Tepley and Ski Supervisor Andy Trottier, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Our goal is to develop skiers and give them a lifelong sport,” Hinckley said.

Trottier agreed, saying that the program with the schools gives some students an opportunity they might not otherwise get to experience a sport they might not know anything about.

“I enjoy the look of happiness on their faces,” Trottier said.

Tepley added the Snowsports School gets kids outdoors and watching them succeed on a piece of equipment they haven’t used before as well as build camaraderie with their peers is something special.

“At the end of the day they’re laughing and throwing snowballs at each other,” she said. “It feels more like a family coming together.”

The lessons are catered to each student’s capability. Hinckley said, “(We’ll) take them as far as we can.” Some students can make it to the top of the mountain and others make part way.

“They all seem to have a great time,” he said.

Trkula added, “They do seem to enjoy themselves so much they come back … I like seeing them learn a new sport and I like thinking I had something to do with it.”

Mountain Elementary School Physical Education (PE) Teacher Tony Hinojosa initiated the program for fifth graders at the elementary school to participate in the Snowsports School. He then reached out to other elementary schools to expand the program. While various schools have sent students to Pajarito for many years, participation had diminished and Hinckley credits Hinojosa for rejuvenating it.

“Tony Hinojosa was a very big help with that,” he said.

Hinojosa said, “As a PE teacher, I believe it is my job to introduce my students to as many activities as I can. Hopefully, they will find a handful of activities that they enjoy and will participate in regularly, helping them live a physically active lifestyle.”

He added, “Snowboarding has always been a big part of my life. I started when I was 10 and have never stopped. Not only is it fun and good exercise, but it’s also a way to express myself and enjoy the great outdoors. It has always been my goal to help as many kids as I can to experience skiing and/or snowboarding. “The specials teachers (art, music, Library and PE) here at Mountain Elementary School have been very supportive of my idea and we scheduled all of our fifth grade classes on Wednesdays.”

Hinojosa explained on a normal Wednesday morning, the fifth grade classes rotate through all four special classes; however, every Wednesday morning in February, the teachers work together to take all the fifth graders to Pajarito Mountain for ski or snowboard lessons. In order to accommodate the other four elementary schools, he said he was able to organize an after-school program on Wednesdays.

Since school finishes at noon, the fifth graders eat lunch, then hop onto a bus and head up to Pajarito Mountain for ski or snowboard lessons in the afternoon. Hinojosa said since it is after school hours, these are optional trips, but they are still being led by each school’s PE teacher and have had a good number of students participating.

He added, “Pajarito Mountain has been very supportive of these programs and offers the schools a great discount. We have worked out a package deal to provide the students with lift tickets, rental equipment and lessons. We also have local donors that are willing to pay for any students that can’t afford it.”

It is not just elementary aged students involved in the program. High school students have completed in-house training to become better instructors, and some have even become certified through the Rocky Mountain Division of the Professional Ski Instructors of America-American Association of Snowboard Instructions.

Hinckley said they have seven high school students learning to be instructors.

“I’m very happy I can ask anyone on the staff to take the children’s lesson,” he said.

George Duke’s Rental Shop department works to get the ski equipment fitted and set for when students arrive and the Pajarito Cafe prepare lunches for Kha’p’o Community School students. When one of the chairlifts failed, workers not only repaired it but updated the lift, too. The motivation to get it done was primarily for the students because it put the programs on hold for a week, even though all beginner area skiers would ultimately benefit.

“It’s a multi-department effort up here,” Hinckley said.

It’s work they are happy to do.

“We’ve thoroughly enjoyed having these kids up here,” Tepley said. “It’s been a delight.”

Fifth graders enjoy the great weather Wednesday while attending Snowsports School. Photo by John Mchale/


Snowboarders at Pajarito Mountain. Photo by John McHale/

Students get some instruction about skiing. Photo by John McHale/

A student makes heads down the mountain. Photo by John McHale/

A young skier makes his way down Pajarito Mountain. Photo by John McHale/

A fifth grader gets some instruction while attending Snowsports School. Photo by John McHale/

Students have fun on Pajarito Mountain. Photo by John Mchale/