Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the status of Ski Apache.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Six of New Mexico’s eight ski resorts are open, despite dry conditions across the state. Taos, Angel Fire, Red River, Ski Santa Fe, Ski Apache, and Sipapu currently have runs open. However, none have 100% of the runs ready to go.
This season, New Mexico saw a late start to winter, KRQE News 13 Chief Meteorologist Grant Tosterud says. That means the season was relatively dry — apart from some storms in late December.
Statewide, more than 99% of New Mexico is at least “abnormally dry” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which monitors conditions across the nation. Much of the mountainous north-central part of the state is experiencing “extreme drought,” the data shows.
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Much of the state is experiencing “severe” or “extreme” drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC.
But some slopes are open. Angel Fire and Red River are partially open. In the southern half of the state, Ski Apache has a couple lifts open Thursday through Sunday, dependent on weather. Sipapu, Taos, and Ski Santa Fe also currently have runs open, despite being in areas where natural snow levels are below average.
“Sipapu has a very fortunate situation or location, in that it’s kind of deep in a valley,” explains Christiana Hudson, the marketing manager for both Sipapu and Pajarito. “So most of the time, the sun is not hitting our slope. So we’re really able to spread that snow out, and it also stays, even as it gets warmer.”
Sipapu is 50% open, with an 18-inch base, their latest numbers show. Further to the south, Ski Santa Fe is currently reporting a 30-inch base, with more than 80% of the mountain open. Down south, Ski Apache has a couple chairs open. Up north, Red River and Angel Fire both have about two feet of ski base. Taos Ski Valley has a base depth of nearly 40 inches.
“Right now, the snow is starting to pick up and it’s been fantastic,” says Tania McCormack, the director of marketing at Taos Ski Valley. “It took a little while for it to come in, but we did get over four feet of snow over the Christmas holiday.”
The snow brings skiers. Despite the pandemic, this season has been surprisingly busy, McCormack says. And the lessons learned last winter are helping the resorts get through this most recent phase of the pandemic.
“Fortunately, we rolled into this season with the experience of last year,” McCormack said. “We now know what things worked last year and what to bring into this year.” Masks and vaccines are part of the game plan.
“Over the summer, we did have a vaccination policy with our staff, which has come in very handy. We’re glad we did that. Because it’s the first line of defense,” McCormack says. Clear, consistent messaging about COVID-19 safety is also key, McCormack adds.
At Taos, the statewide indoor mask policy is being enforced. The resort is also recommending masks for crowded areas outside. But, McCormack adds, if you’re out in the snow and safely away from others, “enjoy yourself. Take a breath of fresh air.”
When it comes to dining, Taos is relatively strict. They are requiring a vaccination card to dine-in at any restaurants operated by Taos Ski Valley. And the restaurants are a bit short-staffed, according to McCormack.
“There has been some staffing issues across the board up here at Taos Ski Valley, in regards to food and beverage, with some recent COVID cases,” McCormack says. “There is a limitation right now on where you can get food. So I do recommend people prepare for that. There are options, but just be prepared.”
At Ski Santa Fe, both La Casa and Totemoff’s Bar & Grill, their indoor dining options, are open. And they don’t require proof of vaccination, according to Tommy Long, the operations manager.
Sipapu, on the other hand, has closed its indoor dining except for dinner. Take-out options though are available for lunch.
Some resorts still closed
Several New Mexico ski resorts remain closed. Pajarito Mountain and Sandia Peak Ski have yet to welcome skiers to their slopes.
Just outside Albuquerque, Sandia Peak Ski saw temperatures dip into the mid-20s recently — which even froze tram lines. But with only a 9-inch base, the slopes remain closed. Still, the tram and the recently-rebuilt restaurant atop the Sandias are open.
Just outside of Los Alamos, Pajarito Mountain recently received a good bit of snow. However, other challenges have delayed opening the mountain.
A mid-December storm flipped small airplanes in Santa Fe, damaged buildings in Taos, and — as it turned out — created challenges on the ski slopes. “We have a ton of downed trees because of that freak wind storm that we had in mid-December,” explains Christiana Hudson.
On top of the damage, Hudson explains, much of the snowfall at Pajarito hasn’t packed down into a good ski base. And their ability to make snow this season is limited.
“We have a retaining pond at the top of Pajarito, that holds about nine to 11 million gallons of water,” she says. “We had some leaks in that pond, and we were able to re-line it in the fall. But that wasn’t really quick enough to capture any moisture.”
The season’s not over yet
“We should all be excited for more runs to open up, more snow to come,” said McCormack from Taos. “And it’s only January. We have a whole winter ahead of us.”
While most parts of the state aren’t expecting any big snowstorms in the next few days, there certainly is still a lot of winter ahead of us, says KRQE Chief Meteorologist Grant Tosterud. That means there’s still hope that more slopes could eventually open. Hudson agrees: “Hopefully, Mother Nature will help, but yeah, we fully intend to get open [at Pajarito] as soon as we can.”
There are still several months before the New Mexico ski season begins to draw to a close. Some resorts are even extending their season — Taos plans on being open through April to host the World Pro Ski Tour World Championships.
If you plan on hitting the slopes this year, operators and experts are recommending arriving early — and with a face mask — to get through ticket and rental lines as smoothly as possible. To help you get on the slopes faster, you can also buy your ticket online.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article said that Ski Apache was closed. This has been corrected. Ski Apache is partially open. Visitors must purchase their tickets from the rental shop.