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Let it snow

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This may not be exactly accurate in the vernacular of weather forecasting, but think of the coming ski season as “Quién Sabe.”

Tim Shy, senior forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque, says there are no signals of the presence of either a snow-producing El Niño weather pattern, or a drier and less ski-friendly La Niña – which leaves the uncertainly of a Quién Sabe – “Who Knows?” – weather pattern.

In addition, Shy says, some indicators show that temperatures will likely be above normal. “So the smart money is to bet on an average winter for snowfall at best, but because it may be warmer than normal, it will melt a little faster than skiers might hope.”

Those who enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides will no doubt be onboard for dog sledding trips with Alaskan huskies that will take visitors on an hourlong jaunt over a scenic forest trail at Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort. (Courtesy of Purgatory At Durango Mountain Resort)

Those who enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides will no doubt be onboard for dog sledding trips with Alaskan huskies that will take visitors on an hourlong jaunt over a scenic forest trail at Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort. (Courtesy of Purgatory At Durango Mountain Resort)

Still, hope springs eternal and the operators of the state’s ski resorts kept busy during the off season by making improvements to ski runs and related amenities.

Last winter, Albuquerque “got skunked,” receiving only about 3.5 inches of precipitation, which is roughly a third to a fourth of normal, Shy says. The rest of the state didn’t fare much better. The Sangre de Cristos and the areas around Blue Water State Park and the Continental Divide received about 70 percent of normal; the Jemez, the San Juans and the Guadalupes recorded about 55 percent of normal; and the upper Gila region about 50 percent.

“It was not a great year snow-wise,” says Shy.

Making snow

The upcoming New Mexico ski season won’t be the crap shoot the National Weather Service predicts, according to George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico, the trade organization representing the state’s ski industry as well as the sports of skiing and snowboarding.

Whatever Mother Nature fails to deliver, the ski areas can make up with their snow-making equipment. Collectively, about 50 percent of the trails at New Mexico ski areas are already supplemented by machine-made snow, he says. “Most skiers and snowboarders don’t even know it because the snow that’s being made is such high quality it’s pretty much indistinguishable from natural snow.”

Despite that, New Mexico ski areas last season took a hit, selling 723,924 lift tickets, about 131,700 fewer than the previous season. That represents a 15 percent reduction from the 2010-11 season, or an 11 percent reduction when averaged over the past five seasons.

The ski industry last year generated a direct impact of $101 million, based on what visitors spent at the ski resorts, including lift tickets, equipment rentals, lessons, meals, on-site lodging and other on-site retail purchases. Using a multiplier factor of four as those dollars trickle down and turn over in the community, the economic impact jumps to $404 million, says Brooks.

That’s a significant amount, but $18.3 million less in direct impact and $73.2 million less in multiplied economic impact from the previous season, Brooks notes.

And it’s not that the skiing in New Mexico was any better in the 2010-11 season than in the 2011-12 season. Rather, the public perception people had last year by looking out their living room windows was of a drier than normal winter. Consequently, skiers and snowboarders stayed at home or took their recreation dollars out of state, even though the reality in the mountains was very different, Brooks says.

Because of the investment the ski areas have made in snowmaking equipment, “we will always have skiing in New Mexico,” Brooks says. “We just have to convince people of that, regardless of what they see out their windows.”

New and improved

Eternally optimistic ski area operators have remained busy during the off season, improving and expanding trails, remodeling buildings and buying essential equipment. For specific information, check out the ski area websites.

Here’s a rundown of what’s new.

Angel Fire’s nationally recognized bike park has been transformed into new terrain for skiers and snowboarders. One trail will offer berms and jumps, and the other will offer skiers a gentle winding trail through the trees.

Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Area has constructed a second rental yurt at the end of Long John Trail, and a midway warming and event yurt at the intersection of Little John and Sherwood Forest, where dinner will be served following moonlight ski/snowshoe tours.

Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort has increased its snowmaking capacity to the front side of the mountain and added an ice cream and malt shop to the Creekside Restaurant in the Village Plaza. Snowcat skiing and snowboarding adventures in 35,000 acres of backcountry are now being provided by San Juan Untracked, which took over the operation from San Juan Snowcat Skiing. And if you enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides, you will no doubt be onboard for dog sledding trips with Alaskan huskies that will take visitors on an hourlong jaunt over a scenic forest trail.

Pajarito Mountain Ski Area has completed construction of the Spruce Lift and the Town Sight Lift, replacing the ones that burned down in the summer of 2011 during the Las Conchas fire.

Red River Ski Area will debut new glades for tree skiing on the upper western face of the mountain. The main chalet has undergone some remodeling, as has The Tip restaurant at the top of the mountain. Visitors will also see new and easier-to-read trail signs.

Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort has increased its snowmaking capacity and replaced a surface lift on the practice slope with a magic carpet, making it easier for beginners to ride up the mountain.

Ski Cloudcroft has remodeled its restaurant in the main lodge to give it a more rustic look and has added 120 new snowboards and 300 new pairs of skis to its rental inventory.

Ski Santa Fe has upgraded seating, lighting and flooring at Totemoff’s Bar and Grill at mid-mountain.

Telluride Ski Area didn’t just add a snowmaking machine here and there, it invested more than $1 million to replace older equipment and expand snowmaking capacity on the mountain. It also upgraded the Bon Vivant outdoor restaurant, adding glass walls atop existing railings for more weather protection for diners. The resort added 32 rooms by purchasing the Inn at Lost Creek in Mountain Village, which is also seeing upgrades to the inn’s Siam’s Talay Grille, as well as improvements to its workout facility.

Wolf Creek Ski Area has replaced older lifts with the Treasure Stoke, a detachable quad replacing the triple chair, and Treasure Lift, a detachable high-speed quad. The ski area also upgraded its ticket office and purchased a new, state-of-the-art infrared waxing machine for its rental shop.

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