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Drought strikes outdoor recreation in New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. — Northern New Mexico’s outdoor recreation industry is bracing for a dismal year due to a record-breaking lack of snowpack this winter.

“This is scary,” says Ivan Valdez of The Reel Life fly shop in Santa Fe. “The health of our lakes, rivers, wildlife, the tourism economy, they all depend on that runoff.”

Snowpack in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado is at record low amounts and not expected to improve any time soon, says Chris Romero, snow survey hydrological technician with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Albuquerque.

Romero’s January statewide report shows snowpack at just 4 percent of median compared with 98 percent at the same time last year. “We’d need twice as much snow as we normally receive to make up for what we haven’t gotten so far,” Romero said.

A snowstorm that hit northern New Mexico the weekend of Jan. 20-21 was welcome but did little to alleviate the situation, he noted.

River rafting guides have ridden out droughts like this before and are prepared for low water conditions, says Steve Miller of New Wave Rafting in Embudo and president of the New Mexico River Outfitters Association.

“You can run the racecourse at any level and still have plenty of fun,” he says.

River rafting companies have adapted over the years to repeated drought-related low water conditions by offering funyak rentals and guided float and fishing trips on the lower river.

The industry saw a banner year of hair-raising and lucrative runs through the Rio Grande’s Taos Box last year due to great high water conditions.

But this year could be another story, as the ski industry has already learned.

“We’re open but considering the lack of snow and limited terrain, business is a little slow,” says Candy DeJoia at Ski Santa Fe.

The ski area averages 225 inches of snow a year but has only seen 24 inches so far this season, she said.

So instead the resort has been busy making man-made snow to apply to their most popular trails, she said.

Those who venture up the mountain will find discounted prices, great weather and plenty of room to ski, she says.

Other ski areas around the state are suffering the same fate with overall business down by about 30 percent this year, says George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico, an industry association.

Brooks stressed that most resorts have good snowmaking capabilities and are applying snow to their most heavily used runs to keep customers happy.

“We’ve still got a couple months of winter left and are hoping for snow,” he says.

Taos Ski Valley declined to provide ticket or employment figures, though a statement from spokesperson Skylar Kraatz stated that the 88 percent decrease in total snowfall last month caused a decline in overall visits.

One ski town that’s remaining confident is Red River.

“Because our snowmaking is so exceptional we maybe have taken business away from some of our surrounding areas,” said Jenna Grubbs, the town’s tourism and economic development director. She estimated December’s reported lodger’s tax revenue will be on track with the about $96,000 for the same month in 2016.

Besides the snow-making ability, Grubbs said, a good mix of other of tourism-based businesses have helped Red River get through the dry winter.

For example, she said ATV and horseback tour companies that usually switch over to snowmobiling by now have instead continued their summer and fall activities.

Journal North reporter Megan Bennett contributed to this story.


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