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‘Truly great skiing’

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

With the onslaught of the latest storm blast this past week, local ski area operators are smiling those lopsided, it’s-happening-again grins.

A skier hikes up Ski Santa Fe past snow blowers late last month as the ski area prepared for its opening. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Coming off a record-setting season, the slopes are already alive with the sound of schussing as skiers and boarders get their downhill fix early.

“Who knew we could have a powder day in New Mexico twice in November,” Christiana Hudson of Sipapu Ski Resort asked.

Well, the U.S. Weather Service had some idea, although these early storms are coming as a bit of a surprise.

“We aren’t expecting it to be quite as robust as it was last year,” said Jennifer Shoemake, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “However we are still thinking the snowfall to be near normal to even slightly above normal amounts. We’re certainly starting pretty well this week.”

Blaine Thompson, 20, from Carlsbad, catches air on a jump he and others made at Ski Santa Fe after a snowfall on Nov. 22. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Interestingly, while the snowfalls should remain strong, temperatures may not dip as low as last season.

“Right now, it looks like from our climate models that the temperatures will be slightly above average December through February,” Shoemake said. “I know that doesn’t seem to quite jibe with more snow but higher temperatures. But just recall, even if it’s above normal, it can still be below freezing.”

Still, the temperatures have been chilly enough that the ski areas have been busily prepping for a strong season.

Cade Rhodes, left, and Caleb Tomlinson, both from Canyon, Texas, ride the lift at Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort on Nov. 22. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Scary as it sounds, Sipapu has been open since Halloween, the earliest the hill has ever been ready for business.

Likewise, Ski Santa Fe opened Thanksgiving Day with optimism for a busy season.

“Warm temperatures have left, snow is falling and winter is in full swing,” said Jessica Fox, spokeswoman for the ski area. “This recent storm brought 19 inches of new snow and the cold temperatures have allowed us to kick snowmaking into high gear.”

A 20-inch-plus base means the Super Chief Quad was busy carrying aloft folks ready for some serious snow fun as Upper Midland, Midland, Lower Midland and Davey Lane were all running well, she said.

Jerome Alcone, a ski tech at Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort, waxes a snowboard recently. Sipapu opened for the ski season last month. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Even the beginner slope was covered as the young crowd got their first taste of skiing and snowboarding.

Angel Fire, which doesn’t open until Dec. 13, has been cranking the snow machines for some time and has been buoyed by several recent storms, helping create an envy-worth base that’s already topping 20 inches.

“We’re definitely making a lot of snow because it’s cold enough,” said Angel Fire spokeswoman Krysty Ronchetti. “It’s perfect temperatures for making snow.”

The main concern at the moment is to strengthen the base in preparation for the opening, she said.

“We’ve been making snow around the clock,” she said. “And footpacking it. The guys go down with skis and pack it down. We want to pack down as much snow as we can so we have a nice firm base.”

The early chilly burst and prolonged outlook has ski operators rubbing their hands in glee.

“These are the best early and consistent snowmaking conditions we have ever had,” said John Paul Bradley, Sipapu general manager. “Snow helps freeze the ground so snow sticks around longer. Long-range forecast looks great for continued snowmaking.”

At Red River Ski Area, the slopes opened Wednesday with a two-foot base. Three lifts are already open and up to 10 trails are ready to roll.

Taos Ski Valley is piling on the snow, with a 28-inch base that should be significantly higher after the week’s totals are calculated.

While Pajarito is lagging behind other areas, it has finally gotten cold enough to begin snowmaking operations and, most importantly, the pond from which the water is drawn is full, said spokeswoman Theresa Graven.

“We haven’t had the right combination of cold for long enough periods of time, but we just picked up six inches, and between that and colder temperatures, we’re ready to go,” she said.

Sandia Crest outside of Albuquerque is looking at a December opening shortly before Christmas to take advantage of the traditionally strong holiday skiing season.

So, all in all, the outlook is for plenty of fun to be had on the slopes across the region.

“It’s truly great skiing this early in the season,” Hudson said.

Outlook is for plenty of fun on the slopes across the region