Sandia Peak skiers out of luck for a second year - Albuquerque Journal

Sandia Peak skiers out of luck for a second year

Chairlift operator Justin Current sends off a pair of skiers up the hill at Sandia Peak Ski area on January 5, 2019, after the area received about 2.5 ft. of snow from recent storms. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Sandia Peak Ski Area will remain closed for the second consecutive year, with management citing potential reduced snowfall, staffing issues and financial difficulties.

Ben Abruzzo, general manager of Sandia Peak Ski Area and president of Ski Santa Fe, said Tuesday that plans to build a mountain coaster on the peak are also on hold.

“Sandia Peak has for sure had less snow and shorter winters in the past five years than we had seen in the past 20,” Abruzzo said.

Last season, the ski area did not have enough snow to open the slopes. And, in 2020, it opened on a limited scale when the mountain didn’t get significant snow until January; the late snowfall reduced the season to just five weekends.

Finding qualified lift technicians and other personnel willing to work through shorter seasons has been difficult, Abruzzo said. Although the ski area employs about 70 people during the winter, there are just three or four year-round employees.

“Having these really short ski seasons in a row, you’re not guaranteeing people enough employment,” Abruzzo said.

COVID-19 also exacerbated Sandia Peak’s staffing difficulties.

“We’ve been operating this mountain for 50 years and every year we’ve made an attempt (to open),” Abruzzo said. “We’re like a lot of businesses – we’re struggling with reality right now.”

Abruzzo said a lengthy permitting process has halted the proposed mountain coaster, which received some pushback.

The ski area, which sits on U.S. Forest Service land, has a special-use permit with the agency. Abruzzo said the provisions of the permit don’t allow the ski area to indefinitely stay on the mountain without operating, and said leadership is discussing options for the future.

“We can still only control what we can control,” Abruzzo said. “The ability to … make it snow isn’t something we can do.”

Economic impact

Duane Kinsley, owner of Sport Systems, an Albuquerque-based sporting goods store that offers ski and snowboard rentals, said he’s noticed a difference in business when the peak – which is accessible from the city in an hour’s drive – closes.

“Any time that they don’t open, that affects our rental business,” Kinsley said. “… When they do open, it goes up dramatically.”

A chair lift at Sandia Peak Ski Area sits empty in January. Management at the ski area has confirmed that it will remain closed for the 2022-23 ski season. (Roberto E. Rosales/ Albuquerque Journal)

Kinsley said that hobby skiers, who might go skiing once or twice a year, look for convenience more than anything. When Albuquerque’s closest mountain closes, he said, many decide to skip skiing that season. Those skiers typically rent rather than buy gear.

“Sandia Peak, it’s close and convenient,” Kinsley said. “If it’s a little bit farther away, then they won’t go.”

Skier Kinsley said he goes to Sandia Peak for shorter day trips.

“It’s disappointing,” Kinsley said of the closure. But, he adds, there are several other resorts that are still a short drive from the city.

As for the restaurants and businesses around the ski area, Abruzzo said that the closure is just business as usual.

“I don’t think it (the closure) will have a significant effect because we haven’t had a great ski season in several years,” Abruzzo said.

Jay Wulf has been on the ski patrol at Sandia Peak for almost 10 years. He also used to own the Greenside Cafe in Cedar Crest before passing the business on to his eldest son.

Wulf agreed he doesn’t think the restaurant will be affected too badly by the ski area closure. According to Wulf, the restaurant doesn’t get too much traffic from the ski area.

Wulf, who skies himself, said he’ll still ski this year – just not in the Sandias. He’s planning to travel to Santa Fe and Taos to hit the slopes, and may go as far as Colorado or the Pacific Northwest.

Although the ski area will be closed, the Sandia Peak Tramway will continue to operate as usual this winter, Abruzzo said.

“Nobody operates a ski area for a month,” Abruzzo said. “And that’s what the winter’s been giving us.”

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