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Winter Guide: Snow investment

A year ago, the construction and introduction of the Kachina Peak Lift, which placed skiers another nearly 300 feet higher atop the mountain at Taos Ski Valley, had snow enthusiasts abuzz.

This year, it’s $10 million in improvements spread across four ski areas that is grabbing attention, particularly since it includes new lifts at Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort and Purgatory Resort.

Sipapu is adding a quad, fixed-grip lift that will rise 370 vertical feet on its main opening route, says John Paul Bradley, mountain manager.

“This gives us great access to our beginner trails,” he says. “It’s perfect for ski school and families. It also has access to some of our intermediate trails.”

Coupled with expanded snow-making capabilities, “we typically can make snow from the top of the lift to the bottom,” Bradley says. “That will give us lift access earlier in the year.”

Sipapu has improved its snow-making capabilities with the installation of a new pump that will double the amount of water that feeds the mountain’s upper levels, he says.

Additionally, the electrical supply to the upper reaches has been increased, and new hydrants have been installed to reduce the length of surface lines, making the system more efficient, Bradley says.

Purgatory near Durango is adding a super-fast quad lift that will help speed skiers to the top of the mountain.

“Purgatory’s Lift 8 replacement is one of the most ambitious and impactful changes undertaken at this resort in more than a decade,” says James Coleman, managing partner for the resort.

The new lift that takes riders on a journey of nearly a mile will move riders to the top in less than five minutes.

Complementing the lift will be the addition of two new trails off Ray’s Ridge, as well as an easier route to the bottom.

The company, which also includes Parajito Mountain in Los Alamos, as well as Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff, has also invested heavily in additional snowmaking equipment at all of the resorts.

More snow

Parajito is getting a boost in snowmaking equipment that could increase its capabilities by 20 percent to 30 percent, says Tom Long, general manager, helping cover more terrain.

Portable hydrants have been added, and hydrant and riser pedestals that were in place but left dormant have been completed and will go on line this year, he says.

And, perhaps the biggest improvement comes from Mother Nature, which dumped regular amounts of rainfall on the area in the spring and summer, filling the snowmaking pond nearly to its brim with more than 9 million gallons of water, far more than it has ever held, Long says.

Likewise, boosting snowmaking has been a priority at Ski Santa Fe, where a new, 5 million-gallon water tank should be a boon, particularly early in the season, says spokeswoman Debbie Owen.

“This tank will allow us to get snowmaking out on the hill faster,” she says. “We are hoping that this will lead to a more reliable early season and a more consistent snowpack late in the year.”

What’s more, Ski Santa Fe has undergone the removal of a number of obstacles at Desperado and Avalanche Bowl to create better glade skiing, Owen says.

“The skiing in this area promises to be steep, deep and the perfect spacing between trees for all-around great tree skiing,” she says.

Cleaner trails

Efficiently distributing snow across the mountain is also going on at Taos Ski Valley, which has also bought new snowcats to help groom some of the steeper runs, says Gordon Briner, TSV chief executive officer.

Trails like Hunziker, Pappa Bear, Ruby Gully, Zagava and Moe’s along with Main Street on Kachina Peak and Blitz will see additional grooming, Briner says.

But the big news in Taos is the construction of an on-site, full-service, 65-room hotel that’s part of a sweeping $350 million investment that started with the Kachina Peak Lift and will continue over the next five years, Briner says.

The hotel isn’t scheduled for completion until next ski season, but construction should not pose problems for skiers this season, he says.

New terrain

Angel Fire Resort also is part of the trend to improve the snowmaking capabilities, says spokeswomen Krysty Ronchetti.

The new equipment means the resort can start making snow in warmer weather and it’s more efficient, she says.

“This way we can be conservative with our water,” Ronchetti says. “Forecasters are saying that we’re supposed to have a great El NiƱo but we are prepared on the other side just in case.”

Equally exciting, she says, is the complete redesign of the resort’s terrain park, Liberation Park, under Jon Eppler, who has worked for the Winter X Games and is a second-generation designer.

“It’s a whole new design,” Ronchetti says. “He’s really into progressive learning, making things go in order as far, starting more gradual, then getting more advanced and he’s setting the park up like that.”

The park also will be the state’s first with a dedicated chairlift, she says.