Sandia Peak Gets A New Life, New Owners After Long Hiatus

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After a couple seasons of closure, Sandia Peak Ski Area (300 a., 1,700 vert.) reopened Feb. 10 with new, aggressive ownership that bodes well for the future of the New Mexico ski and snowboard resort.

Management reported that all 300 acres on the mountain were open, served by triple-seat Lift 3. Recent southern-trending storms have put down a 33-inch base, with more on the horizon.

The rejuvenation of Sandia Peak began last fall when Durango-based Mountain Capital Partners entered into an operating agreement with a group headed by Albuquerque balloonist Ben Abruzzo. Then, in early February, MCP took over ownership of the 300-acre mountain.

Along with new owners comes inclusion into the regional Power Pass, and a new interation called Power Pass Core.  Available now for $399 and good through next season, the new Core season pass covers unlimited skiing and riding at Sandia Peak, Pajarito, Sipapu and Ski Hesperus (closed for the season due to mechanical failures) -- all New Mexico ski areas. As with all MCP properties, kids 12 and under ski free all the time.

Tall and narrow, Sandia Peak operates three fixed-grip chairlifts, two side-by-side from bottom to top, and one with mid-mountain loading. A conveyor serves beginners at the base. Terrain is moderate, with nearly 70% either green or blue. It's a 45-minute drive from downtown Albuquerque.

However, another way up to the mountain is the Sandia Peak Tramway that rises out of northeast Albuquerque for a 15-minute ride to the 10,300-foot summit and top of trail system. In the ownership shift, the tram remains in hands of the Abruzzo family, famous for high-altitude ballooning.

As one of the southernmost resorts in the West, snow days can be hard to come by at Sandia Peak. Several times recently, it has closed mid-season for lack of sufficient cover. In 2014-2015, it snowed 18 days for a total snowfall of 74 inches -- the most in the last 10 years. The last four seasons have brought just three days or less of snow all season.

However, MCP has owned and operated snow-challenged Four Corners resorts since 2012, when it bought Purgatory. The company is known for putting money into on-mountain upgrades, such as snowmaking, high-speed chairs and grooming. Sandia Peak currently covers 30 of its 300 acres with artificial snow, and has no high-speed lifts.

As one of the few winter mountains with direct access from a city, Sandia Peak is New Mexico's oldest ski area -- opening in 1936 as La Madera Ski Area with a mitten-shredding 1,500-foot rope tow. A 4,200-foot T-bar -- the longest in U.S. at that time -- went up in 1946, the first chairlift in 1963, and the tram in 1966.

 

 

 

 

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Oldest In New Mexico, Sandia Peak Gets New Operator, Joins Power Pass

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Chalk up another New Mexico ski and snowboard mountain for the Power Pass network, as its parent company will take over operations of Sandia Peak this season.

Located above Albuquerque, Sandi Peak has been closed since 2021, due to meager snowfall and a labor shortages, according to the previous operators.

Mountain Capital Partners announced it will take over operation of the 300-acre mountain with its 1,700 vertical-foot, two fixed-grip chairs and modest base area. Sandia Peak will join the Power Pass family that has been Mountain Capital's multi-mountain season pass since 2012.

The new operators did not announce any other changes for the time being, but New Mexicans and visitors should expect on-mountain upgrades -- such as snowmaking and grooming -- as is the company's wont when it buys a new property. The mountain currently has about 30% coverage of snow guns.

The nation's third-longest tramway opened in 1966 to bring sightseers and skiers to the 10,378-foot-high Sandia Crest. The tramway and a ridgetop restaurant will remain in the hands of previous operators. An access road comes up the east side -- about 40 minutes' drive from the downtown of the Duke City.

Getting enough snowfall to open has always been a tricky proposition for Sandia Peak operators. Winter storms tend to hug the northern mountain ranges and bypass Sandia. Also the mountain rises out of the high desert where snowfall is skimpy, at best. Since 2014, only three seasons have had more than 10 days when the snow fell -- topped by 2019-2020 when a 51-inch base built up.

Sandia Peak becomes the third New Mexico holding for the Durango-based partnership, joining Sipapu near Taos and Pajarito above Los Alamos. Similarly small day-trip resorts in its portfolio include Colorado's Ski Hesperus, Utah's Nordic Valley, Nevada's Lee Canyon, and Oregon's Willamette Pass.

Others under the Power Pass are flagship Purgatory outside Durango, Arizona Snowbowl above Flagstaff, Brian Head in southern Utah, and Valle Nevado in Chile, and a bike park in Austin, Texas.

Sandia Peak has nurtured New Mexico skiers since 1936, when the Albuquerque Ski Club put up a rope tow and opened it La Madera -- the first ski area in the state. In 1958, a partnership led by international hot-air balloonist Ben Abruzzo bought ski area. The Arbuzzo family still operates Ski Santa Fe, about an hour north of Albuquerque.

 

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