Faulty Chairlift Mechanism Forces Hesperus To Close This Season

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Ski Hesperus' 35-year-old double chairlift wouldn't start up at the start of this season and, consequently, the Durango-area locals' hill will not open for the 2023-2024 season.

Crews worked on the chairlift's gearbox during the offseason but could not get it to do what it's supposed to do: connect the motor to the bullwheel so that chairs can spin.

"The only viable option is to remanufacture the original gearbox, making it impossible to open Hesperus Ski Area for the 23-24 season," mountain officials said.

So Hesperus' only lift, and 80 acres of trails with 700 vertical feet will lie dormant for this winter. All facilities will be moth-balled and locked, including parking lot, and popular uphill and hike-to tubing. The mountain's minimal base operations will be shuttered as well.

Mountain managers have come up several options for passholders, including a limited season pass credit/exchange with Purgatory and credit toward a 2024-2025 Hesperus pass. The resort is covered by the Power Pass.

Since 1962, Hesperus has been a true locals' hill where many Durango-area youngsters learned to ski and ride, and where adults could get a few turns in after work. It sits conveniently along U.S. 160 west of town. Night skiing has been a staple of the operation for decades, with lights from top to bottom.

The ski area does not have snowmaking and only minimal grooming, and it's on the bottom edge of the San Juan Mountains storms. However, the base sits at 8,100 feet in a narrow pocket, so on good years, Hesperus gets plenty of cover. Half of the mountain's 13 named runs are rated black, and regulars find personal powder stashes off-piste in the scrub oak.

The existing double chair was purchased from Mt. Bachelor in 1988 and went up in 1988 to replace a treacherous rope tow ride. In 2016, Durango-based Mountain Capital Partners purchased the lease for the 160 acres on which Hesperus sits. Purveyor of the Power Pass, the firm has Purgatory and owns or operates nine other American resorts, including Pajarito, Sipapu and Sandia Peak -- local hills like Hesperus.

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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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Lee Canyon Joins Power Pass Family; Third Acquisition In Six Months

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Las Vegas' hometown skiing and snowboarding mountain is now the 11th member of the Mountain Capital Partners winter portfolio after it was sold by Powdr Corp.

The acquisition of Lee Canyon by the Southwest-centric company is the third resort (Willamettte Pass in Oregon, Valle Nevado in Chile) in six months to be added to the Power Pass network. The company also owns/operates a bike park in Texas and two golf courses in Show Low, Ariz.

Geographically, Lee Canyon completes a circle of resorts roughly centered on the Four Corners -- from Nordic Valley in the north, Sipapu to the east, Arizona Snowbowl to the south and now Lee Canyon to the west. The nearest neighbors on the Power Pass are Brian Head (four hours' drive) in southern Utah and Arizona Snowbowl (five hours) in northern Arizona.

Located less than hour's drive north of Las Vegas, Lee Canyon -- also known as Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort --has long been a pleasant diversion from the gambling tables and extravagance of "Sin City." Opened in 1963 with a T-bar, the mountain has a 860-foot vertical drop for those riding the chairlifts, another 1,100 feet for those willing to hike to the top ridge around Lee Peak (11,289). Its high base elevation (8,500) helps bring in about 150 inches of snowfall in an average season.

Skiers and riders can expect to see an immediate impact from Mountain Capital Partners, which is known to quickly put its money into on-mountain upgrades, like lifts, grooming and snowmaking, at its acquisitions. The Lee Canyon three-chairlift system is all fixed-grip, and it serves about 200 acres of the mountain's 450 permitted acres. About 70 of the lift-served acres have snowmaking equipment in place.

The trail map divides out mainly between blues and blacks, with a small learning area and lift at the base. The vast acreage above the lift summits and beneath Lee Peak is full of double-diamond glades, bowls and chutes -- but no uphill transport -- so it's a likely target for lift expansion in the future.

The new owners said they will leave current management in place, which is their habit at other mountains. The 2023-2024 Power Pass will give unlimited access to pass holders. Lee Canyon also has an established mountain biking system in the summer, which also fits with its Power Pass partners.

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Owners Of Power Pass Resorts Buy Into South America's Largest Ski Mountain

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The aggressive owner-operator of Purgatory, Arizona Snowbowl and eight other Western mountains has extended its reach to Chile by becoming the majority partner in sprawling Valle Nevado.

Known as a "skier first" resort operator, Durango-based Mountain Capital Partners fits in with Valle Nevado management which, despite its international reputation, has apparently been looking for a partner with the cash to upgrade its lift system and snowmaking. That's right down MCP's alley: When the company buys into a mountain, it immediately invests in on-mountain infrastructure like high-speed lifts and snowmaking systems.

Located an hour-and-a-half drive up from Santiago -- the nation's capital and largest city of 8 million -- Valle Nevado sits between 9,400 and 12,000 feet elevation and covers some 2,200 lift-served, alpine acres (with tens of thousands more for heli-skiing). As the biggest mountain in South America, it has been a popular destination for North Americans seeking to keep their skiing and riding jones going during their off-season, and is a regular summer training location for international World Cup skiers and snowboarders.

A press release says that MCP principal James Coleman and his family skied at Valle Nevado numerous times over the past years: “Our company is made up of authentic skiers who, like me, have a relentless passion for skiing, and we consistently focus on improvements that enhance the skiing experience,” said Coleman. “While we are still getting to know Valle Nevado in this new relationship, there’s no question that we’re committed to maintaining and elevating Valle Nevado’s reputation as the premiere ski resort destination on the continent.”

Valle Nevado is the only South American resort under the continent-wide Ikon and Mountain Collective passes, while MCP is the purveyor of the regional Power Pass. Company officials said they have not decided how season passes would work for Valle Nevado.

MCP now owns and/or operates a disparate 11-resort, one bike park network. Starting in 2000 with the purchase of compact Sipapu in New Mexico, the partnership has grown its portfolio to include mountains of all shapes and sizes in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and, in 2022, Willamette Pass in Oregon.

 

 

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Southwest's Power Pass Network Expands To Willamette Pass

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The West's regional multi-mountain pass has ventured beyond the Southwest with an agreement to operate Willamette Pass in Oregon.

The addition of the 555-acre mountain means skiers and riders with the full-on Power Pass now have eight ski and snowboard mountains to chose from -- and the first outside of Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico that are owned or operated by Mountain Capital Partners in Durango.

Located an hour's drive from Eugene, Willamette Pass fits well into the size, vibe and on-the-hill focus of MCP's portfolio: Willamette Pass Resort's unique terrain, incredible snowfall, operations that often extend late into spring, and its authentic community of local skiers and riders will be a perfect addition to our family of resorts," said MCP's James Coleman in a press release.

Regulars at Willamette Pass can expect to see improvements in infrastructure -- snowmaking, grooming and lift upgrades -- as that has been Coleman's strategy ever since he purchased his first resort, northern New Mexico's Sipapu, in 2015.

Opened in 1941 with two rope tows, Willamette currently has a magic carpet and four chairlifts, including Oregon only high-speed six-pack chair. Two of the other fixed-grip chairs date back more than three decades ago. Because of an annual average snowfall over 400 inches, snowmaking is limited, but skiers and riders should get more coverage as MCP settles in to operating the mountain.

With 1,500 feet of vertical, Willamette Pass has a 20-45-35 mix of trail ratings, with both long and gentle green runs and a couple of the steepest trails (R.T.S.) in the Pacific Northwest. Both front and back sides have a variety of ways to get down, including a half-dozen long blues and plenty of glades between trails.

 

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Power Pass Resorts Seek To Give 'Freedom To Change Your Mind'

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The seven-mountain Power Pass consortium is streamlining what it takes to get on the hill with a new reloadable card and pick-a-day midweek season pass.

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Nordic Valley Putting In First High-Speed Chairlift

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The ownership Nordic Valley has decided to go ahead with plans to install a new chairlift on the northern Utah mountain -- the first phase of an expansion to triple skiing and riding terrain.

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Next Season's Power Pass Expands Options, Flexibility

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The first tier of pricing is out for next season's Power Pass, and the Southwest Rockies regional season ticket has enticements to buy early, a new limited-ticket pass, plus accommodations due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus.

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Chair-Gondola To Replace Workhorse Lift At Arizona Snowbowl

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Since 1961, the Agassiz chairlift has lifted skiers (and now snowboarders) out of the base at Arizona Snowbowl and up to its 11,500-ft summit. Next season, it will continue to do so -- but in a much faster and more comfortable fashion.

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Brian Head Sold, Joins Power Pass Network

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The owners of Purgatory, Arizona Snowbowl and four day-trip resorts in the Southwest have purchased Brian Head Resort in southern Utah.

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Biggest SnoCountry News Of 2018

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As we bid a fond farewell to 2018, the editors at SnoCountry take a look at the news that shaped skiing and riding at mountain resorts across North America over the year.

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Southern Rockies Spring To Life; Taos Unveils First High-Speed

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Sufficient November snowfall and a steady diet of cold nights across the southern tier of the Rockies assured resorts in New Mexico and Arizona that they will open on time.

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Sipapu Plans To Double Size With Lifts, Blue And Green Terrain

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Another small ski and snowboard area in the southern Rockies is ready to expand: Sipapu Ski & Summer Resort has announced projects to add lifts, trails and more on-mountain dining.

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