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


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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Sagging Real Estate Sales Prompt Powder Mountain To Go Semi-Private


The majority owner of Utah's Powder Mountain has announced a new direction in which a portion of the ski and snowboard terrain will be available only to resort homeowners -- a one-of-a-kind arrangement in the American West.

Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix who took over control of Powder Mountain (8,464 a., 3,346 vert.) this year, said that income from real estate sales that helps pay for mountain operations has slowed enough that he decided to pivot to a "sustainable path for staying uncrowded and independent."

A major part of that plan is to set aside three existing chairlifts -- Mary's and Village, plus a new high-speed in the Raintree sector -- for homeowner-only skiing and riding. The move is aimed at jump-starting the resort's real estate portfolio, which has long targeted the ultra-wealthy who treasure their privacy.

Public access with remain for the vast majority of the mountain's 8,000-plus acres that can be had via chairlifts, snowcats, shuttle buses and hiking. Daily ticket sales will remained capped, with an Indy Pass add-on as Powder's only multi-mountain pass.

Since opening in 1971, iconoclast "Pow Mo" has been a secret powder stash above Ogden that harnessed all manner of transport -- from modern to archaic -- to get powder hounds into the largest inbounds acreage of any resort in the U.S. It was the first Utah mountain to allow snowboarding, and has had minimal grooming and snowmaking.

It sits on private land, which allows development -- including this singular private-public access -- without federal review. Skiers and riders enter Powder at one of three base areas along the top ridge. The main base, Summit Village, includes overnight lodging, residential sites and retail. The village's name mirrors former owners from Summit Institute, who envisioned a social and philanthropic think-tank retreat -- a "Davos for millennials" -- conveniently located between two towns with literary antecedents: Eden and Paradise.

Since they took over in 2013, the billionaire-dominated ownership hosted intellectual gatherings, put in a couple of new lifts and carved out housing lots. But that vision soured lately so, at least for the time being, Hastings has focused more on the mountain's original mission: operating a huge, powder-stash ski and snowboard mountain and resort in northern Utah.


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Purchase Of Bear Valley Fills Out Cali Pass Coverage


The purveyors of the multi-mountain Cali Pass have added a fourth ski and snowboard resort to its portfolio with the purchase of Bear Valley in the central Sierra.

Located two hours from Stockton, Bear Valley fits nicely into Cali Pass' 400-mile south-to-north stretch from Mountain High above Los Angeles, China Peak above Fresno and Dodge Ridge above Modesto -- now all owned by Mountain High-based California Mountain Resort Company.

Opened in 1967 as Mt. Reba Snow Bowl, Bear Valley boasts 1,900 vertical drop on 1,680 acres. It catches tons of snow in good years, like 2022-23 when snowfall came for 55 days totaling 428 inches.

The layout of the mountain is awkward -- somewhat upside-down -- with no lift out of the main base village and the steepest runs on the lowest sections of the mountain. Traditional "front-back" distinction is blurred, vertical drop isn't continual, and moving around the mountain's four distinct sections takes time.

A 2.5-mile shuttle ride gets to the mid-mountain day lodge where the lift system and the more modest terrain begins. Parking is limited there.

The lift inventory includes two high-speeds to serve the moderate terrain on the upper mountain, and four of the mountain's original fixed-grip chairs (1967-1970). The vast majority of trails are rated intermediate or advanced, making the mountain a playground for laid-back cruisers and unhurried families.

The new owners told Storm Skiing Journal that the first order of business will be putting up a lift out of the base village to connect all sections of the mountain: "That's been the biggest hurdle that's probably held Bear Valley back for 40 years." 

It's unclear whether any or all of the mountains will retain current participation in the Powder Alliance or Indy Pass. Owners did hint at the possibility of future resort purchases.


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Alterra Purchases Schweitzer As Its First Resort In Idaho


The owners of the Ikon Pass will add Idaho's largest ski and snowboard mountain to its portfolio following a closing of a deal for Schweitzer Mountain.

Located above the North Idaho town of Sandpoint, Schweitzer has been an Ikon partner-resort since 2021, accepting the mega-mountain pass for seven days on its 2,900-acre layout. When announcing the pending purchase, Alterra Mountain Company said seven-day partner access on the Ikon Pass will be in place for 2023-2024 season. That may change as 15 of the 17 resorts that the Denver-based firm owns now take the Ikon for unlimited visits.

Schweitzer's trail map covers three distinct aspects out of a central village at 4,000 feet elevation, and a total of 2,400 vertical feet. It has an evenly rated trail system with 50% expert or advanced, 40% intermediate, and 10% beginner runs. Its lift network includes five high-speed chairs, three of the fixed-grip variety, one T-bar and a beginner moving carpet.

The purchase of Schweitzer adds a fifth mountain to the Ikon portfolio in the Northwest -- and the second along with Crystal Mountain to be fully owned by Alterra. All five will continue with limited seven-day access under the Ikon Pass -- for the time being.

With either unlimited or limited access, the multi-mountain Ikon Pass is now taken by nine resorts in Colorado; six resorts in California and Utah; two in Washington and Idaho; and one each in Oregon, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Alterra has a reputation of pouring money into its new purchases, while allowing existing management to stay in place. To the company's benefit is that all of Schweitzer sits on private land, meaning no lengthy U.S. Forest Service permit process will be necessary to start construction.

A 2018 master plan calls for a trio of new chairlifts, expansion of the backside Outback section, a second base area, and more beginner terrain. On-mountain upgrades already in place include terrain expansion, five new chairlifts, and the mountain-top Sky House.








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


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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Brundage Mountain Gets Boost From New Ownership Group


Skiers and riders who favor central Idaho's Brundage Mountain may soon find more terrain, a new base lodge -- and more -- as a new ownership group has taken over the resort.

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Brian Head Sold, Joins Power Pass Network


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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New Owners At Tamarack, Sun Valley Lodge Remodels Highlight Idaho’s 2018-2019 Season


Last season, portions of Idaho were among the few locales in the West that got normal snowfall, so hopes are high for an even better season in the Gem State.

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