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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Three Ski, Ride Resorts Attract Winter In Arizona High Desert

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For ski and snowboard mountains in the West, the old marketing refrain "location, location, location" holds particularly true in Arizona.

A full third of Arizona sits atop the Colorado Plateau, a massive uplift that occurred in concert with the appearance of the Rocky Mountains between 70 million and 40 million years ago. This uplift produced an elevated land 6,300 feet above sea level into the middle of the state.

This altitude encourages winter storms to drop snow on the state's three ski and snowboard mountains: a pair of extinct volcanoes, Arizona Snowbowl and Sunrise Park Resort, that pop up on the plateau; and, the nation's southernmost ski area, Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley, off the southern edge of the plateau.

Winter moisture content varies widely around Arizona, tending toward feast-or-famine snowfall seasons. Southerly storms off the Pacific sometimes arrive, sometimes not. Sunrise (11,100-foot summit) got no measurable snowfall during 2016-17 season, then more than 200 inches the next season. Same for Snowbowl (11,500 feet high): a meager 99 inches in 2017-18, a bonanza 331 inches in 2018-19.

To hedge against down seasons, both Arizona Snowbowl and Sunrise Park have modestly increased snowmaking in recent years: 13% on 777 acres at Snowbowl, 6% at on Sunrise's 1,200 acres.

A member of the Power Pass family, Arizona Snowbowl's terrain breaks out comfortable for all levels. Blues and blacks that dominate Snowbowl's southern flank, while a premier learning area sits on the north side. Recently installed high-speed "chondola" has reduced impact of high winds. Parking remains clunky, and base lodges in need of remodel.

Owned by the White Mountain Apache Tribe, Sunrise Park Resort's trail map also splits nicely between green and blues off high-speed Sunrise Express, and advanced terrain off Fort Apache-Geronimo fixed-grip pairing. Winds can be high, so strong and frequent that wind meters sit on lift towers. Both base lodges are in midst of much-needed upgrades.

U.S. Forest Service-operated Mt. Lemmon remains old-school: No snowmaking, no grooming, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, bare basic base facilities. It's surprisingly steep -- a 900-ft. vertical drop -- with limited green pitches at the base only, and can get dumps because of its isolated high ground. Switchbacking road up from Tucson can be an adventure.

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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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Overhaul Of Sundance Mountain Continues With New Terrain

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Over the past two years, Sundance Mountain Resort has quietly undergone a major overhaul that has smoothed the flow for skiers and riders around the 467-acre mountain.

Nestled in the southern tier of the Wasatch Mountains, this summer Sundance installed its third new chairlift in two years, and cut new trails for 40 acres of brand-new novice/intermediate terrain. Located at mid-mountain on a southern wing of the trail map, the Wildwood area has a new fixed-grip quad that delivers skiers and 'boarders in five minutes to some 10 new blue and green trails.

The new Wildwood section fits conveniently at the top of Jake's Lift that serves the bulk of the green and blue runs on the lower, front half of Sundance. From the top of the chair, skiers and riders have another way to get to the mountain's backside Flathead chair (reportedly slated to be Sundance's next new chair soon) and all its black chutes and bowls.

Since actor Robert Redford sold the resort in 2020, the new ownership has poured cash onto the mountain and into the base area. Formerly all fixed-grip chairs, Sundance now has a high-speed Outlaw that reaches to the false summit on the front side, and a short, 1,000-foot Stairway triple that simplified getting from the front to the back -- and opens up about 15 acres of modest terrain as well.

Down below, the base lodge has gotten a remodel, and a trio of carpet lifts went in for a dedicated beginner area. There's more room for parking, and a higher capacity of snowmaking -- all aimed to make Sundance a more efficient and easy-to-use mountain.

Ticket-wise, Sundance is a partner with the Power Pass and its three-day reciprocal lift tickets with the southwest Colorado-based consortium of eight resorts, including Utah's Nordic Valley.

The 16 ski and snowboard resorts in Utah now welcome millions to their slopes every winter. The vast majority of them either head up the Cottonwood canyons to Alta, Snowbird, Solitude or Brighton, or hop on I-80 in Salt Lake for the half-hour drive to Park City and Deer Valley.

In essence, the 2,150 vertical feet and 515 acres of skiing and riding at Sundance seems to slip beneath the radar of most Utahns and visitors who flock to the state for its "greatest snow on earth." Yet it's only 50-minute drive from Salt Lake to Provo and then up into the hills to Sundance.

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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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Four States In West Gear Up Kids-Ski-Free Programs

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Taking the whole family to ski and ride in the West can be a pricey undertaking, so a number of states have "kids passport programs" that allow schoolchildren from any state to get free passes.

Each program limits the number of free days and has a one-time processing fee. All have blackout periods. They require a pre-application, and some require kids to show proof of age and school, so check websites listed here for specifics.

The digital Colorado Kids Ski Pass is accepted at 20 of the state's mountains, including all four Aspen mountains, Winter Park, Copper Mountain and Steamboat. For $59 fee and completion of online application, school kids in grades 3-6 get four days at each participating resort.

The five Colorado resorts owned by Vail Resorts (plus Park City in Utah) aren't including in this program, but they have their own Epic Schoolkids Pass. However, the deadline for application is Oct. 9.

In Utah, SkiUtah issues its passport for those in grades 4 through 6. For $49, youngsters can ski and ride three days at all 15 mountains in Utah, including Woodward Park City (lift ticket only). The passport must be purchased online, including current photo. Then, show it plus proof of name and date of birth at ticket window to get a lift ticket. (Park City has specific locations for redemption.)

Ski Idaho has gone all in for kids' passports. Seventeen of the state's mountains welcome 5th graders for three free days and 6th graders for two during this season. Online applications at $18 processing fee gets a printed or smart phone passport. With parent or guardian present, kids merely show the passport to get a free lift ticket.

And in Washington, the Fifth Grade Passport costs $20 and gets youngsters onto five of the state's mountains for three days free. Apply online and get an e-mail passport to show at the ticket window of Loup Loup, Mt. Spokane, Lookout Pass, Silver Mountain and 49 Degrees North.

Most mountains in the West give free tickets for the very young -- six years old or younger -- but a few ramp it up. A Power Kids Pass from Southwest regional Power Pass can be picked up at any of eight resorts in the Southwest (and now, Willamette Pass in Oregon) for free skiing all season.

And California's June Mountain also lets kids 12 and under ski and ride for free. Parents need to show up at the ticket window with the child.

 

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Southwest's Power Pass Embraces Choices; Purg OK'd For Expansion

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The Southwest Rockies' multi-mountain ski and snowboard season pass is on sale, as the Power Pass focuses on its seven winter resorts -- and a year-round mountain biking destination in Texas.

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Standing Alone, Arizona Snowbowl Dominates High Desert Zone

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Towering more than 5,000 feet above the high desert floor, Arizona Snowbowl beckons skiers and snowboarders from near and far.

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Power Pass 7-Pack All Spruced-Up For The Season

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New trails, new lodging, and plenty of on-mountain upgrades mark the start of the 2021-22 ski and snowboard season for the seven resorts on the Power Pass.

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Bring The Kids And Save Some Bucks This Season

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A burgeoning trend in the ski and snowboard industry is for resorts and states all across the country to expand ski-free programs for youngsters and teens in hopes they stick with the sport -- and also save families a bit on ski vacations.

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Multi-Mountain Season Pass Options Explode Across U.S.

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You want season pass choices this season? American ski and snowboard resorts, state associations and resort-to-resort partnerships have burst out all over -- all designed to get you on the slopes more often, and at discounted prices.

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New Lift Highlights What's New At Power Pass Resorts

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The network of Mountain Southwest resorts under the Power Pass season ticket continues to grow, and ownership has built a reputation for putting out money for upgrades.

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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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Credits Toward Next Season, Opt-out Options For Season Pass Holders

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The first deadline for savings on season pass prices for the 2020-2021 season is coming, and skiers and snowboarders will have to decide whether the low cost or the uncertainty of COVID-19 virus carries more weight.

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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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Storms Show Up In Southern Rockies -- Just In Time

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The first major snowfall in the southern tier of the Rocky Mountains brings welcome coverage to resorts in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and southern Colorado – just in time.

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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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Western Multi-Mountain Passes For 2019-2020 Already On Sale

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With a boffo snow year all across the nation, the multi-resort season passes earned their keep in 2018-2019 as skiers and riders hop-scotched around. Now, those same passes are up for sale for next season.

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Purgatory Power Pass Extends Reach To Partners

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Call it Epic-Lite or Ikon 2.0, but the southern Colorado-based Power Pass has taken off around the country, into Canada and across the seas.

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