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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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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New Mexico Resorts Focus On More Snowmaking For This Season

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In northern New Mexico, Taos Ski Valley continues to upgrade its chairlift fleet, while other ski and snowboard mountains work to offset climate change with more and more snowmaking.

New Mexico's resorts string along the Sangre de Cristo range at the southern edge of the Rockies. The Sangres contain 10 peaks above 14,000 feet and 13 over 13,000 feet. Despite this high ground, snowfall can be moderated by the southerly, warmer-climate latitude.

As such, snowmaking is critical to the well-being of New Mexico nine skiing and riding areas. This season, more than half invested in snowmaking upgrades. Red River put in 10 new automated snowguns. Pajarito finally got its snowmaking system going by refilling its mountaintop reservoir. Ski Santa Fe jumped its snowgun capacity to 46 nozzles. And Angel Fire stepped its snowmaking capacity up a notch.

As for infrastructure upgrades, Taos Ski Valley makes the headlines. A new high-speed quad has gone up on the backside, replacing a 31-year-old fixed grip chair. Running from Phoenix lodge to Kachina Basin, the lift will service the mountain's main intermediate terrain with more efficiency.

At the main base, the Pioneer beginner chair has been moved to the other side of the regraded learning slope. The alteration. will open up space for an anticipated base-to-base gondola.

Nearby Sipapu has cut a new trail, Dysfunction, that extends the eastern edge of the trail map farther into the trees. And, Sipapu's decidedly old-time overnight cabins got a remodel this summer.

It's the future for Ski Santa Fe, as owners announced that the first high-speed chair will be installed next season. The first new lift since 2005, the detachable quad will replace the 35-year-old fixed grip Super Chief out of the busy base area.

And, above Albuquerque, dormant 300-acre Sandia Peak has new operators -- the same ones that sell the Power Pass and own  Pajarito and Sipapu -- with expectations of spinning chairlifts after a two-year hiatus if the weather cooperates.

Way down south, Ski Apache puts down manmade snow on one-quarter of its slopes, while Cloudcroft hopes temps stay low enough to fire up its guns.

Lift stats courtesy of liftblog.com

 

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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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If Storms Cooperate, New Mexico Can Bring A Full Winter Menu

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Nine ski and snowboard mountains in New Mexico drop the ropes each season in hopes of coaxing Pacific storms to sag to the south and bring what can be some of the lightest and deepest snow in the Rockies.

The Rocky Mountains southernmost arm is the Sangre de Cristo Range. It begins in Colorado near Salida, crosses into New Mexico just below LaVeta Pass, and stays elevated past Santa Fe to its terminus at Pecos. El Nińo and La Nińa storms that veer to the southern tier of the Rockies get captured by these mountains and drop some of the fluffiest stuff around. If they veer more northerly, not so much.

So it's clear why most of New Mexico's ski and snowboard resorts cluster in the Sangres. The northern range around Taos holds four destinations. The choice ranges from tight snowboarder haven Sipapu (215 skiable acres); easy-peasy Angel Fire (560 a.); pitchy but gentle Red River (209 a.); and, steep and bulky Taos Ski Valley (1,300 a.) above town of Taos.

All of these are within an hours' drive of each other, with Taos as the "big city" hub with beds, bars and classic red-sauce cuisine. Taos Ski Valley is an Ikon Pass partner, Angel Fire is Powder Alliance resort, and Sipapu takes the Power Pass.

Across the Rio Grande, Pajarito Mountain's 750 acres sprawls along a ridge above the town of Los Alamos. Originally cut for scientists working on the Manhattan Project, it remains a town hill but has gotten some upgrades as a member of the Power Pass family.

Near the south end of the Sangres, Ski Santa Fe pokes up above treeline to 12,075 feet at the summit. A windy access road out of "City Different" Santa Fe reaches a tall and tight hill: 660 acres with 1,700 vertical drop. Expect weekend crowding.

Just off the range, Sandia Peak (200 acres) is an on-again, off-again enterprise on the back side of the Sandia Mountains above Albuquerque. Reached by a winding access road or a tram ride from town, the east-facing trails rarely get more than two weeks' of snowfall as season, but 30% snowmaking and a recent infusion of operating capital can offset that.

Owned by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, Ski Apache nestles on the shoulder of Sierra Blanca Peak (11,981), the most southerly mountain in the U.S. of that elevation and the only real snow-catcher in the region. To augment its locale, Ski Apache covers about a third of its terrain with manmade snow. The summit gondola drops off at timberline, and winds can be high.

An hour-and-a-half drive south, Ski Cloudcroft's 9,100-ft summit rises out of the Sacramento Mountains. A true "town hill," it sits five minutes from the artsy tourist town of Cloudcroft with 70 acres, 750-ft vertical drop, a nice mix among 25 trails, one chairlift, and plenty of snowmaking.

 

 

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Summer At West Ski Resorts With Covid-19 In Mind

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Many of the usual summer activities -- mountain biking, ziplines, hiking, scenic lift rides -- will be in place in the West during the warm months. But the Covid-19 pandemic has forced resorts to tone down or fully eliminate offerings for the time being.

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Seniors Have To Get Older And Older To Ski-Ride For Free

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Once there was a time when you reached age 60, you'd skied for free. Then you had to be 70. And now, at a half-dozen Western resorts, 80 is the new 60.

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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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Which Ski Area Was The First? Depends Upon Your Definition …

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Always powder in the early days. (International Ski History Association)

National Ski Areas Association recently published a list of when ski areas opened. Nonetheless, the debate over which hill gets to claim the title continues.

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Flagstaff To Albuquerque: Explore A Trio Of I-40 Resorts

Flagstaff To Albuquerque: Explore A Trio Of I-40 Resorts

The Sandia Tramway offers a different way to get to the skiing and riding. (Sandia Tramway/Facebook)

Interstate 40 is the main thoroughfare between Flagstaff and Albuquerque – and its also the route to a trio of lesser-known skiing and riding resorts along the southernmost tier of the Rocky Mountains.

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Tramways To The Top Highlight Summertime In The Mountains

Tramways To The Top Highlight Summertime In The Mountains

Snowbird tram glides above the Utah resort. (Snowbird/Facebook)

At U.S. ski and snowboard resorts, nearly a dozen aerial tramways keep running during the summer, ascending to high-mountain perches where the views are unparalleled.

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Visions Of El Nino Mean Dreams Of Powder Days In Southwest

Arizona Snobowl snowmakingForecasters say it may take a bit for the El Niño pattern to settle into a southerly flow, but the southern-tier resorts of New Mexico and Arizona have already cranked up for this season – with upgrades all around.

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New Mexico Skier Visits Surge To Nearly 1M Skiers, Riders; Ski Apache Doubles Visits

Ski ApachePeriods of heavy, concentrated snowfall and consistently cold temperatures this past winter brought more than 900,000 skiers and snowboarders to the New Mexico mountains.

 

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Sandia Peak Finally Open Weekends As March Comes In Like Lion For New Mexico Spring Break

Sandia PeakThe storms in February tended to swing toward the south, putting smiles on powder hounds in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico – and finally getting Albuquerque's Sandia Peak open.

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New Kachina Peak Lift Rises At Taos Ski Valley; Other N.M. Resorts Make News

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The lift towers are in, the cables set to be strung, and the buzz around Taos Ski Valley’s new chairlift to Kachina Peak is palpable.

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Get Ski, Snowboard Fever Throughout West During January; Special Deals

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Here’s a New Year’s resolution to work on: Take to the slopes to learn to ski or ride at any of dozens of winter resorts in the Rockies, Sierras and Cascades.

 

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New Mexico's Sandia Peak Succumbs To Snow Shortage; Closes Down Feb. 18

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The first casualty of a low-snow year in sections of the Rockies is Sandia Peak, which shut down its lifts on Presidents Day.

 

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