New Mexico Resorts Focus On More Snowmaking For This Season


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


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


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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Behind-The-Scenes Upgrades Highlight Taos, Purgatory, Monarch Openings


A trio of southern tier resorts that often line up to catch La Nińa storms opened this season focusing on making skier-experience improvements rather than splashing headline projects.

At Taos Ski Valley, the main work over the last couple of seasons has been to reduce the resort's carbon footprint. This season, a new all-electric snowcat will patrol the slopes, and daytime operations of chairlifts and snowmaking will be powered exclusively by solar energy. Add in high-efficient snow guns and thermal wells heating and cooling the Blake Hotel, and the northern New Mexico resort has jumped into the lead among environmentally friendly operations.

Due to a rash of forest fires in the area, crews have worked to create a fire break and to removed diseased trees on 320 acres within the mountain's boundaries.

After installation of high-speed chairs in recent seasons, Purgatory ownership has shifted its financial focus to snowmaking. This summer's upgrades in pumps, compressors and snow guns got the front side of the mountain open on time in November.

Mechanics delved into the workings of Lifts 1 and 3 to make them more reliable during the season, and the grooming fleet continues to modernize.

Down below, 50 more parking spots went in in the lower parking lot, with hopes of expanding the resort's remote parking in coming years. On-the-hill eateries got a fresh menu, and WiFi access has expanded onto the back side of the mountain.

At Monarch, season pass holders get more space to store their equipment at the mountain with 65 more lockers in a new room with direct outside access. Scan RFID season pass to get in.

Forest crews have taken out about as many beetle-infested spruce trees as they can within the existing trail map. Next summer -- if National Forest is willing -- they hope to open up space in backcountry areas, such as No Name Basin.






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SnoCast: Tricks and Treats in the Forecast


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'Iron Paths' Climb Some Of Most Iconic Walls In The West


Via ferratas require rock-face, cliff-y terrain, so it's no surprise that "iron paths" in the West can be found on ski and snowboard mountains known for their steeps.

Fixed “protection” on the rock, such as cables, steps, pegs and ladders allow inexperienced climbers to hook in and safely ascend on rock faces. Some via ferratas even incorporate hanging bridges. Reservations required for guided tours from 90 minutes to four hours. Here's a look at the "iron roads" within the trail-map boundaries of five resorts in the West.

The highest elevation for a via ferrata sits in Arapaho Basin's East Wall. A chairlift ride to mid-mountain, then an OHV ride gets to the base of the climb at 11,800 feet elevation. The full-day climb ascends 1,200 feet to the 13,000-foot top ridge of A-Basin. A shorter version goes to an abandoned mine shaft for a history lesson.

In the northern Rockies, Jackson Hole built the most extensive via ferrata in the West. A gondola ride delivers climbers to extensive route layout in upper-mountain Casper Bowl. A dozen routes – from introductory to most difficult – and a 120-foot suspension bridge await. Rates include two-hour practice climb, half-day option or six-hour full day on the rock, all spread across rock face with 500 feet of vertical drop.

In the southern Rockies, Taos Ski Valley has open a via ferrata complex on the famous cliffs of Kachina Bowl. At 11,500 feet above sea level, beginner and intermediate routes criss-cross the Kachina face and include a 100-foot-long bridge suspended 50 feet in the air. More advanced climbers move over to the infamous K Chutes that has a 50-foot cable walk.

In California, Mammoth Mammoth is one of two resorts in the state with a via ferrata. A gondola ride to mid-mountain McCoy Station arrives below the Caldera Overlook. Six routes await: three beginner, two moderate with a suspension bridge between, and one expert. Climbs are 180 feet long for three-hour private and 90-minute group tours.

The other is Palisades Tahoe, where the lower mountain's iconic Tram Face is ideal for fixed-route climbing. A 4x4 ride and short hike gets climbers to four routes of varying difficulty that ascend some 800 feet of rock wall. Routes were designed with kids in mind, and 4x4 await at the top for return ride to the Olympic Village.

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Get Up And Out There: Mountain Biking In New Mexico's Mountains


Summertime mountain biking has taken hold at most ski and snowboard resorts in the West, including a trio of northern New Mexico mountains whose MTB trail maps cover more than 100 miles in riding routes.

At all these resorts, base elevations are 8,000 feet or more above sea level. Flatlanders should allow a day or so to get acclimated before taking on strenuous rides. Drink plenty of water and carry more with you. Thunderstorms regulary roll through the southern Sangre de Cristos, so pack rain gear and warm clothing.

At Angel Fire, mountain biking has put down deep roots. Host to pro MTB competitions in the past, the resort has built an enviable bike park. A web of trails feeds off of the high-speed Chili Express, and the park's 60-mile trail systems consumes most of the front side of the mountain. Plenty of downhill for freeride and technical MTB-ers -- 2,000 vertical drop -- and miles of easy beginner routes, too.

The northern New Mexico resort boasts a base skills park, a dual slalom course, a long uphill-only trail and upper mountain hiking offshoot. Resort quote: " ... the best skinnies, jump lines, manicured flow and super chunk trails the United States has to offer."

Over the ridge, Taos Ski Valley is in the nascent stages of bike-park bulding. The resort has carved out its MTB trail system on its backside. Lift 4 out of the Phoenix base delivers riders to the head of Kachina Basin, right below 12,481-foot Kachina Peak.

Once there, two choices await: a 4-mile green run that winds back and forth down the hill, and a 1.5-mile blue run that is more directly downhill. On the front side there area a couple of beginner flows and steep-steeps, but no lift access this summer.

Down the Rio Grande, Pajarito Mountain spreads across 280 acres below a ridge above Los Alamos. Volunteer-built and raw in nature, the Pajarito Bike Park begins on the Aspen and Mother chairlifts that run up the middle of the trail map. Topping out at more than 10,000 feet, some 48 trails total 39 miles in length, and tend toward the higher skill levels on both downhill and technical routes.

The lifts run on Saturdays and Sundays only, and tickets must be bought at the hill. The park is part of the Mountain Bike Power Pass system that includes all-summer season access to Brian Head in southern Utah, Purgatory in southwest Colorado, and Spider Mountain Bike Park in Austin, Texas.


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SnoCast: Big Storm for the East; Waves of Snow Out West


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SnoCast: A Fickle Finish to February


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Check Out These Five Independently Owned Ski Resorts


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SnoCast: Major Storm Hits Southern Rockies, Now Targets the Northeast


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Ski Mag Ranks The Best Ski Resorts in the U.S.


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SnoCast: Bursts of Snow and Wintry Chills


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Taos Ski Valley Lays Out Ambitious Upgrade Plan


Since hedge-fund manager Louis Bacon bought Taos Ski Valley in 2013, skiers and riders who favor the New Mexico resort have seen something new each season: infrastructure, chairlifts, overnight accommodations, even paved parking lots, and all-mountain cell service.

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SnoCast: Who Gets Tricks, and Who Gets Snowy Treats?


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