Northern New Mexico ski areas wrestle with lack of snow, warm temperatures

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Ever dependent on the white stuff, ski areas around Taos County are fighting to keep their guests coming and to keep their hills filled with manufactured snow.

In a particularly dry winter thus far, Taos County has seen little snowfall in the past two months and that lack of winter wonder is not going unnoticed, or unfelt, by ski resorts. Angel Fire Resort, Red River Ski Area, Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort and Taos Ski Valley have been hard at work making snow and keeping a few runs open for their guests eager to hit the slopes as the New Mexico ski season begins to look into late January for better snow conditions.

"If Mother Nature provides to us the cold temperatures to make snow, we can make snow all season long," said Krysty Ronchetti, public relations director for Angel Fire Resort. "Our snowmaking plan would be to continue to make snow and open more terrain both front side and back side as conditions allow. How fast we can accomplish this is up to Mother Nature and her temperatures."

Temperatures on the mountains must be cold enough to make and hold machine-made snow if the atmospheric conditions are not right to naturally create it. This provides a challenge for ski areas who are still seeing daytime temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s.

Temperatures must be below 32 degrees to convert water to snow. In addition, ski areas are only allotted a certain amount of water from the State Engineer for snowmaking per year.

Ski areas are looking intently at their snowmakers this season as the weather has not dumped enough snow to open most of the mountain terrain. Taos Ski Valley has 15 of its 111 trails open, a mere 13.5 percent of the mountain. According to the All Mountain Snow Report on Ski New Mexico, TSV has only nine inches of natural snow. Other ski areas are experiencing a similar lack of snow. Red River has only had 10 inches, according to the report, and Sipapu has had less than six inches of natural snowfall.

"The snow they do have is really good," said skier Yasmin Beg. "It's a little bit disappointing, but what is open is great."

Skiers are still determined to hit the slopes this year despite the lack of natural snow. Enthusiasts like Beg, who came from Maryland to enjoy the slopes, have had their trips booked several weeks in advance and are headed to the Southwest no matter what the snow situation is. While the cold front in the east blows severe snowstorms through cities, residents across the country are still choosing to flock to New Mexico ski areas to catch a bit of the powder.

"Places like Taos are giving us a good opportunity to get out this winter," said snowboarder Julio Rodriguez. "It's nice to get out and try to have a good time. The only difference on the snow is just not having enough. Not enough runs available is the only problem I would say with (lack of) snow."

Taos Ski Valley is not giving up on the season, which has less than three months before the mountain closes for skiing. The valley is running on 100 percent machine-made snow and is continuing to produce it on the runs they are able to, which is all of their beginner runs and a majority of their intermediate runs. To date, no black or double black runs are open at TSV.

"It’s seasons like these that reinforce the importance of investing in snowmaking equipment and automation, said Sandy Chio, director of sales and marketing for TSV. "The snowmaking crew has done wonders with the warmer temps in this early season and absolutely no help from Mother Nature."

TSV officials said their overall skier visits have declined from the previous year, but they are still operating to give guests the full mountain experience of The Blake at Taos Ski Valley hotel and the new gondola system that the valley has installed. In addition, TSV is focused on its employees and is determined to keep them working and on the mountain even though the snow has yet to hit.

"One of our goals is to keep our staff engaged and employed while remaining fiscally responsible," Chio said. "As one of the largest employers in the region, we feel strongly that supporting the community and our employees is critical and one of our top priorities."

Snow is in the forecast for the area for the latter part of January as well as mid-February and not a moment too soon for these ski areas. Despite the lull in snowfall, companies remain optimistic for the rest of the season and are prepared to stick it out until spring hits. Areas like Angel Fire are equipped to create snow all winter long and might have to do so until a major storm comes through.

“Sipapu Ski Resort really shines during years like this," said Sipapu Mountain Manager John Paul Bradley. "We’ve received great feedback from our guests saying it’s the best snow in the state.”

Ski report – as of January 10, 2018:

Angel Fire: 18 of 81 runs open. 12-inch base, 22-inch season snowfall.

Red River Ski and Summer Area: 19 of 63 runs open. 24-inch base, 10-inch season snowfall.

Sipapu: 14 of 43 runs open. 18-inch base, 6.5-inch season snowfall.

Taos Ski Valley: 15 of 111 runs open. 18-inch base, 9-inch season snowfall.

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