In the previous Snow Trax column, I reviewed off-season projects and new programs launched at the regional ski areas. Here’s more about changes at resorts in New Mexico and surrounding areas.
Purgatory Mountain Resort
Purg has not been idle this summer. It has expanded snowmaking coverage with $1.25 million spent on improving snow production capacity, quality, and reliability through a completely rebuilt water pumping and air compression plant incorporating automated, low-energy solutions and cutting-edge snowmaking equipment.
“The significant investment in snowmaking will allow us to open as soon as possible, with better early season snow conditions, and will help us build a deep base to ensure a long season,” says Purgatory General Manager Dave Rathbun. “We expect these improvements to increase snow production by 25 percent or more,” notes Josh Hamill, Purgatory’s slope maintenance manager.
It also completed significant hazard tree removal to reduce forest fuels and aid in wildfire prevention. Additional beetle kill tree removal will continue next spring, allowing staff to skid trees over snow, reducing soil disturbance and controlling erosion. A Prinoth Leitwolf X winch cat arrived in November to complete Purgatory’s fleet rotation of snow-grooming machines, improving slope and park maintenance capabilities.
Skiers at Purgatory this winter will enjoy a new high-performance rental fleet from Völkl. Demo skis and boards will also be available for the first time through online reservations. Modernized Wi-Fi access points in the base area, on the beach, and inside Powderhouse and Dante’s on-mountain lodges will deliver more bandwidth and improved connectivity. The improved system will make it easier for guests to access Purgatory’s online dining experience for a more convenient, contactless ordering process.
This ski area atop the Continental Divide in the mighty Sawatch Range of southern Colorado continued to improve its tree skiing this summer with the removal of thousands of beetle-killed spruce trees. They have removed almost all they can within their existing boundaries. They will now shift to clearing dead trees in the No Name Basin, the site of planned expansions in upcoming years. Monarch leadership spent much of the summer planning with Forest Service advisors, as well as meeting with architects and engineers, about the pending expansion.
This San Juan Mountain gem erected a new chairlift over the summer. It replaces the original number 9 chair, the Plunge Lift, up the steep town-facing side of the resort. The Doppelmayr high-speed quad will be powered from its top, a far more energy-efficient process than bottom-powered. The new lift also required a new power line to the mountaintop, and allow for the planned replacement of the original Giuseppe’s restaurant. This was one of the resort’s first ticket offices, which was hauled up the slopes and converted into a dining spot. It has outlived its useful life, says a resort spokesperson.
Though it’s not a regional ski area, it’s worth noting that Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) also completed a major lift improvement project this summer with the installation of the new Thunder Lift. The new lift, made by Colorado-based lift manufacturer Leitner-Poma, replaces a chair built in 1994, and cuts riders’ time down from just over 7 minutes to 3.6 minutes. “The Thunder Lift has been the most popular chair on the upper mountain, and delivers access to some of the legendary terrain JHMR is known for,” notes JHMR President Mary Kate Buckley. “This substantial investment is being made to improve lift waiting times and give our guests more time on snow.”
TSV Gondola Set Back
Meanwhile, Taos Ski Valley, Inc., suffered a setback when the Village of Taos Ski Valley rejected the ski resort’s planned purchase of a 4.4-acre tract of land key to their plans to build a gondola system connecting the Kachina Basin base complex to the main base area.
The tract had been conveyed to the village by the Kachina Homeowners Association, which was originally given the plot by the Pattison Trust, with the stipulation it be used as open space and for trails. The electric-driven lift would operate year-round, with the primary function of reducing auto traffic within the narrow Lake Fork/Hondo valleys. It is believed that the ski area will seek an easement, instead, across the property. This would maintain its open space characteristics while allowing the environmentally proactive project to proceed.
Conde Nast Traveler Magazine Feature
Conde Nast Traveler magazine recently published a major feature article I wrote about the state’s snowsports scene. The story, “The Best of New Mexico Skiing,” focuses on five state ski areas — Taos, Santa Fe, Angel Fire, Ski Apache, and Red River — and includes details on what makes each one unique, suggestions on places to eat and lodge, and après-ski suggestions.
Of Taos, I report, “The grand dame of New Mexico’s ski scene attracts hardcore skiers and boarders from across the planet to sample its delectable powder — often even lighter than Utah’s famous fluff — its charming Euro/Hispanic/Pueblo Indian vibe, and some of the most challenging in-bounds terrain on the continent.”
About Ski Santa Fe, I note, “While overshadowed by Taos Ski Valley, Santa Fe’s local ski area has a lot going for it. Just 15 miles above town, you can enjoy all that this global vacation destination has to offer — 200 art galleries, six major museums, one-of-a-kind boutiques, acclaimed dining, an international mix of worldly residents and visitors — while also getting in some excellent skiing. Though compact, with just 1,725 feet of vertical, it has perhaps the best tree skiing in the state — on runs like Tequila Sunrise, Richard’s Glade, and the steeper Big Rocks — great wide groomers like Gay Way, tough bump lines, tremendously fun powder slopes like Cornice, and even some short technical chutes.”
Top image: This photo taken at Purgatory on about the same date in 2015 shows just how great early-season skiing can be! Photo courtesy DMR.
Daniel Gibson was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame in October 2022 for his snowsports writing. He is the co-author of Images of America: Skiing in New Mexico (Arcadia Publishing, 2021), with 183 historic photos; and author of New Mexico’s only comprehensive ski guidebook, Skiing New Mexico: Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment (UNM Press, 2017). He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalist Association and has written on the topic for newspapers coast to coast, websites, and magazines including Powder, Ski, and Wintersport Business. He can be reached at [email protected] or via DanielBGibson.com.This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead