Snow Trax 1 | Nov. 26, 2020 - SantaFe.com
Dan Gibson

SantaFe.com welcomes snowsports journalist Daniel Gibson and his long-running column, Snow Trax. You’ll find a new column here each week through the ski season, with updated snow conditions and great info for winter sports enthusiasts! |

Hola, readers! It’s great to join the digital age as this column jumps from print, where it has run in various newspapers for the previous 27 years, to an online-only presence. I’m thrilled to join the SantaFe.com team and to continue my reporting on snowsports.

For those not familiar with my column, it is a weekly summary of news, special events, people, and places associated with the regional ski and snowboarding scene. It covers all of New Mexico, along with southern Colorado and Arizona’s two areas, with occasional reports on more distant locales. It will be published here every Thursday.

COVID-19 Dominates Ski Scene

As much as I would prefer to launch Snow Trax’s 28th year with any other subject than the following, it’s unavoidable — COVID-19.

When the door on the 2019 – 20 slammed shut last March 17 in New Mexico due to the rise of this odd new disease called the Coronavirus, I never dreamed we’d still be facing it on a rising trajectory in late November. But that’s the unfortunate reality due to a large number of factors.

The upshot is New Mexico’s ski areas have been issued a closure order through November 30, which could be extended until our infection numbers come down.

Ski areas here and nationwide spent the summer devising intricate and expensive plans to mitigate the new hazards — a practice they do daily in normal operations — but for now a blanket policy is suffocating “normal” Thanksgiving Day openings. But normal doesn’t really exist any longer, or at least until a vaccine is widely available and used.

However, some areas will certainly begin to spin lifts before long, as the state has adopted a county-by-county process to determine safe openings. Each ski area has adopted policies and procedures that will be followed as openings are allowed. They are found on each ski area’s web site. Before going out this season, take time to review these guidelines, as they will make the experience far better if you know what to expect.

And here’s a tip: don’t grouse to the staff, the managers, or the dude bumping chairs about how it all sucks, ‘cause you are one of the few lucky persons on earth right now having any fun, and getting to enjoy the healthy benefits of being outdoors in the fresh air under a powerful sun or slipping silently in dim light across a field of fluff.

New Regional Developments

The biggest news in terms of new facilities and infrastructure comes from Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff, Arizona, on the north-Lift at Snowbowlfacing flanks of the San Francisco Peaks. The little-known but surprisingly fine ski and snowboarding area has installed a new high-speed combo lift carrying both six-person chairs and eight-person gondolas. It replaced the vital but old Agassiz chair, erected in 1986, which in turn had replaced the original chair built here in 1951. The new state-of-the art lift climbs 2,000 vertical feet in seven minutes.

To mark the retirement of the current Agassiz chair and the inauguration of the new lift, the area will plans to host a series of special events all season.

Openings & Conditions

After a dry fall, a big early storm rolled through in late October, dumping several feet of snow on the San Juans of Wolf Creek ski areasouthwestern Colorado, allowing Wolf Creek Ski Area to make one of its earliest openings ever. It kicked off operations on Oct. 28 with the Treasure, Bonanza, and Nova lifts spinning, and with 99 inches already this season to date there’s some excellent skiing to be found.

COVID restrictions and pre-season policies are in place, with no rentals, food, ski school, or day lodge services, so bring everything you’ll need, including water, and boot up at your vehicle. It currently reports a mid-mountain base of 52 inches, and more incoming, with a whopping 98 percent of its terrain open. It is open daily with regular season rates $81 adults and $41 children. It is encouraging online ticket purchases but CAN be made on site (credit cards only). Face masks are required on chairs and lift lines, in bathrooms, and to purchase tickets.

The other regional area that’s spinning chairs is Arizona Snowbowl, having opened Nov. 20. It is running the Grand Canyon Express high-speed chair, accessing some intermediate runs and terrain park features. It reports an 18-inch base.

As noted, New Mexico’s are forbidden to open any sooner than Nov. 30 and it could be longer due to the pandemic. Here’s news of the operational COVID-19 plans of two ski areas, with more such details to come next week.

Ski Santa Fe

Ski Santa Fe has received some natural snow and is making more. It plans to open as soon as possible.

General Manager Ben Abruzzo released the following statement on Nov. 16: “In response to the governor’s recent public health order, we have postponed our planned Thanksgiving Day opening. While we are disappointed that we will not be welcoming our skiers and snowboarders this November, we are hopeful that we will be sharing the slopes soon. Critical preparations for the 2020 – 2021 ski season continue, utilizing a minimal staff to care for our facilities and prepare, including continued snowmaking. We are requesting that skiers, hikers, and others not recreate within the permit area of Ski Santa Fe. We ask that you refrain from hiking, uphill and downhill skiing and boarding, sight seeing, snow play, and other forms of recreation. For the health and safety of our employees who are working, please respect their well being and stay at home. Online OnePass activation and daily ticket sales will remain on hold until we announce our opening date.”

Ticket sales will be limited to 25 percent of lift capacity, cutting potential clientele from 7,683 to 1,920 a day, and are expected to sell out on holidays and most weekends. Rentals and ticket sales must be done online in advance. Full refunds will be available up to 48 hours before your visit. Some same-day tickets may be available online, when capacity allows. Half-day tickets will be available only on weekdays.

Lockers will not be available this season, nor will there be any live or special events. Masks are required at all times. The parking lot shuttles will be running, but at one-third capacity per trip. The Casa Café will have outdoor and limited indoor seating, while Totemoff’s at mid-mountain will have only offer deck seating, with tents offering a covered outdoor option. Outdoor grills will be running daily.

Taos Ski Valley

Taos Ski Valley has also postponed its planned Thanksgiving opening and is awaiting the lifting of the COVID closure order. It will limit its daily occupancy to a maximum of 25 percent of its lift capacity all season. All tickets and rental gear sales must be made online in advance. Ski school classes will be privates only, for up to four people. It will not have its substantial terrain parks in operation this season, and will not host any special events on, or off, the slopes. The parking lot shuttles will not be running; use the drop-off point on Thunderbird Road. It expects to have its food services and the Blake hotel open on a limited basis.

Daniel Gibson is the 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, web sites, and magazines including Powder, Ski, and Wintersport Business. His first day on wooden skis with wooden edges came at age 6 in 1960 on a snowy day at the former Santa Fe Ski Basin.

This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead

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