Christmas on the Slopes: The Gift of Snow
| Written by Daniel Gibson |
Top image: Santa rests after his labors on a chair high above Telluride. Photo courtesy Telluride Ski Resort.
After some 60 years on skis, I finally had an opportunity to ski on Christmas Day. I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for a good storm, and this year it finally arrived on Dec. 24. While it rained in Santa Fe for six hours — in December! — it was snowing on the mountain and with no responsibilities until late afternoon on Dec. 25, I decided to give myself a Christmas present and go visit Ski Santa Fe. I found many other like-minded people doing the same.
Danaya Wright, a professor in Florida, was there with her two teenage sons. “We have a house in Santa Fe,” she explained while we rode the old double chair over the fields of white. “We spend our summers here hiking, and skiing at Christmas break. We got up early today and opened presents, then hit the road.”
She was a bit dismayed by the numbers of people on the slopes. She joked, “I feel like this is my mountain . . . but that’s not very Christmasy! We come up almost everyday before and after Christmas, but this is actually the first time we’ve been here on Christmas day itself.”
Wright grew up in Santa Fe, skiing in the public school program. “As kids, we’d be up here almost every day of vacation. Many of my friends would be here on Christmas day, but it was mostly locals then.”
She noted the beauty of the drive up and the mountain itself. “Around Hyde Park there was this perfect line; on one side the pines were all green and above that pure white. It was really cool to see.”
The Gift of Snow
Aisoin Cooper and Emylee Greenhouse, from Albuquerque’s North Valley, also were struck by the beauty of the day. “The views are fantastic! When the clouds parted you could look back down over Santa Fe and the landscape below. It has been so pretty!” she noted.
It was also the first time they’d skied on Christmas. They explained that they did all the family gatherings in the week before, and so found themselves with the day open. “It just kind of worked out,” noted Cooper, now in his second year of skiing. She, on the other hand, used to come up a lot as kid and is getting back into it. “We’re going to be coming a lot more,” she added. “It’s a great mountain.”
“Everyday Ray” of Santa Fe, on the other hand, has already notched 26 days on snow this season, and as his name implies, he has spent many holidays in the “white room.” I ran into him in the parking lot; he’d been there for first tracks and was already leaving as I arrived.
I also loaded onto a chair with someone, it turned out, I’d been in junior high with at the Albuquerque Academy, Mark Thorton. He has lost track of how many times he’s been skiing on Christmas. “I’d guess at least 25 to 30 times,” he said. “It used to be part of my Christmas gifts. My sister would drive me to the base of the (Sandia Peak) tram and pick me up at the end of the day. I can’t think of a better way to spend it!”
The Working Class
For others, Christmas on the slopes is an occasional thing. Eric Peterson and his 10-year-old daughter, Charlie, noted, “It’s becoming a tradition over the past few years. My wife and I are both on the ski patrol here, so we definitely work holidays. We’ll split the morning shift, so we each get time with Charlie, and then head home around noon to have our Christmas celebration and dinner. It’s fun to be a part of our ski patrol ‘family’ on this day.”
The Albuquerque residents said their favorite run so far had been Open. “It just opened with a fresh blanket of snow on it,” said Eric.
Candy DeJola, director of sales and skier services for Ski Santa Fe, had little choice but to be at the ski area on Christmas, but the hard-working, dedicated, and upbeat employee noted, “In my 26 years of working at the ski area, I got Christmas day off a few times because it fell on my day off, but that’s it,” she chuckled. “On this particular Christmas, it’s great to be here because of the new snow and because it’s not super busy. While most people are with their families in town, there are those who want to come up and get away from their families! Everybody has been wanting this snow and are really enjoying themselves.”
Asked what was the best run of the day, she concluded, “Unfortunately, I’ve yet to get out on the snow so I can’t tell you, but just this morning they’ve opened many additional runs, and yesterday another handful, so it’s getting very good, and soon we’ll have the whole mountain open.”
Cheers to that!
CONDITIONS & EVENTS
Just last week I was bemoaning the dearth of snow, dismal winds, and high temps. But what a difference a storm can make! Many more runs have opened across the region, southern Colorado has really been hammered, and a series of storms seem lined up to add to the total listed below.
Ski Santa Fe picked up 7 inches from the storm, and has a 20-inch base. It has received 22 inches of snow so far this season. Most of the lower mountain is open, with 26 runs available. Patches of powder can even be found on run edges and in the woods, but be cautious off-piste as logs and rocks lurk!
Taos Ski Valley saw 25 inches fall at the top of Lift 7, and reports a 43-inch base there, with 31 inches at mid-Shalako. It is snowing as this is written. All chairs, except the Kachina, Lift 8 and 4 are now spinning, but few of the expert runs are skiable. Honeysuckle on the backside has opened. With high winds an issue, none of the hike-to terrain is available. It will host a torchlight parade and fireworks from 6:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve at the base area.
Wolf Creek gained a phenomenal 82 inches over the previous week, and it’s snowing as this is compiled. They report a mid-mountain depth of 105 inches, and have received a notable 168 inches so far thus winter! It is 100 percent open.
Sipapu has an 18-inch base and eight trails skiable.
Angel Fire Resort has an 18-inch base, with light snow falling.
Red River has a 20-inch base, and a mix of beginner and intermediate runs open. It will host a torchlight parade and fireworks on New Year’s Eve; best viewing is from The Lift House.
Pajarito and Sandia Peak have yet to open.
Crested Butte also was blessed with 60 inches in the past week and now has a 60-inch base. Twelve of its 15 lifts are running. Its famed Extreme Limits double back terrain has yet to open, but most of its runs elsewhere are skiable. None of its noteworthy terrain parks are functioning. It too will host a torchlight parade and fireworks on New Year’s Eve, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the base area.
Monarch Mountain gained 27 inches this week, and has a 44-inch base. It has 51 of 67 trails open, but not the Mirkwood hike-to terrain.
Telluride saw 23 inches fall over the previous week, and has a 44-inch base. Some 95 of 148 runs are open. The Gold Hill Express has begun turning, offering up Electra and Dynamo, and hike-to runs like La Rosa are open via the Prospect Express lift.
Purgatory picked up 31 inches this week and has a 51-inch base, with 98 of 105 runs open — including most of the Legends zone. Its intermediate Headwaters terrain park is open as well.
Arizona Snowbowl saw 31 inches fall and has a 41-inch base, with 33 runs now open. High winds, freezing temperatures, and airborne moisture have forced closure of the Arizona Gondola at times due to accumulations of rime ice. None of its hike-to runs are open.
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). His brand-new book, Images of America: Skiing in New Mexico, was just released from Arcadia Publishing with 183 historic photos. 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. He can be reached at [email protected] or via www.DanielBGibson.com.This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead