SNOW TRAX | WINTER BLUES: DIRE STRAITS
| By Daniel Gibson |
Current ski conditions are below the main story.
With the ongoing scarcity of winter storms, there’s no way to continue to ignore the bull in the china shop: the regional ski scene is in disaster mode. Several New Mexico areas are still closed, and those open are limping along with a run or two open.
Southern Colorado is doing considerably better, having gotten a round of storms last week, but they too are generally below average and needing more snow. With a moderate to strong La Niña weather pattern in place until March or so, say meteorologists, we might not see any relief soon.
ENCHANTED FOREST DESTROYED
The worst news to report is the hurricane force wind disaster that struck Enchanted Forest Cross Country and Snowshoe Area (EFXC) near Red River on the morning of Dec. 15. Sitting atop Bobcat Pass between the Red River Valley and the Moreno Valley, winds are funneled and accelerated through this pass, and reached 105 mph in this case. Taos Ski Valley also sustained loss of trees, but on a much less severe scale.
EFXC co-owner Ellen Goins, whose parents launched the mom-and-pop operation decades ago, notes, “I cannot even fully comprehend how total the devastation is.”
Co-owner Geoff Goins estimates some 26,000 trees are down on their 640-acre permit area, including 3,000 or so on their ski trails. One of the resort’s key economic assets, its system of ski-in yurts, was severely affected as well. Three were destroyed, and the other two damaged. As for the miles of snowshoe trails, they state in a Facebook post, “We could not find them.”
The operation is closed until further notice, and the resort is refunding advance trail access fees and yurt rentals.
While many supporters responded by saying they’d come with chainsaws to help clear trails, Ellen Goins notes, “It’s dangerous, due to possible falling trees, and even though we know the trails, we find ourselves getting lost out there. As we proceed, if we can figure out an answer to liability issues, we will seek public support.” But, for now, the public is not allowed on site.
She reports in an email, “I was driving home the other night and the news was all about a typhoon in the Philippines, starving children in Afghanistan” and other issues. “I know all these things. I do. But I cannot help the way my heart feels. Every time I hike up there I am looking around at where we could put a new yurt or a new trail one day. I am excited by the progress we have made with the business. I love, LOVE, LOVE hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing through the woods there . . . and the woods are gone. Right now I am selfishly wallowing in my own heartbreak, but this, too, shall pass.”
THE NATIONAL & GLOBAL PICTURE
The lack of snow regionally is part of a larger, and even more disturbing trend nationally and globally, of shorter winters and higher average temperatures, which lead to precipitation falling as rain versus snow; more frequent high wind events, which blows snow off the slopes; deposition of dust and dirt on snow, which increases its melting speed; elimination of permanent snow fields and glaciers; and summer/fall wildfires burning through ski areas, destroying infrastructure and forest cover.
An article in the New York Times on Dec. 14 by Tim Neville titled “Fires, Landslides, Lack of Snow: The Ski Industry Girds for Battle” quotes Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Company’s senior vice president for sustainability, who states, “I always thought climate was going to take the industry out, but due to warming, shorter seasons and spring meltdown, I now believe the way we’re going down is through fire.”
The article reports that the amount of snow still covering the Rockies and Cascades in April — a major summertime water source for many — has shrunk on average 19 percent between 1955 and 2020, according to data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency.”
It goes on to note, “A 2018 report by researchers at the University of New Hampshire and Colorado State University for the advocacy group Protect Our Winters shows the five least-snowy winters between 2001 and 2016 cost the industry an estimated $1 billion and more than 17,000 jobs a season.”
And with ski areas closing due to lack of snow and income, the article suggests that the ski areas that do survive will be more crowded. It’s hard to find any silver linings in the global climate clouds.
CONDITIONS & EVENTS | AS OF DEC. 20, 2021
A storm is predicted for Thursday night and Friday, so conditions reported below may be better than noted. Let’s hope — and pray! — so.
Ski Santa Fe continues with a 20-inch base and 12 of 86 runs open. The only intermediate run is Midland, from the top of the Quad.
Taos Ski Valley reports 19 inches at top of Lift 7, and 15 at mid-Shalako. Chair 2 has begun to spin, but only Bambi is skiable off it. TSV is planning to hold a torchlight parade at 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, followed by a fireworks display. Viewing is free.
Wolf Creek sits on a 58-inch base at the summit and 47 inches at mid-mountain. It’s 100 percent open. Group lessons are now available for pre-purchase online at Shop.WolfCreekSki.com, but must be done two or more days in advance.
Angel Fire Resort has a foot of snow, with four of 81 runs skiable, including the long (3.5 miles!) rambling Headin’ Home from the top of the Chile Express. They expect to open the Southwest Flyer on the “backside” any day, so more runs will soon be available. Lift tickets will only be sold in person until 12/24, and pricing will fluctuate based on amount of terrain open.
Sipapu is resting on a 16-inch base, with four lifts and seven trails open.
Red River reports a 20-inch base, with 11 runs of 64 open, and four of seven lifts spinning. It has part of one terrain park open, with four features and three jumps. Santa will be on the slopes Dec. 25 from 10 a.m. to noon, and then at the Main Chalet and the Youth Center.
Pajarito, Sandia Peak, and Ski Apache remain closed.
Crested Butte has a decent 30-inch base, with nine of 15 lifts functioning, and 43 runs of 195 open — including a handful of expert slopes.
Monarch Mountain reports a 24-inch base, with 43 of 67 runs open. This includes some advanced terrain but no double blacks. But they are preparing their hike-to terrain, the fabulous Mirkwood Basin, for skiing. On Dec. 19, staffer Scott Pressly filed this report: “The disruption roller was out on Mirkwood Bowl and Orcs today. This (remote controlled) unit disrupts shear plane layers within the snow and creates bonding between individual snow grains. These snowpack elements, if left undisturbed, could contribute to a future avalanche. The machine breaks down these weak layers helping to create a more unified basal snowpack structure. Additionally, the roller roughs up the snow surface enabling future snowfall to adhere to it. The roller essentially does the work of boot-packers without exposing any personnel into a potentially hazardous area.
Telluride has a nice 32-inch base, with 41 of 148 runs open and 11 of 17 lifts running, including the Apex.
Purgatory is enjoying a 26-inch base, with half of its lifts and 54 runs now open, including some expert and double blacks, even.
Arizona Snowbowl has an 18-inch base. Six lifts are running, and 14 trails are now skiable. Its intermediate Round Up Rail Garden is open as well.
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.
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