New Mexico's Pajarito Looks For Operator Options; County May Take Over
A combination of declining ticket sales and poor snow years has forced members of the Los Alamos Ski Club in New Mexico to seek outside help to keep Pajarito Mountain open.
More than 200 members of the 70-year-old organization voted this week to look for ways to keep the local mountain’s 300 skiable acres and seven lifts open, including turning over the ski area’s assets to Los Alamos County.
“The meeting gave overwhelming support to continue to investigate solutions for skiing in Los Alamos County,” Tom Long, general manager of Pajarito, told SnoCountry.com. “Logically, there is no way for us (the ski club) to keep it going. For the last two years, we’ve tried to put Band-Aids on it.”
Los Alamos County officials are cautious but open to assuming control of Pajarito. For some, it makes sense to add a ski area to the county’s recreational assets that include a swimming pool, golf course and skating rink.
“This is not a decision that can be made lightly,” said County Manager Harry Burgess. “As the Council considers the potential transfer, they will need to consider the opportunity as well as financial liabilities associated with this idea, especially in light of current budget concerns and the long term investment that would be needed to take on facility management, staffing, maintenance and marketing of Pajarito Mountain.”
Newcomers to national laboratory-dominated Los Alamos don’t have the history of donating their support to Pajarito, Long said, causing season membership sales – currently at $399 for a pass -- to drop from 4,200 in its heyday to about 2,000 today. Yet, the costs of running a ski and snowboard mountain continue to rise, he said.
Add in two consecutive low-snow seasons and devastating wildfires that destroyed a lift and burned right to the edge of the slopes, and it’s clear why the ski club decided to seek other options.
“In the old environment, an under-capitalized operation could function,” Long told us. “But the financial erosion has forced the board of directors to wrestle with this problem for several years. We were at our wit’s end last year, and then Mother Nature went to sleep on us this season.”
Operations were suspended Jan. 12 because of lack of snow but would reopen if enough snow falls. The mountain’s snowmaking system, which relies primarily on runoff that didn’t materialize in the past two years, had only enough water to keep the beginner’s area open during the all-important Christmas period, Long said.
The Los Alamos County Council is expected to take up the issue in the near future, while the ski club will continue to look for other alternatives.
Photo: Pajarito Mountain (Snow Forecast Brian Foley)