Before getting to the (dismal) ski area conditions, I guess it’s time to address the larger issues enveloping this bizarre winter.
We visited our straw bale cabin over New Year’s, and found no snow at its 7,200-foot elevation. The only white, frozen surface in the valley was the river, which had a surprisingly thick shell of ice over most of its surface. Daily thaws under the sun led to odd and complex layering of ice and flowing water that bubbles up in low geysers when it meets thick ice dikes.
The cycles raised the water level and spread it out onto the flats, making for spectacular ice formations: starbursts, angular and geometric patterns, expanses of trapped bubbles, odd and fascinating light reflection and refraction, delicate crystals that tinkle like glass when poked.
But skiing in the hills above the cabin? Only if you like doing it on ponderosa needles. Snowshoeing? Ya gotta be kiddin’. Following elk, deer and rabbit tracks in the white realm? Yea, right …
Driving back to Santa Fe, we got a view of the entire Sangre de Cristo range of Northern New Mexico, and except for a tiny patch of white we could see at the bottom of Ski Santa Fe, where the snow was man-made, there was not a speck of the precious frozen water to be seen.
I was asked to go to Ski Apache in Southern New Mexico for its big winter festival on Dec. 27, where I was supposed to peddle my new book from UNM Press, Skiing New Mexico: A Guide to Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment. I foolishly took on the challenge and made the three-hour drive, passing massive swaths of dead and dying spruce forests as the road snaked up the impressive Sierra Blanca slopes.
The Dummy Felunde event was a hoot; three bands played and people were out on the beginner slope at the base on the man-made snow. It was fun and inspiring to watch the fun they had while crashing and burning. I had my gear, so I got on the planks and tried to see how slowly I could make a parallel turn. At noon, the resort opened the short intermediate Capitan chair, and the skiing terrain doubled with the run Deep Freeze now accessible. But trying to sell a ski book in the year of no winter is tough — I signed eight copies.
Turning to the National Weather Service, I found this posted Wednesday: “The New Mexico snowpack status on January 2, 2018 is abysmal. Snow water equivalent values for New Mexico are the lowest observed for the first two months of the snow year since at least 2000.”
About 93 percent of the state is considered “very dry,” including 30 percent in “moderate drought.” Three months ago, the state had finally emerged, after years, from drought status, and at that time, only 15 percent of the state was classified as “very dry.” Looking forward, the Palmer long-term drought severity index shows Central New Mexico from Albuquerque south to Las Cruces going into extreme drought conditions.
I also found some interesting statistics on snowpack. Our best recent year was 2010, when snowpack from December to May was above average, with April hitting almost 200 percent of normal. The December 2014 snowpack was about
150 percent of normal; 2016 found December through February above normal; and January and March 2017 were near normal with February topping 140 percent. Ah, the good old years …
Here we are in 2018 with the weirdest, snowless winter in my memory, while the South and East Coast gets slammed by blizzards and record cold. Global climate weirdness is in full display, but our state production of oil is hitting record numbers — resulting in yet more greenhouse gases and atmospheric warming. Oil production helps with state government finances, but what is the loss to the regional economy with the vanishing winter? Thousands of people who would otherwise be earning a paycheck at the ski areas, hotels and restaurants are sitting at home.
But, I retain hope that winter will still show up to some degree. The weather service notes about New Mexico, “There are several years at individual SNOTEL stations dating back to the early 1980s that show dramatic improvements can occur by the end of January.”
So keep praying Old Man Winter does not go entirely AWOL. For an interesting look at national snowpack, see the map at www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/snowfall_v2.
Columnist Daniel Gibson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monarch has a 26-inch base, with all beginner, most intermediate and 17 of its expert runs open. It’s Tilt terrain park is operational, but Mirkwood Basin remains closed. Crested Butte has a 24-inch base, with 77 trails (of 121) open. Wolf Creek has 16 inches and 90 percent of its terrain open; i.e. ski with caution! Purgatory has a 15- to 20-inch base, its beginner and intermediate terrain parks functioning, plus its tubing hill.