Summer and ski resort

Building up a mountain

Sipapu development plan envisions enhanced winter, summer activities

By Scott Gerdes
special@taosnews.com
Posted 8/29/18

An expansion plan for Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort in Vadito percolated in Bruce Bolander's mind back in 1990. Decades later, that vision by Bolander, …

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Summer and ski resort

Building up a mountain

Sipapu development plan envisions enhanced winter, summer activities

Posted

An expansion plan for Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort in Vadito percolated in Bruce Bolander's mind back in 1990. Decades later, that vision by Bolander, the son of the resort's founders Lloyd and Olive Bolander, is on the path to becoming a reality.

John Paul Bradley, Sipapu's mountain manager, held an informal gathering at the Riverside Cafe at Sipapu on Saturday afternoon, (Aug. 25), where he shared Sipapu's Master Development Plan. This was the first of four such events introducing what "we would like to do in Sipapu," Bradley said.

During his brief presentation about the vision for the future of the resort -- it is the oldest in New Mexico having opened in 1952 -- Bradley noted it is the fastest-growing and most affordable ski area in the state. User numbers, he said, have been increasing. Sipapu experienced its busiest day ever last winter hosting 1,160 people.

Known for its family-friendly activities and atmosphere, elbow room to ski and board and a great place for beginners to learn how to tackle the slopes, the plan keeps that focus intact. It includes adding 1,200 acres to the current 400 acres (215 are skiable), with 299 acres (196 skiable) to be cleared for 51 new, mostly intermediate, runs plus 17 acres of glade terrain for a grand total of 95 trails. Three new high-speed lifts and two magic carpets will be added. The relocation of the current main lift will become a "chondola," a combined chairlift and gondola on the same line, which will go to an added beginner's learning area at the top.

"That should lessen congestion at the bottom beginners area and around the restaurant," Bradley explained. "And with the new trails, even on our busiest day, our skiers will have more elbow room."

Other additions include a mountain-top restaurant; a new winter and summer tubing area (using an artificial snow surface in the summer); a zone at the top for another disc golf course; a zipline tour; mountain biking trails; a looping hiking trail at the top and a hiking trail from the bottom to the apex; and a closed-loop alpine coaster ride at the top.

More parking and snow-making capabilities are also part of the development plan.

"We want to become a year-round destination," Bradley said. "More summer activities are great for the visitors and better for our local economy."

"This will be a perfect compliment to Taos Ski Valley," added Gordon Briner, former Taos Ski Valley CEO who is serving as a consultant. "Taos scares away some people. Sipapu -- although not all beginner runs -- is beginner-focused. The new moderate runs will be similar to TSV's Porcupine and Baby Bear."

Also on hand was Carson National Forest Winter Sports Coordinator Adam LaDell. His role revolves mostly around the environmental impact, such as the clearing of trees for new trails. Looking at the layout, LaDell said it maintains critical habitat areas for deer, wild turkey and goshawks.

"You could look at it as a habitat improvement project," LaDell said. "Those animals like to hunt, lay and eat in the large areas we will keep open for them in between the trails."

A master development plan for the area was submitted to the U.S. Forest Service in 2010 and accepted. That plan is being amended to include some ideas that came later, such as the alpine coaster and tubing areas to name a couple.

Bradley hopes to submit the amended plan within the next couple of weeks. Once accepted, then the National Environmental Policy Act requirements, which include an Environmental Impact Study, are completed. During this time, Bradley will host more public meetings and once the EIS is complete, the public will have a certain amount of time to comment on it.

A start date can't be given until the Forest Service and the public gives the OK to move forward. Bradley anticipates final approval will take up to approximately 10 years, if not longer. He said the EIS alone will take a couple of years to complete.

"In a perfect world," Briner said, "the plan will be approved in the fall of 2021. It will take a year or two to construct the new lifts. The thought is to clear trees in the winter when/if approved because it's easier to move the timber and creates less impact on the environment." Finding a buyer(s) for the timber is yet another detaithat Bradley said he is in the process of investigating.

The approximately 40 summer residents who came to the open house had some questions regarding water usage and timeline, but overall they appeared excited about the projects. Bradley hopes that people from Peñasco will come to future meetings and share their thoughts.

The planning stages for infrastructure include a new 34-unit lodge/hotel to replace the rooms destroyed in a fire two years ago. Bradley says there is no concrete timeline for its construction and they had hoped to begin building last spring. A lean winter, however, delayed that project.

A total cost for the on-the-mountain improvements is not yet available, but Bradley estimates it to be around $40 million. "One high-speed chairlift alone is about $6 to 7 million," he said.

Bruce Bolander and his wife Winona ran Sipapu through the winter of 2000. James Coleman of Mountain Capital Partners then bought the resort. He is the primary investor and managing partner of Sipapu and Parajito Mountain Ski Area. The Bolanders are still Sipapu partners.

In 2014, Colorado'sPurgatory at DurangoMountain Resort andArizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff announced an agreement to sell 100 percent of their respective ski areas to Coleman, making it the largest mountain collective in the Southwest. Other MCP resorts include Hesperus Ski Area near Durango, Colorado and Nordic Valley Resort near Eden, Utah.

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