Hot: Tune Out, Drop in at Angel Fire's New Terrain Parks
By DANIEL GIBSON
Once they couldn't
get no respect, but today snowboarders and trick skiers are
the darlings of ski resorts, propping up an otherwise sluggish
industry. The growing importance New Mexico's boarders and new
"free ride" skiers has certainly been recognized by
Angel Fire Resort, which is pumping some serious money and effort
into wooing this segment of winter sports enthusiasts to its
fine facilities in the breathtakingly beautiful Moreno Valley
of north-central New Mexico.
This season, in fact,
Angel Fire has opened not one, not two but three terrain parks-including
the state's only professionally designed and maintained halfpipe.
Here, on any given weekend, you'll find hundreds of earnest,
enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders plopped down on the snow
at the top of the Liberation Terrain Park at the mountain's
summit. Pop and rock tunes blare from speakers hanging from
the park's own two-person chairlift, while the trick riders
scope out their fellow aerialists in the halfpipe and jumps
below. You see kids pulling tail grabs, 360s, and even an occasional
flip. This ain't no ordinary turn left, turn right kind of place.
calls Alex Diamond, 15, of Albuquerque. "I'm, gonna give
it a try," he explains. "A friend just ripped the
pipe, and now I've got to follow." He stands up, crouches
into a stable stance and tips over the edge of the resort's
halfpipe and pulls off a credible series of turns up and down
the pipe's steep walls before exiting to a high-five from his
bud at the bottom.
The halfpipe was
designed by Chris Gunnarson of Snow Park Technologies, and is
unique in that most of its mass is actually earth (11,000 square
yards of dirt were bulldozed into place to create its walls),
which means it can open with a minimal amount of snow. Gunnarson
has designed pipes for the ESPN Winter X Games, as well as international
events. The pipe features walls at least 12 feet high (and as
tall as 14 feet in some spots) and runs 500 feet in length.
To maintain its smooth, sloping walls, the resort purchased
a Bombardier Halfpipe Grinder, and to police its use, has hired
five young park rangers.
tons of use," says Chris Dunsirn, 20, of Albuquerque, who
has an enviable staff position as a terrain park ranger. "We're
getting great feedback on it, and the most exciting thing is
that every time people show up to use it, it's different. We
change the jumps nightly, and are adding new rails and other
'hits' all the time. The pipe is just one part of it."
Amber Herbert, 13,
or Mabank, Texas, is simply nervous--but game. "My boyfriend
is at the bottom waiting for me. I guess I have to follow."
Mark Hughes, 16 of Amarillo, on the other hand, has been trick
skiing for eight years. "I want to go pro," he notes,
shaking the ice off his Snow Jam skis, designed specifically
for terrain park use. "That's my main focus now in skiing.
I've been on bigger pipes before, but this is pretty cool for
Liberation Park at
Angel Fire is actually just one of the resort's three terrain
parks. It is designated as the intermediate-level facility.
On the mountain's "backside" is the advanced level
Badlands Park (with bigger jumps but no pipe), and at the resort's
base is the beginner-level Exhibition Park, with a quarter-pipe.
"The bottom line is to increase the number of skiers and
riders, and to generate a new level of excitement," explains
Jon Mahanna, the resort's mountain manager. "We aren't
just a ski area anymore. We're a snow sports area, with cross
country skiing, snow shoeing, snow biking, ski blading and the
terrain parks-something for everyone. When you look at the industry
trends, skier numbers are flat-at best. If it wasn't for the
snowboarders and trick skiers, we'd really be hurting. Currently
snow boarders comprise about 12 percent of our business. I see
the opportunity, with the terrain parks, to increase this to
30 to 35 percent."
To go with the new terrain parks, Angel Fire is hosting eight
or nine major competitive events this season, several sanctioned
by the U.S. Snowboarding Association. In March it will conduct
the Big Open for boarders and skiers, with prize money ranging
from $5,000 to $10,000. It is expected to draw participants
from as far away as California.
Getting There: Angel Fire is a 260 miles northwest of
Amarillo, and about 2 ½ hours north of Albuquerque, the
closest major airport.
Lift Tickets: Adult single day lift tickets (for all lifts)
run $43, for teens (ages 13-17) $35, and for kids (ages 7-12)
$27, and free for kids under 7.
Dining & Dancing: Angel Fire has one of New Mexico's
better ski area restaurants, Aldo's Cantina. It's located in
the base area just to the north of the Chile Express chairlift.
Accommodations: The most convenient place to stay is
the Angel Fire Resort Hotel, located just a few minutes walk
from the Chile Express chairlift. Ask for a room with a slope
side view. The lodge has a small indoor pool, hot tub, a bar
(it often hosts live music on weekends and holidays), several
restaurants, small a video arcade, retail ski shop, and gift
shop. Altogether, there's some 3,000 beds in town for visitors,
including many convenient condominiums.
Information: web site at www.angelfireresort.com, or call 800/633-7463
or 505/ 377-8012.
Daniel Gibson of
Santa Fe (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is the author of four books, most recently Pueblos of the Rio
Grande: A Visitors Guide (Rio Nuevo Publishers). He has been
skiing in New Mexico for 40 years, and publishes a biweekly
snow sports column at www.sfaol.com.
Contact Ski N.M. at 505/984-0606 for reports on New Mexico ski
areas; Colorado Ski Country at 303/825-SNOW for Colorado reports;
or individual areas: Angel Fire--800/633-7463 x 3; Crested Butte--888/TO
POWDER; Durango Mt. Resort: 800/525-0892, ext. 4; Enchanted
Forest (XC)--505/754-2374; Monarch--800/228-7943; Pajarito--888/662-7669;
Red River--505/754-2220; Sandia Peak--505/857-8977; Ski Santa
Fe--505/983-9155; Sipapu--505/587-2240; Ski Apache--505/257-9001;
Taos Ski Valley--505/776-2916; Telluride--970/728-7425; Wolf