Snow Trax #4

by Daniel Gibson

This Column is Posted Weekly or Bi-Weekly. In Addition to Northern New Mexico, the Column Covers the Southern Rockies (New Mexico and Southern Colorado)

Piping 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.

"Droppin' in," 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.

"It's getting 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 New Mexico."

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."

Details:
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 (dbgibson@newmexico.com) 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.

SNOW REPORTS
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 Creek--800/754-9653.

 

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