Pulse: Skiing—proving it’s for everyone

Last year 1,000 children and adults with every imaginable kind of physical and psychological disability hit the slopes at the Sandia Peak and Santa Fe ski areas. Working with them were 300 volunteers in an organization called the Adaptive Sports Program of New Mexico. Now the program is gearing up for the new ski season, recruiting volunteers, scheduling training sessions and holding meetings.

The program is a long-running feature of winter in the Tricounty Area. School children, veterans and other adults with disabilities “can discover success,” in the words of one longtime volunteer, despite blindness, missing limbs or psychic traumas.

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According to Douglas Lewis, the program’s technical director, the adaptive program will expand this year to a third venue, Pajarito ski area outside Los Alamos.

Asked if he expects the Sandia program to go forward despite long-range forecasts of a moderate La Niña winter, Lewis said confidently, “It will happen.” La Niña usually brings warmer temperatures and reduced snow to New Mexico, especially to Sandia, hampered by low altitude and southern latitude.

Santa Fe Ski Area reports having received only 2 inches of snow, but is still scheduled to open Thanksgiving day as usual.

The adaptive program began in 1985 and originally focused entirely on winter sports. In recent years, however, a variety of water sports and other summer activities have been added.

Just in time for the ski season, the University of New Mexico Press is publishing, “Skiing New Mexico: A Guide to Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment, by Daniel Gibson (132 pages in paper, $19.95).

UNM’s press release says the book “tells you everything there is to know about skiing and snowboarding in the Land of Enchantment.” Well, not quite. It doesn’t tell you how to ski or snowboard, but if you’ve already figured that out, it does tell you where to go and and how and why. It also includes cross-country as well as downhill skiing

The 11-page Sandia chapter is typical. Sandia Peak’s season is officially scheduled from mid-December to mid-March (although often curtailed due to warm temperatures and scarce snow). Sandia, “is one of the oldest ski areas in the West,” Gibson writes. It was originally launched in 1936 as La Madera, with a simple tow rope added the next year.

Today, with the Sandia Peak Tramway, Albuquerque has “perhaps the fastest access to skiing of any major city in the nation,” the author reports.

Despite or perhaps because of its age, Sandia is undergoing a major transformation. The old Summit House with its High Finance restaurant and bar is closed while it is being completely rebuilt. It will reopen in August.

Meanwhile, something new under the sun is being built, a Mountain Coaster, scheduled to open in summer 2019. Gibson describes it as “a kind of partially enclosed sled or cart on steel rails that descend slopes via gravity, mimicking the experience of skiing or snowboarding downhill.”

He continues, “The coaster will start near the top of the chairlifts and the tramway and run downhill for 2,825 feet between existing ski runs.”

There is nothing like it in New Mexico and only a handful in Colorado and Utah.

To volunteer or get more information about adaptive skiing, go to adaptivesportsprorgram.org. For information about Sandia Peak go to sandiapeak.com.