Dog sledding is a new activity offered this year at Durango Mountain Resort.
Dog sledding is a new activity offered this year at Durango Mountain Resort. (Courtesy of Durango Mountain Resort)

FARMINGTON — Significant snowfall in Colorado last week signals the arrival of winter, and, of course, ski season.

San Juan County is in close proximity to several ski areas, all of which hope to lure high desert residents to enjoy their slopes.

Sipapu Ski Resort, a rustic, family-oriented ski mountain and lodge 20 miles southeast of Taos, has expanded its snow-making system this year.

"It will help us ensure that we're the first ski area to open in New Mexico -- a special title for us," said Stacey Glaser, Sipapu's marketing director.

Sipapu, which is scheduled to open Saturday, Nov. 16, offers several enticing deals. Guests ages 6 and under, those who are exactly 40 and 60 years old and adults 70 and older receive a free lift ticket every day the resort is open. The list goes on, and more deals can be found at sipapunm.com.

Wolf Creek Ski Area in Pagosa Springs, Colo., is also preparing for the season, though owner Davey Pitcher says opening early isn't a priority.

"We're the dark horse in the state. About every one in eight years we open before (the other Colorado ski areas), and it's always with a bang instead of a whimper," Pitcher said. "We're hoping for one more storm, and then we'll get open. ... It is so much like farming. The first storms make the biggest difference."

However, Wolf Creek's Nova and Bonanza chairlifts will open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

As of Wednesday, Wolf Creek had a 22-inch base at midway on the mountain.

This year, Wolf Creek is replacing its Treasure Lift with Treasure Stoke Lift, a high-speed detachable ski lift. The new lift holds the same number of people as the old one, but it cuts ride time from 12 minutes to 5 and is easier to get on and off, Pitcher said.

Children explore the snow castle during Sipapu s February Fun Fest last year.
Children explore the snow castle during Sipapu s February Fun Fest last year. (Courtesy of Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort)

Look out for Wolf Creek's Locals Appreciation Days, which offer half-priced lift tickets to all skiers and snowboarders -- no matter where they are from.

Pitcher said Wolf Creek has 2,500 kids who will ski and snowboard for less than $20 this season. And, he said, he will gladly work with any school group to get them a deal on lift tickets.

Not to be overlooked is Hesperus Ski Area, less than an hour from Farmington and Aztec, across the border in Colorado.

The close proximity and Hesperus' night skiing with lighted slopes makes after-work skiing and snowboarding possible.

Hesperus will open for Thanksgiving and, when the full season starts, on weekends until mid-December.

Hesperus' ski patrol will hold a ski swap from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 2 at the LaPlata County Fairgrounds, 2500 Main Ave., Durango, Colo. Pre-season discounts on season passes will also be available.

Season passes for Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort not only pay for themselves within a handful of visits, but they also offer discounts at many other ski resorts and discounts for family and friends. Saturday is the last day to get pre-season discounts.

Durango Mountain Resort opens the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 29. To get the full ski resort experience, Durango Mountain Resort is San Juan County's best and closest option. New this season are dog sled rides, offered by Durango Dog Ranch.

Though it seems that the past couple of seasons have been warmer and drier, numbers announced by the ski areas indicate otherwise.

In 2011, Wolf Creek opened Oct. 8 with 42 inches of snow.

"It was our best year ever," Pitcher said.

Last year, Wolf Creek opened later -- the weekend before Thanksgiving -- but still "it was a good season," Pitcher said.

Sipapu Ski Resort opened last year on Nov. 17 with 16 to 18 inches of snow, three trails and three lifts. According to Glaser, the amount of skiers was record-breaking.

And Purgatory's slopes already have a foot of snow before snow making has even begun.

All of the ski area owners and managers agree on one thing: contrary to popular belief, even they cannot predict how much snow will fall in any season.

And Pitcher said he doesn't have to in the Farmers' Almanac for hints at this year's snowfall. Why not?

"Because enough people look at it for me," he said.

Molly Maxwell covers outdoors for The Daily Times. She can be reached at mollykmaxwell@gmail.com.