Saturday, January 27, 2018

Outdoor recreation industry worried about lack of snow this winter

Sangre de Cristo mountains above Pojoaque.
Northern New Mexico’s outdoor recreation industry is bracing for a dismal year due to a record-breaking lack of snowpack this winter.

“This is scary,” says Ivan Valdez of The Reel Life fly shop in Santa Fe. “The health of our lakes, rivers, wildlife, the tourism economy, they all depend on that runoff.”

Snowpack in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado is at record low amounts and not expected to improve any time soon, says Chris Romero, snow survey hydrological technician with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Albuquerque.

“The long range forecast is we’re looking at above normal temperatures and below average precipitation,” Romero says. “We’d need twice as much snow as we normally receive to make up for what we haven’t gotten so far.”

Romero’s January statewide report shows snowpack at just 4 percent of median compared with 98 percent at the same time last year. Statewide precipitation stood at just 12 percent of average so far this winter and a little over 20 percent for the year. Springtime runoff forecasts are expected to be way down if not non-existent in some places, Romero says.

“If we don’t get some relief this could go into the record books as one of the worst winters ever,” Romero says.

Last weekend’s snowstorm was welcome but did little to alleviate the situation, he noted.

River rafting guides have ridden out droughts like this before and are prepared for low water conditions, says Steve Miller of New Wave Rafting in Embudo and president of the New Mexico River Outfitters Association.

“You can run the racecourse at any level and still have plenty of fun,” he says.

River rafting companies have adapted over the years to repeated drought related low water conditions by offering funyak rentals and guided float and fishing trips on the lower river.

The industry saw a banner year of hair-raising and lucrative runs through the Rio Grande’s Taos Box last year due to great high water conditions.

Rafters on the Rio Grande Racecourse section.
But this year could be another story this year as the ski industry has already learned.

“We’re open but considering the lack of snow and limited terrain, business is a little slow,” says Candy DeJoia at Ski Santa Fe.

The ski area averages 225 inches of snow a year but has only seen 24 inches so far this season, she said.

So instead the resort has been busy making man-made snow to apply to their most popular trails, she said.

Those who venture up the mountain will find discounted prices, great weather and plenty of room to ski, she says.

Other ski areas around the state are suffering the same fate with overall business down by about 30-percent this year, says George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico, an industry association.

Brooks stressed that most resorts have good snowmaking capabilities and applying snow to their most heavily used runs to keep customers happy.

“We’ve still got a couple months of winter left and are hoping for snow,” he says.

The bleak snowpack outlook has state and federal forest officials worried about an early and heightened fire season.

Forest fire in the Sangre de Cristo mountains above Pojoaque. 
The U.S. Forest Service has suspended some planned  prescribed burns due to dry conditions and is monitoring the situation closely, says Bruce Hill Jr., public information officer for the Santa Fe National Forest.

“If the dry conditions persist there’s always the possibility of forest closures,” he acknowledged. “But it’s still a little too early to tell and we’re hoping we’ll get some help from Mother Nature.”

State forestry officials are urging the public to be prepared in case of wildfires.

“Create a defensible space around your home and property, prepare a “go bag” in case of evacuation with essentials like medications, important documents, family photos, personal computer information on hard drives and disks, and chargers for cell phones, basically have a plan just in case disaster strikes,” says Donald Griego, state forester for the New Mexico State Forestry Division. “The more prepared you are for wildfire, the safer you and your family will be.”

Detailed fire safety and evacuation plans can be found on the division’s website while up-to-date fire related news and information can be found at

In the meantime anglers and outdoor enthusiasts can take some solace in knowing that the state’s lake and reservoirs are at about 70 percent of average capacity, according to the state basin report which can be found at

Many of those lakes and reservoirs are within state parks.

“We have 34 state parks that provide wonderful outdoor experiences statewide,” says Christy Tafoya, director of the state parks division. 
“We encourage visitors to enjoy parks year-round, as we have camping, fishing, boating and hiking activities, as well as fun and engaging educational programs.”

Abiquiu Lake 
Romero says that much of the stored water in the state’s lakes and reservoirs is slated for use by farmers and municipalities.

“It’ll be released at some point and won’t be replaced by snowpack runoff so even that situation doesn’t look good in the long run,” he says.

And once again New Mexicans may have to ride out a drought hoping and praying for the monsoon season to bring some relief.

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