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Pajarito Mountain to Valle Grande Ski Tour
, New Mexico

February 10, 2008

Author: Norbert Ensslin

Trip Leaders: Jean Dewart and Norbert Ensslin

This joint Ski Club / Mountaineers trip went from the Pajarito Mountain ski area to the Valle Grande visitor center, and was organized by Jean Dewart on behalf of the Los Alamos Ski Club and by myself on behalf of the Los Alamos Mountaineers.  Several members of the Nordic Ski Club and the Sierra Club also joined in.  This ski tour was a pre-approved "sanctioned group event" on the Valles Caldera National Preserve, and we would like to thank Rob Dixon, Recreational Director, for his support in making this trip possible.

We ended up having 33 skiers on the trip, with about 15 others on the wait list who would have liked to have come along.  We met at the ski area parking lot between 7 and 7:30 AM, and departed in 5 subgroups led by Dave Brown, Mario Schillaci, Jean Dewart, Dennis Brandt, and myself.  Having subgroups helped spread people out along the trail, and made it easier to ensure that no one was left behind at any point.  Jean and I also took turns acting as the final "sweep".  Despite the large number of people, the trip did not feel crowded.  After some initial queuing to get down the steep parts of the jeep road, skiers were pretty well spaced out along the jeep roads in the valles.  The route was roughly 11 miles long, and all skiers arrived at the Valle Grande visitor hut between 1 and 2 PM.  A combination of 2 rented vans, 3 cars left overnight at the visitor hut, and 2 cars that came in during the day was used to pick everyone up and return them to the ski area.  We are grateful to Dave Brown for arranging the 2 shuttle vans with Tom Riepe of Great Southwest Adventures, and we would like to thank Tom and his wife for coming all the way over from Santa Fe to help us out.

Skiers crossing the Rincon de los Soldatos on the way down into the Valle Grande.
Photo by Britton Donharl and Aaron Anderson.

The weather was just perfect for this tour.  The temperature was mild, but not so warm as to make the skis clump up.  There was no wind, but trail breaking was easy in the valles because of the wind slab that formed during several windy days earlier in the week.  In those forested areas where there was some significant trail breaking, the skiers followed the trail made by Nick Brown, Jeff Hoffman, and other strong skiers in Dave Brown and Mario Schillaci's lead groups.

From the route's high point at the exit of Canada Bonito, there is a net elevation drop of about 1100 feet to the Valle Grande visitor hut, much of it on steep narrow jeep roads right after the high point.  But everyone made it down the jeep roads and through the entrance gate without too many falls.  After that, we had enjoyable easy cruising up and down the gentle swells in the Valle De Los Posos, with fine views of the surrounding mountains.  Once we crossed the saddle between the Valle de los Posos and the northeast arm of the Valle Grande, we had several miles of gradual descent on a road into the main part of the Valle Grande a pleasant surprise!  Dave Brown found a beautiful sunny place to have lunch, and then everyone struck out for the visitor hut.

All of us had a great time on this trip.  Many people said that this was a trip they have wanted to do for years.  Given the large number of skiers who came on the trip, and the many others on the wait list, this would probably be a popular trip to do again in future years.
 


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