The good news about snow this winter isn’t limited to the peaks above Santa Fe.
It has extended down the mountain to cash registers in town, where ski shops, hotels and restaurants report booming business like they haven’t seen in quite some time.
“This year so far is the second biggest year we’ve had,” said Kale Snider, a manager at Cottam’s Ski Shop near Hyde Memorial State Park.
Cottam’s, which also has four shops in Taos and one in Angel Fire, has been in business since 1976.
Ski-Tech Santa Fe on St. Francis Drive had three-hour waits for ski and snowboard rentals over the holidays, said Jonah Boudreau, a manager in training.
“There were more tourists than we have ever seen,” Boudreau said of the busy winter break. “This is the best snow we’ve had since 1998.”
Ski Santa Fe, which boasts the deepest base and most snowfall of any New Mexico ski resort, is scheduled to remain open until April 7.
Snider noted that Ski Santa Fe’s base and snowfall — as of Friday, 57 inches and 140 inches, respectively — are better than the 43-inch base and 135 inches that have fallen at Keystone Resort just west of Denver. Even Aspen and Telluride in Colorado had base depths of only 54 and 50 inches, respectively.
The net result? Skiers are coming from all over, and businesses around town are feeling the effects.
“We get a lot from Texas; we get a lot from the upper part of the Midwest, Michigan and Iowa,” Boudreau said.
Lawrence Gonzales, the general manager at Tomasita’s Santa Fe, said he knows skiers are having an impact on business because they’re walking into the popular downtown restaurant with their ski gear and lift passes on their jackets.
“The skiers I’m talking to are coming from California, Texas primarily, Oklahoma,” Gonzales said. “A lot of skiers we are seeing are younger, younger groups of 20-somethings.”
The snow effect can be seen at hotels as well.
The Santa Fe Sage Inn & Suites has had occupancy rates above 50 percent through January, compared to the typical 30 percent for the month, said Starla Gomez, sales and marketing director.
“This season is better than the last three,” Gomez said. “January and February are very hard months in Santa Fe in general [for hotels].”
Drury Plaza Hotel had sold 170 ski packages through Jan. 30, triple the number from last year and on pace to be the record since the hotel opened four years ago, general manager Keith Kirk said.
“We had people for the first time staying here and going skiing in Taos,” Kirk said. “Overall, it has been a very good year, the best [Santa Fe hotels] have seen in 10 years. The guests have raved about the [snow] conditions.”
Santa Fe is not universally known as a ski town. Often enough, skiing becomes a spontaneous outing for visitors who come for other pursuits.
“A lot of people may not even know we have a ski area, but when they find out, they say, ‘Let’s go skiing,’ ” Gonzales said.
Cottam’s, which was acquired by Lakewood, Colo.,-based Christy Sports in October, sees many customers renting skis on a whim.
“We get tons of walk-ins,” Snider said. “People are extremely spontaneous. People come up who have never skied before and say, ‘Oh, what the heck, let’s go skiing.’ ”
Even Europeans are getting into the act, Boudreau said.
“It’s the first time we’ve seen so many foreigners coming this way,” he said.
Between Dec. 22 and Jan. 9, Cottam’s averaged 80 rentals a day, ranging from one to five sets of skis for each rental.
“On a good day, 240 of our skis are on the slopes,” Snider said.
The peak period for Ski-Tech was Dec. 20 to Jan. 3.
“We had a line from the back desk to the front desk every day,” Boudreau said. “It took everybody three hours to get skis.”
Even at the end of January, when skiing typically begins to slow, Cottam’s rented out its eighth pair of skis by 9:43 a.m. on a Wednesday.
“Probably zero would be typical for a Wednesday this time of year at 9:43,” Snider said.
Similar numbers apply at Ski-Tech, where the repair shop remains busy with repairing skis from rough conditions last year, when only 7 inches of snow had fallen at Ski Santa Fe by the first week of January, Boudreau said.
The news is similar atop the mountains as in the valleys.
“Ski operators have been telling me they are exceptionally happy,” said George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico, the trade association that promotes skiing in the state. “Compared to anything in the last 10 years, it’s the best if not better.”
Most New Mexico ski resorts have most or all of their lifts and runs open.
“So many trails and lifts are open,” Brooks said. “You don’t see huge crowds [on the slopes], but the parking lots are all full.”