Home News Local News Roswell, Ruidoso prepare for COVID-19-era ski season

Roswell, Ruidoso prepare for COVID-19-era ski season

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The Ruidoso area snow sports season is beginning, but it will be unlike any before and will have a different impact for Roswell as well.

Although people involved with tourism and ski operations do expect that visitors will travel through Chaves County and spend a little cash here on their way to the Sierra Blanca mountains, a city of Roswell official said that COVID has quashed the usual snow sports tourism promotions for the area.

Ruidoso Winter Park opened Friday for four days of the week. The Ski Apache resort is slated to open two ski runs on the lower portion of the mountain on Dec. 17, if weather conditions permit.

Current COVID-19 public health orders continue to advise New Mexico residents to stay home except for essential activities. But operators of the snow sports venues still expect visitors.

“People have to make personal choices obviously,” said Ken Marlatt, operations director with Ski Apache. “I think people are going to want to be outside where it is safer, to be honest with you.” He added that Ski Apache operated during winter 2019 and into July this year with their gondola rides and zip lines and they “had a zero positivity rate.”

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But Marlatt acknowledged that this year will be a “a very different season” as many COVID safety precautions are in place. That includes limited capacity requirements at both Ruidoso Winter Park and the Ski Apache. Marlatt also explained that the state’s ski resorts are continuing their discussions with state officials about how they can operate this year.

The privately owned Ruidoso Winter Park offers tubing and some shopping and outdoor food concessions. Ski Apache, owned by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, has ski runs, snowboarding and gondola rides.

For both operations, face coverings and social distancing will be enforced, as will 25% maximum capacities on lifts, gondolas and other shared or indoor spaces. At Ski Apache, only people who arrive together can take lifts or gondolas together.

People to Ski Apache will need to be prepared for long lines, Marlatt said, and visitors to both Ruidoso Winter Park and Ski Apache visitors will have to make reservations beforehand, unlike previous years. For Ski Apache they will need to purchase tickets in advance as well. Marlatt said that personal contact information will be collected from visitors and that people will be temperature-checked before entry.

According to Tom Dorgan, owner of Ruidoso Winter Park, capacity limitations means only about 300 people at any one time will be at its venue. Marlatt said that, with two ski runs open and a 25% lift capacity, Ski Apache would have a maximum of about 1,500 people.

Roswell typically gets an economic boost from Ruidoso ski and snow sports activity, according to Juanita Jennings, city of Roswell Public Affairs director.

“Those that are traveling from West Texas to Ruidoso helps our community significantly,” Jennings said. “Even though they are passing through to stay up in Ruidoso, they are still stopping off in our local shops. They stop in our Visitors Center. They are filling up with gas. They are eating something. So it is pretty significant to have our partners in Ruidoso so close.”

Justin Huffmon, director of tourism for the village of Ruidoso, said that the summer horse racing season is the bigger tourism time for the Ruidoso area “by far,” but the area still puts a lot of significance on its snow sports and winter visitors.

“It is obviously a huge tourism draw for us,” he said. “I like to jokingly refer to us as the Texan-New Mexican Alps. We are one of the closest ski areas to most of the West Texas region that comes and definitely coming out of Mexico. That being said, it is going to be challenging, but all of COVID has been challenging. Hopefully people will still come.”

He said the decline in travel among Mexico residents always has been felt. Lodging businesses in the area that ordinarily have 100% occupancy from the second week of December to early January are reporting far fewer bookings so far, he said.

“But people’s booking habits have changed, so instead of booking months out and long-term planning, people are booking spur of the moment,” Huffmon said. “So they (lodging businesses) will come into a weekend where they think they will not meet their occupancy requirements, and then all of the sudden they fill up to that level. So hopefully Christmas is along the same trend as that.”

Huffmon and Jennings said that, in prior years when no travel restrictions existed, Roswell, Ruidoso and other communities in the region partnered on tourism efforts for the winter sports season. Jennings said that included a “Fly Roswell” advertising and social media campaign to get people from the Phoenix area to fly into the Roswell Air Center on their way to the mountains.

“This year, with all the restrictions, it didn’t make sense to encourage that out of respect for some of the health orders in place, the quarantine, so we have really positioned more of an in-state drive market,” she said.

She explained that, prior to the shelter-in-place order before Thanksgiving, the city did invest some money in a “safe weekend getaway to Roswell” promotion.

But now until Dec. 26, it is targeting Chaves County and nearby residents with a “Buy Roswell, Build Community” campaign that includes store decals and radio, social media and print ads.

“Now that some essential businesses and non-essential businesses can be open, we kind of turned it up a notch,” she said. “It is really important to us to make sure that not only the Roswell community but southeastern New Mexico know that we have people who own businesses that are our neighbors and our friends, and it is important for us to remind everybody that we have to support them in this hard time.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.