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The Snow Farmers of Taos

19 December 2022

The climate crisis is an existential threat for TAOS. There is no sugar coating it. A key factor to our survival is the water source. No water means no snow. No snow means no snowmelt in the spring to feed the rivers and acequia. No water in rivers and acequias means farmers and ranchers can’t keep their crops and livestock alive. We at TAOS understand the importance of this cycle to our commmunity. And, we have placed protecting and maintaining our water in the best hands.

Meet Vicente Fernandez – also known as Vinny. Born in New Mexico and a member of the Taos community since he was 10, Vinny is entering his 18th season at TAOS Ski Valley. Starting in Lift Operations and working his way up in the organization, Vinny is now the Snow Surface and Trails Manager overseeing the trail department, snowmaking department, and sawyers. Much of his work results in a better skier/rider experience on our terrain through clearing blow-down trees from trails and general slope maintenance. Vinny’s responsibilities run much deeper in the preservation of this ecosystem.

Snowmaker Vinny in the Rio Hondo at Taos Ski Valley.

The process of snowmaking is methodical and specific. As the climate crisis worsens, Vinny and his team must continuously adjust their approach to prepping terrain to account for fewer significant snowfalls with each passing year. TAOS Ski Valley acts as a holding tank of water for the rest of the valley. By making snow in strategic areas of the mountain, we can ensure a longer and more consistent watering season, extending supply into a potentially long and dry spring for farmers. In 2021, Vinny had the opportunity to meet with the Acequia Commission and bring them up to the mountain to tour the facility to talk about our interdependence and what we can and do to support the larger farming community. The physical work, and the partnership with the community, led Vinny to create the loving job title of “Snow Farmers” for his department.

TAOS has a definitive allotment of water each year which is monitored and reported to the state monthly. Over the years, as technology has improved, Vinny helped modernize our snowmaking, including upgrading our snow guns from high-energy, high output to high-efficiency machines. Due to time constraints of weather-appropriate snowmaking conditions and more efficient snow guns, TAOS does not use its full allotment. All unused water is drained back into the river and continues to feed the cycle.

Thanks to Vinny and his crew, TAOS is an active member of our community, simultaneously providing skiers and riders an excellent on-mountain experience while protecting the watershed that so many rely on. Vinny’s passion for the mountain and love of skiing has made him a true steward of the water.