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History of Pajarito

Our past and Future is rooted in Genius Skiing

Pajarito has a unique history unlike any other New Mexico ski area, and it reads like a made for TV documentary.

Cloaked in Secrecy

During World War II, Los Alamos, New Mexico was a secret city. It was home to the Manhattan Project, which ultimately developed the world’s first nuclear weapons. Los Alamos was chosen by the US government at that time because of its remote location, referred to as “Site Y.” Today, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) tackles national security challenges through scientific excellence far beyond the initial nuclear mission.

1968 aerial photo of Pajarito Mountain
Aerial Photo of Pajarito Mountain (1968)

In 1943, a group of Los Alamos scientists and soldiers came together to create a ski area. The group became the Los Alamos Ski Club. Many of them had immigrated to the U.S. from Europe and skiing was in their blood. Most had grown up climbing and skiing the Alps.

True geniuses built Pajarito Mountain into a ski area. 

Some of the early pioneers of Pajarito and nuclear science include:

  • Enrico Fermi (Nobel laureate, 1938) and his longtime associate Emilio Segrè (Nobel 1959),
  • Cornell professor Hans Bethe (Nobel 1967),
  • Niels Bohr (Nobel 1922),
  • Harvard professor George Kistiakowsky and his explosives-lab partner Walter Kauzman,
  • J. Robert Oppenheimer,
  • Berkeley grads Ben and Beckie Diven, and
  • several grad students from the Army’s Special Engineering Detachment. 

In December 1944, Sawyers Hill opened for business. Members paid $7.50 a person for access to the single tow rope, and the chance to blow up trees and open up runs.

The Move to Pajarito Mountain

Several years later, with waning snow on Sawyers Hill, the members of the original club recommended a move to Pajarito Mountain. The group discovered Pajarito offered steeper runs, more terrain and more snow.

It was a massive undertaking. “Skiers of the hill, arise!” challenged a memo to club members. “You have nothing to lose but the doubtful pleasure of skiing on rocks, stumps, and beer cans.”

Skiing Pajarito Mountain Begins

The passionate, snow-loving group of volunteers worked tirelessly to create Pajarito Mountain, and on November 23, 1957 made history. Opening day at Pajarito finally arrived, offering skiers two tows with double the vertical drop of Sawyers Hill, a beginner’s slope and a narrow trail from the upper tow rope. The heavens opened up dumping record snowfall making it a banner first year.

The Los Alamos Ski Club continued to develop the mountain, installing T-bars and eventually chairlifts, plus building the lodge and continuous upkeep of the mountain. Today, Pajarito is independently owned and operated, and welcomes a new generation of passionate snow lovers who keep New Mexico’s genius-built mountain and ski area alive. 

Learn more about Pajarito Mountain’s history.

Learn more about the Manhattan Project.

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