Friday, February 5, 2016

Frozen in New Mexico

Cold conditions in New Mexico
The part of the trip where we would get to start skiing had finally arrived. So after five hours of dullest driving we have yet made this trip we arrived in New Mexico on January 30th. We took my cousin Jon’s advice and camped out that night in Cimarron Canyon State Park near Eagle Nest, New Mexico. We had the park to ourselves, and the girls were glad to see and play in their first snow of 2016. The next morning we made a somewhat harrowing drive on a thin layer of fresh snow from the state park to Eagle Nest, New Mexico and up to the family cabin. At the cabin we loaded all of our ski gear that we had stashed the previous summer and dumped off as much non-essential-for-skiing gear as we could, then headed out. We didn’t even get the camper turned around before it got stuck with all four wheels spinning in the snow, but 20 minutes of digging got us turned around and headed out.
Nadia's first snowman of 2016
We arrived at the cabin to find it quite cold
With a big snow storm coming, we decided to change our original plans of driving over a couple mountain passes in order to go skiing at Wolf Creek Ski Area in Colorado, instead opting to stay relatively near the cabin until the storm passed. Our first choice was to stay at an RV resort near the ski area of Angel Fire, New Mexico, but despite being open they didn’t seem prepared for anyone actually wanting to stay there. Our second choice Taos Valley RV park which I thought would be near Taos Valley Ski Resort, but it turned out to be several miles outside of Taos in the opposite direction of Taos Valley Ski Resort. Taos Valley RV park was nice, had all the amenities we needed and had at least 20 other folks staying through the winter in the RVs.
Taos Valley RV weather center
We woke the next morning at Taos Valley RV to find the promised monster winter storm had not yet hit so we prepared to head up to Taos Valley Ski Resort for a day of skiing. However it was cold enough that night to freeze our camper door shut. At the moment this was a rather large problem as there are certain morning activities that we have agreed will not be done in the camper, so with no way out things were starting to get desperate. After numerous attempts at vigorously trying to open the door, I briefly considered calling someone at the RV park’s office to help us, but then thought better of it and decided to place our one space heater on the door which quickly unfroze enough for the door to be opened. By the time we were ready to head out to the ski resort the blizzard conditions had hit Taos. With snow dumping, and plows unable to keep up, we made it maybe 3 miles before we ran into police stopping all traffic through the center of town on highway 68. Something had happened in the center of town that warranted closing the road, and bringing in fire trucks, ambulances, and multiple police cars. We turned around and attempted to make it around the roadblock using highway 585, but that road was unplowed and extremely slick with cars spinning out all over the place. I finally decided that if it’s this bad in town, it probably wasn’t worth it to risk trying to drive all the way up to the ski area. So much to everyone's disappointment we returned to the Taos Valley RV for the day. By noon much of the snow had melted and the roads were fairly safe, but it was too late to try and make it up to the ski area.
Not ideal conditions in Taos for driving
Siena's snowmen she built on the cancelled ski day
The next morning we checked out of Taos Valley RV and headed up to Taos Valley Ski Resort with the plans of camping out in their parking lot, just like we had done so many times at Alpental. When we arrived at the ski resort we had to deal with some gear problems, so we didn’t manage to start skiing until noon. Despite the late start, and very cold conditions we skied until the area closed, then enjoyed a little Apre Ski and an early dinner, finally making it back to the camper after dark. That is when I began to realized that Taos Valley Ski Resort is not like Alpental at all; I don’t recall temperatures in the Alpental parking lot ever getting to the negative double digits.
We finally made it onto the ski slopes but we couldn't breathe
Back in the camper we found the RV batteries nearly dead. The furnace had been running all day to keep the holding tanks from freezing solid and potentially bursting. That combined with sub-freezing temperatures and a solar panel that was completely covered with snow had taken its toll on the batteries. When I went to start up the generator I found I couldn’t start it, again a combination of high elevation and sub-freezing temperatures was too much for the propane generator. I knew that night we had to run the furnace to keep the campers pipes and holding tanks from bursting, which would pretty much put an end to the trip. I knew the furnace fans draw more power from the campers batteries than anything else in the camper. If the batteries did get too low not only would we risk all of our pipes and holding tanks freezing and bursting but the camper's propane leak sensor would go off warning us of low power, making it impossible to sleep. Nothing that would kill us, but there was a very real fear that I would have to find a place for my family to sleep at 2 am while staying at a very quiet ski resort with the knowledge that our camper might be permanently damaged. My stress combined with me not letting anyone turn on anything electric in the camper caused both girls to get quite worried. With the furnace straining to provide any warmth in the camper, none of us slept well that night.

The next morning I was relieved to find our furnace was still working, but a frozen pipe was preventing our pump from providing water to the camper. I climbed to the roof of the camper and cleared off the solar panel as soon as there was enough light for the solar panels to start charging the batteries. Then repeated that process every 30 minutes until the morning snow stopped and the sun came out and we went out skiing for the day. As Kathy put it, with the night we went though, there is no way we would miss out on skiing, we earned it! We had an incredible day skiing at a largely empty Taos Valley Ski Resort. Despite the wonderful day of skiing we knew we couldn’t stay in the lot another night, we needed to go back to the RV park where we had power and could run a space heater. Since we didn't have water it was difficult to cook and we were completely wiped out so on our way home from skiing and stopped at the Trading Post for dinner, a great Italian restaurant my mother recommended which was featuring MANGIA FESTA! a 3 course meal for $12!
Day 2 of skiing at Taos Ski Valley with near bluebird conditions
Kathy and I about to ski down off of 12,450' Kachina Peak
By the next morning our pipes were still frozen, so Siena and I walked to a nearby hardware store and purchased two more space heaters. The lady at the checkout counter told me I was the third person in that morning trying to thaw out frozen pipes in an RV. After running 3 space heaters in the camper the entire morning almost all the ice that had formed on the inside walls had melted, we got the interior temperature of the camper up to 90 degrees with the outside temperature in the high teens.
Kathy and 2 space heaters trying to melt ice inside the camper
Nadia and Siena with a space heater trying to thaw frozen pipes
As of this moment right now, our pipe is still frozen somewhere near or at where it draws water from the holding tank. All I can hope is that continuing to put warm air on the holding tank from space heaters set on their lowest setting will eventually thaw out the tank before night comes and it gets too cold to thaw anything out. Stay tuned to find out if we thaw the pipes, or if the frozen tank caused damage beyond what it's worth to repair.

UPDATE: Friday February 5, 2016

Late last night, after running a space heater on low pointed down at the fresh water holding tank for nearly 18 hours, our plumbing finally started working. The pipe appears to have been frozen beneath the fresh water holding tank where the pump draws fresh water into the camper. It's impossible to see down there without cutting a hole in the side of my camper, but based on what I can tell by putting my hand down there, nothing appears to be wet so hopefully it's not leaking (and based on the way my hand felt after pulling it out, thankfully, the insulation doesn't appear to be fiberglass based).

With this frozen experience behind us we decided to head south to Ski Santa Fe rather than north to Wolf Creek in Colorado. Ski Santa Fe is a relatively small ski area, but worth checking out for a day or two. Ski Santa Fe received around 26" in the past storm (but nothing in the past 48 hours), and tomorrow should be warm bluebird conditions.

Our friends Brandon and Sabrina arrive on Friday for a weekend at the cabin (not the camper) where we will probably ski Angel Fire and then return to Taos for a day. After that it will be time to start planning our ski adventures in Colorado and Utah and beyond!