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Sipapu Stories: Chris Bell

chris fixing snow machine

Chris Bell is the Director of Mountain Operations at Sipapu. He has been a crucial part of the Sipapu team for years.  This year he was the recipient of the “Best of The Best” award in mountain operations award from Ski New Mexico! We wanted to interview him about his work at Sipapu and to share what he loves about Sipapu! 

ski cat
Chris picked up operating snowcats easily from his experience with tractors.

How long have you worked at Sipapu?

This is my 11th year at Sipapu. It’s a big change from where I started. I majored in Political Science in college, worked as a newspaper photographer and then for the Texas Legislature for 15 years. I also moonlighted as a motorcycle mechanic, which is where I learned all the repair skills I use every day maintaining lifts and snowmaking equipment at Sipapu.

What is your favorite part of the job?

There is no single favorite part of my job. I like working with a big group of people, each doing their part, and have it all work together for the desired outcome at the end. I love the beauty of where I work. It’s beautiful in every season with the river, fresh air, flowers, wildlife, and the views. During the ski season, I like seeing people enjoying the mountain I have worked so hard on. They are enjoying the snow we have made, the lifts are turning the way they should and the lift crew is running smoothly. I also get to play with some unique toys! Depending on the season I drive four-wheelers, a pickup, snowmobiles, and a snowcat. In winter, I use snow guns to make snow! How amazing is that?!

two men in snowstorm
JP and Chris on the mountain during a storm.

I think one of my most favorite things is going out in the snowcat a few hours before sunrise to groom the slopes. At first, all I see is a narrow bit of the mountain lit by the lights on the cat. Then as the sun begins to rise, as it’s still below the horizon I can see outlines of the mountains and the shapes of the trees in various shades of grey. Finally, as the light increases, you see everything in color. And the sunrise can be spectacular from the top of the mountain after a storm!

What is your favorite event? 

Hands down, my absolute favorite event of the year is the Cardboard Derby. The electricity in the air as people arrive with their vessels, seeing the amazing creations some people show up with, Paddy Mac from KTAOS radio is there playing music and announcing the crowd cheering. It’s a hoot to watch all the derby vessels bouncing off the walls of the chute as they race down the hill. It’s all the best stuff of the season wrapped up in one day!

What do you like doing in the summer? 

I’d like to say I go ride my motorcycles, but that just does not happen as often anymore. I do a lot of home-improvement projects and maintenance that gets neglected all winter. My wife and I like to travel and usually take two big trips each year. Otherwise, I just try to relax at home with the dogs.

chris working on a lift
Chris and Sipapu Mountain Ops are busy all summer getting ready for winter!

What is your favorite Riverside Cafe or Paradise Grill menu item?

It’s all so good! The Sipaburger is always a go-to favorite. I like the Wormwood (add bacon), and the Reuben too. During the winter I eat at the cafe six days a week, sometimes twice a day.  I get creative and mix menu items. 

What is your favorite run to ski?

I think my favorite run is probably Butterfly. I would put myself as a high-end average skier. I like to hit black diamonds once in a while, but I enjoy just being able to relax and carve up the slope. I like the stair-step terracing on Butterfly and the long view ahead down the falline. I like Don Diego before the terrain park gets built on it for the same reason. For tree skiing, I like Razzmatazz and No Caboose.

Where did you learn to ski?

I learned to ski at Winter Park, Colorado, on a church youth group trip in about 1980. I was scared to turn and crashed on nearly every turn those first three days but I went back every chance I got. By high school, I learned to stand up straighter when skiing (as opposed to the folded in half stance of so many beginners). By college, I think I was a pretty good skier. Then I didn’t do it for over ten years and got kind of rusty. I’m still getting the rust off now!

Chris Bell Skiing
Chris skiing at Squaw Valley in 1992

Who taught you to ski?

I don’t remember the name of Winter Park ski instructor that taught me to ski. She was blond and in her early 20’s. But I was about thirteen and thought she was beautiful!

We appreciate Chris Bell, and how hard he works to get the mountain in top shape for all our winter and summer fun. 

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