The zing of ski edges biting the snow, the shower of powder from a tight turn, the exhilaration of the view from the top of a run paired with sparkling white snow, dramatic dark green trees and the brilliant blue of the sky – all this is yours within a day’s drive.
And all of it was mine on a trip to enjoy four of New Mexico’s most popular ski areas.
Red River has the most Old-Western feel of the four. Once a mining boomtown, the precious metals petered out decades ago. In the early ’40s, a group of locals opened a ski area – which basically consisted of the mountain and a tow rope. The next day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the ski area closed after only one day in operation. In the late ’50s, Oklahoma entrepreneur Stokes Bolton got the snowball rolling again with a ski lift put together out of old oil field equipment with a new motel at the base. And it was all uphill from there.
Today the Red River Ski and Snowboard Area features 57 runs – with 32 percent beginner, 38 percent intermediate and 30 percent expert – and seven lifts, including a new triple chair. The proudest boast in town is “I skied The Face!”
In addition to skiing and snowboarding, the area features three terrain parks for free-stylers and a tubing hill. Fortunately, I was able to enjoy the gorgeous scenery on a sunset/moonlight snowmobile tour.
Red River is noted for its laid-back, family-friendly atmosphere and Western flavor. The ski slopes practically run into Main Street, making everything wonderfully handy. Accommodations are plentiful and range from rustic cabins to comfortable condos. There are a number of restaurants, but don’t count on caviar and champagne. A great steak or bowl of chili: absolutely. Red River has the recipe for a great winter trip – and the price is right.
Angel Fire started with the Resort, which now encompasses 18,000 acres of private land. It includes the ski area, lodge, condos and private homes (some for sale or rent). Amenities include a country club open to the public with special perks for property-owning members, a golf course, tennis courts, an equestrian center with riding horses and boarding facilities for guests who BYO, a bike park, zip line and a variety of restaurants.
The skiing program is key and offers a number of options. In addition to downhill skiing and snowboarding, visitors can try tubing, Nordic (cross-country) skiing and snowshoeing. Hot shots head for one of the two terrain parks.
Particularly for lodge guests, this may be the handiest of the four areas. And the check-in is the slickest. It’s done by computer and, once you’ve skied here, your information is saved, cutting down the time needed to get to the slopes.
Those slopes are rated 26 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate and 24 percent advanced. Unusual opportunities at Angel Fire include night skiing and, for intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders, first shot at fresh snow before the regular lift openings.
Both on the resort and in local businesses, you’ll find plenty of dining choices, but for an elegant and outstanding meal you can’t beat Elements in the Angel Fire Country Club. Chef Mathias Klemmt makes a mean wild mushroom strudel and, if you’re a lamb lover, prepare for pleasure.
Ski Santa Fe
Ski Santa Fe is located 16 miles northeast of the city in the Santa Fe National Forest. While it lacks the convenience of on-site accommodations, the drive from town isn’t bad – and who doesn’t love staying in Santa Fe?
The ski area dates back to the late 1930s and first runs were determined by Indian and sheep trails. Now there are 73 trails with 20 percent rated easy and 40 percent each rated intermediate and difficult. Altitude at the base is 10,350 feet, making it one of the highest ski areas in the U.S.
Having just undergone extensive expansion, the base facilities provide many amen- ities. The new rental shop has the latest equipment for skiers and snowboarders and the Sports Shop can supply anything you’ve forgotten. The food court offers deli items, pizzas and local favorites and can accommodate large crowds. Nobody likes standing in long lines, so Ski Santa Fe works hard to make sure you don’t have to.
In addition to a great children’s program – from day care on up – Ski Santa Fe has an adaptive program for both physically and mentally challenged skiers. Reservations are required for both of these programs.
Taos Ski Valley
Like Ski Santa Fe, TSV is a bit of a drive from its namesake city – 26 miles in this case. Many skiers stay in Taos and take the ski shuttle to the slopes. There are also accommodations at the ski area. If you want to stay close, you can choose from hotels, condominiums, rental homes, even a bed and breakfast.
Charm is the operative word here. Taos Ski Valley looks like a little Bavarian village – where everyone speaks English! Tucked into a mountain valley, Ernie Blake discovered the giant basin when he flew over it in his private plane in the ’50s. The ski area is still family-owned.
With 51 percent expert-level runs (the rest of the 110 trails divided almost evenly between intermediate and beginner), Taos Ski Valley attracts skiers who are up for a challenge. According to Ernie’s granddaughter Adriana, “For hardcore skiers, Taos is a bucket list item.”
Don’t be intimidated by the look of the mountain from the main base area. There are some great, long, easy runs with comforting names like Honeysuckle and Easy Trip. You don’t have to tackle Blitz or Inferno. And the ski school here always gets top-notch ratings.
When you’re ready to ski, take your pick from one of these four ski areas – you can’t go wrong with any one of them. Each has a different personality and ambiance but all have great facilities for all ages. So when you think snow – think Ski New Mexico! For more information, visit skinewmexico.com.