Mention New Mexico, and certain images come to mind: wide desert landscapes, Southwestern cuisine and the mystique of the state’s various American Indian tribes. Yet that picture is incomplete without New Mexico’s dramatic, snow-capped mountains. These alpine areas offer a variety of winter fun, from world-class skiing to tubing, snowmobiling and sleigh rides.
“Part of the appeal of skiing in New Mexico is all that our state culture has to offer,” says Steve Lewis, a spokesman for Ski New Mexico (www.skinewmexico.com). “You’ve got the Native American cultures and the Southwestern and Old West influences. Plus, this is a beautiful part of the world.”
Ski resorts cater to different needs, so it pays to do some research when planning your alpine vacation. Expert skiers will want to hit Taos Ski Valley, a “skiers only” destination with challenging terrain, while affordable, family-friendly skiing can be found at Sipapu in north-central New Mexico. Those looking for cultural opportunities during off-mountain times will enjoy Ski Apache and Ski Santa Fe, while powder-hounds who favor smaller resorts will feel at home at Angel Fire and Red River.
Ski Apache sits on the northern flank of the 12,003-foot Sierra Blanca Peak in south-central New Mexico. The mountain is surrounded by desert, which makes for some magnificent panoramas. Owned and operated by the Mescalero Apache tribe, the resort has a distinctive flavor, offering trails such as Geronimo, Screaming Eagle, Chino and Apache Bowl.
The majority of employees are tribal members, and the resort has a friendly, down-to-earth Southwestern feel. Ski Apache is an excellent place to learn to ski. Its bilingual school has more than 100 instructors and gives more lessons than any other facility in the state.
Size: 750 skiable acres, 55 runs (20 percent beginner, 35 percent intermediate and 45 percent advanced).
Best for: Families and skiers looking for something different and off the beaten path.
More information: www.skiapache.com; 1-505-336-4356.
Red River Ski Area
Red River, N.M.
Situated in north-central New Mexico about 30 miles from Taos, Red River is a typical Western “one main street” town. The lifts take off from the town center, and trails end there as well. This small-town atmosphere means parents can let their older children explore on their own, affording parents some precious time to themselves.
After the mountain closes to skiing, it opens to tubing. Tubes can be rented for $7 per half-hour.
Size: 257 skiable acres, 57 runs (32 percent beginner, 38 intermediate, 30 expert).
Best for: Families that enjoy small towns.
More information: www.redriverskiarea.com; 1-505-754-2223.
Ski Santa Fe
Santa Fe, NM
Ski Santa Fe seems to offer the best of both worlds – prime ski terrain in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and quick access to one of the country’s most artistically rich cities.
Resort visitors can stay in historic Santa Fe, a town well worth exploring, and access to the slopes is just minutes away. Although the resort is not huge according to Western ski standards, it is large enough to keep a good skier entertained.
The longest run is more than three miles long, and the season typically runs from Thanksgiving to Easter. The resort’s highest peak is more than 12,000 feet in elevation, making Ski Santa Fe one of the highest resorts in the country. A favorite with snowboarders, the resort is also known for its tree skiing.
Size: 660 skiable acres, 45 runs (20 percent beginner, 40 intermediate, 40 expert).
Best for: intermediate and expert skiers/snowboarders and those interested in exploring the city of Santa Fe.
More information: www.skisantafe.com, 1-505-982-4429.
Angel Fire Resort
Angel Fire, NM
This privately owned resort has updated and added more new features and options than any other winter resort in the Southwest. The result is an innovative offering of programs at an affordable price for families. Angel Fire’s One Ticket lift pass can be exchanged for another activity, including snowmobiling, snowshoeing and even a massage.
Situated along the southern Rocky Mountains 22 miles east of Taos, the resort also offers free ski lessons with the purchase of an adult all-day ticket; it also extends a “snow satisfaction guarantee,” which allows you to return your lift ticket within one hour of your first chair-lift ride in exchange for a lift ticket for another day.
Size: 450 skiable acres; 67 trails (26 percent beginner, 50 intermediate, 24 advanced).
Best for: snowboarders. Has the only half pipe in New Mexico, as well as four freestyle terrain parks.
More information: www.angelfireresort.com, 1-800-633-7463.
Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort
Tucked away in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains along the Rio Pueblo, this intimate resort is surrounded by the Pecos Wilderness and the Carson National Forest.
Sipapu, an Indian word that means “the hole from which life came into the world,” is the most affordable ski resort in the state. The tiny ski area offers short lift lines and varied terrain for downhill skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing.
Other rooms are priced affordably, with an amazing array of lodging to choose from, including dorm rooms, cabins, lodge rooms and apartments. First-time skiers and boarders receive a free lesson with the purchase of a lift ticket.
Size: 70 skiable acres; 31 runs (20 percent beginner, 45 intermediate, 35 expert).
Best for: families on a budget.
More information: www.sipapunm.com, 1-800-587-2240.
Taos Ski Valley
Taos Ski Valley, N.M.
Taos Ski Valley is for skiers only, offering a blend of Southwestern culture and European alpine flair. Situated 18 miles outside Taos, the family-run establishment is the biggest ski area in the state.
Though there is plenty of terrain for beginners, the resort favors the advanced skier. Expert powder-hounds will enjoy the steep terrain there, as well as a double-diamond-rated traverse that takes skiers out to the West Basin. The highest terrain is accessible only by hiking 10 minutes to the top ridge. From there, skiers can pick their route, from tree skiing to shoots.
Size: 1,200 skiable acres; 110 trails (24 percent beginner, 25 intermediate, 51 advanced)
Best for: skiers who want expert terrain.
More information: www.skitaos.org, 1-800-347-7414.