Ski Santa Fe: Winter Adventure in “The City Different”

Snowy day at Ski Santa Fe. Photo by Dino Vournas
Snowy day at Ski Santa Fe. Photo by Dino Vournas

Skiing in Santa Fe 

Most people know Santa Fe for its art galleries, eclectic shops, distinctive restaurants, adobe architecture and fascinating 400-year history.

But few know about its other treasure – skiing. Ski Santa Fe is an adventure worth experiencing.

Just 16 miles from Santa Fe’s historic plaza, Ski Santa Fe offers some of the best skiing in the west among the snow-capped peaks that dominate the skyline northeast of the city in northern New Mexico.

One of the oldest and highest ski areas in the U.S., Ski Santa Fe begins at 10,350 feet in the gorgeous Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.

It tops out at 12,075 where the views of the valley floor and surrounding mountain ranges are stunning. With that altitude combined with New Mexico’s dry air, the snow falls as fluffy as cotton candy.

It is just as pretty as it hugs the branches of old-growth spruce and pine trees. It’s one of the most beautiful ski areas I’ve skied in the west.

Ski Santa Fe: Family History

Like most of New Mexico’s eight alpine areas, Ski Santa Fe is family-owned, which is why it retains that intimate, homey feel.

So homey, in fact, that the owner, standing behind me in the cafe’s beverage line, helps me find the hot water button on the drink dispenser. Thanking him as I turn around, and not knowing who he is, I ask, “Do you work here?”

He smiles and pulls aside his vest to reveal a shiny gold badge that reads simply “Benny.”

Benny Abruzzo, his brother, Louis, and son, Ben, are carrying on the tradition started by his father Ben who co-founded Sandia Peak ski area in Albuquerque in the early 50s.

He later bought Santa Fe Ski Basin in 1984 from Kingsbury Pitcher, who went on to buy Colorado’s Wolf Creek Ski Area. (Tragically, the senior Abruzzo and Benny’s mother were killed in a plane crash one year later.

Then Benny’s brother Richard, a famous balloonist like his father, died when his balloon fell into the ocean off the coast of Italy in 2010. He was 47.) Despite the family’s tragedy, the Abruzzos carry on.

The Original Ski Area 

To my surprise, the original ski area above Santa Fe began in the 1930s, and the army’s 10th Mountain Division, headquartered at Colorado’s Ski Cooper, trained there as well.

Ernie Blake, founder of Taos Ski Valley, served as mountain manager in the early days. The area is steeped in ski history and legends.

The Abruzzos are striving to make the ski area where they literally grew up an ideal place for families.

They work at it constantly with ski and snowboard lessons for all ages, a super friendly staff and mountain upgrades.

Base lodge at Ski Santa Fe. Photo by Dino Vournas
Base lodge at Ski Santa Fe. Photo by Dino Vournas

A few seasons ago they unveiled a huge addition to the beautiful La Casa base lodge, doubling seating capacity in the sunny cafe. It’s open for breakfast and lunch, serving better-than-average ski-cafeteria food.

Ski Santa Fe tripled the size of the rental shop that operates a state-of-the-art paperless rental system.

And sometime within the next decade, they will develop Raven’s Ridge on the north border, Benny says, into a “neat little family ski area.” The other borders are protected wilderness.

And then there are the signature glades—the area’s “piste” de rèsistance—where the trees are spaced just perfectly for making turns in the best fresh snow on the mountain.

Every summer Benny and Ben fell select trees with their own hands to make the glades even more skiable.

“We are the fellers,” Benny says with a grin. “We’ll take about 25 percent out of the glades, leaving the natural environment as is.”

How does he know where to cut? “I cut ‘em like I like to ski ‘em!” Another grin. They sell the timber for firewood and donate the proceeds to charity.

With some of the country’s best hotels and inns down in the city, there’s no need for lodging at the ski area.

Instead, you must drive 30 minutes up the winding road from Santa Fe that starts at Otero and Artist Road, that, to be honest, can get dicey in winter.

Or, take the Blue Bus that now operates between town and Ski Santa Fe with three round trips per day on weekdays and seven on weekends and holidays.

It makes quite a few stops along the way. One is at Ten Thousand Waves, the famous spa where you can present your bus transfer token for a $5 discount on a treatment or food.

Ski Santa Fe. Powder in the glades. Photo by Dino Vournas Ski Santa Fe
Powder in the glades. Photo by Dino Vournas

If You Go to Ski Santa Fe

Ski Santa Fe has 660 acres of skiable terrain with 7 lifts, 79 trails (20 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, 40 percent expert) with 36 groomed daily. It has a vertical of 1725 and averages 225 inches of snow each year.

For more information on pricing, programs, mountain layout and more, visit skisantafe.com. For information on the other alpine ski areas of New Mexico, visit skinewmexico.com.

Blue Bus—RidetheBlueBus.com; 866-206-0754

Ten Thousand Wavestenthousandwaves.com

Where to Stay in Santa Fe

Santa Fe turns into a beautiful painting in winter, with snow blanketing the adobes and Kiva fireplaces crackling inside. When the winter sun comes out, it’s pleasant enough to stroll the galleries, shops and museums.

It’s a wonderful time to visit the City Different. Prices are usually lower during winter (low season), and Santa Fe Restaurant Week is in early March. Visit santafe.org for a complete list of things to do.

Both these iconic hotels reflect Santa Fe’s style and spirit. Staying at either is an extraordinary experience.

La Fonda on the Plaza—The art and architecture of this historic hotel, as well as its signature restaurant La Plazuela, are among Santa Fe’s treasures.

The spa offers a full menu of treatments. Bed and Breakfast packages for two are offered.
100 E. San Francisco St.
800-523-5002
lafondasantafe.com

Inn and Spa at Loretto—In the heart of Santa Fe, this luxury boutique hotel has a full-service spa and one of the city’s finest restaurants, Luminaria.

A Winter Ski Escape package includes two lift tickets and daily breakfast for two.
211 Old Santa Fe Trail
866-582-1646
innatloretto.com

Author Bio: An award-winning journalist for 32 years, Claudia Carbone is a native of Denver where she still lives. Follow her Go World blog at Sleepin’ Around: A Hotel and Travel Blog

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