Winter in New Mexico

With a misleading reputation for offering only a desert palette, New Mexico routinely surprises visitors in search of frosty, downhill fun. The locals, however, know better. The snows that fell last winter left fond memories in the minds of many New Mexicans.

More Than Just Skiing

“...Time may stand still in Chama, but the sounds of modern snowmobiles also fill the ai”

For dedicated skiers at world-famous Taos Ski Valley, winter is always just around the corner. When temperatures dip below freezing at the valley, the snowmaking guns will fire up.

Taos Ski Valley is not alone in its efforts to keep powder on the minds of New Mexicans year-around. Ski Apache near Ruidoso is always touting its “white-capped mountains jutting skyward” to any visitor willing to listen; Ski Santa Fe beckons vacationers to “experience the excitement of world-class skiing minutes from historic Ski Santa Fe;” while little Sipapu Ski and Summer Report, located between Taos and Amarillo, calls its secluded setting “the ideal destination for those who appreciate the pleasure of getting back to the basics.”

Most offer special Christmas and New Years’ celebrations including torchlight parades, wine festivals, live music and family time.

Although great skiing and snowboarding are just a part of a New Mexico winter adventure vacation - albeit a big part - they are by no means all the state has to offer when the days turn short.

Take Cimarron, for example. Hardly a skier’s paradise – although it rests near the eastern edge of the Enchanted Circle and a ski pole’s throw from Red River, Enchanted Forest and Angel Fire– this tiny, historic western town schedules a Holiday Walk every Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Cimarron not only offers warm hospitality and a welcoming atmosphere, it has a tale to tell every visitor any time of year. Once a lively stop along the mountain route of the Santa Fe Trail, the Cimarron walking tour features 14 historic sites, including the infamous St. James Hotel. Mixed in are a variety of art, jewelry, candles, leather and western goods and historical clothing, Native American arts and crafts, weavings, photographs, woodwork and pottery, found throughout Cimarron’s several shops and museums.

The ES Barker Wildlife Area and the Valle Vidal Unit of the Kit Carson National Forest, both within easy access of town, sport both snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. In fact, cross-country skiing opportunities, from the long-established Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Area near Red River to newly explored trails, exist in the state’s high country, from north to south.

Time may stand still in Chama (historically speaking), but the sounds of modern snowmobiles also fill the air, transforming what was once a railroad boomtown turned bust into a snowmobiler’s paradise,” say the folks at the Chama Chamber of Commerce, “which is not to say there isn’t also plenty of opportunity for cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and wildlife viewing.” Chama also offers a number of special events during the winter.

As a rule, backcountry cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing routes typically follow Forest Service roads and hiking trails that can lead to a paradise of powdery inclines. Snow skating and snow biking are also making strong headway into the downhill market, while flatlanders are discovering an increasing number of ice-skating and recreational hockey opportunities throughout the state.

Scattered across the mountainous regions are a handful of maintained ponds and lakes where ice skaters can practice their hockey skills or hone their figure eights. In Albuquerque, the Outpost Ice Arena offers year-round skating in addition to others, such as the Genoveva Chavez Community Center in Santa Fe. Taos has a seasonal indoor ice arena, and Los Alamos’s ever-popular skating pond pre-dates the Atomic age.

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A Winter Wonderland

“...natural hot springs abound throughout the state”

Cimarron and Chama aren’t the only towns offering outdoor recreation and in-door shopping, eating, sightseeing, and, of course, relaxing.

Christmas in Santa Fe and Taos is legendary; while, from Black Rock and Battleship Rock to Spence Hot Springs and Turkey Creek, natural hot springs abound throughout the state. Most are best enjoyed – believe it or not - while basking under a light snowfall.

Down south, between Texas and Ruidoso, rests Las Cruces, a popular escape from the cold, offering a number of events for snowbirds. “Sentimental Seasons” arrives at the Farmers and Crafts Market every December, featuring produce from local and in-state growers (honey, herbs, baked goods, spices, salsa, ristras and landscape plants) and a variety of handcrafted items (jewelry, woodwork, candles, pottery, fine art, needlework, furniture, leather works, clothing, needlework's, bird houses and knives). The Luminaria Tour and Children’s Workshop at Fort Selden is also in mid-December, as are the Christmas Lights Guided Night Walk and carols and luminarias on Old Mesilla Plaza.

A Season of History, Culture & Tradition

“...Each of New Mexico’s 19 Indian pueblos holds dances for its feast day-the holiday”

Each of New Mexico’s 19 Indian pueblos holds dances for its feast day-the holiday commemorating the Catholic saint who is its patron, and many schedule dances to celebrate Christmas, New Year’s Day and other special events during the ski season. Dances commonly open to the public include the corn, deer and buffalo dances. And no visit to a New Mexico pueblo would be complete without sampling the cuisine, be it a Navajo taco, heaped with lettuce, tomatoes, refried beans, guacamole, sour cream and red or green, all served on a flat, puffy tortilla; or Piki bread, made with finely ground corn, cooked in boiling water, and then spread over a hot flat surface. The mush cooks instantly and peels off in a paper-thin sheet before being rolled up and eaten with stew.

A journey to historic santuarios erected by Spanish settlers during New Mexico’s early colonial days knows all seasons. Many examples of these missions still exist in New Mexico; some are preserved as ruins, others are still in use.

Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula de los Pecos, 20 miles east of Santa Fe, was the largest European structure north of the Mexican border during the Spanish colonial period. The church was destroyed in the pueblo revolt, but rebuilt mission in 1717 and today, its extensive stabilized stone ruins of churches, the National Park Service maintains conventos and pueblos.

Nuestra Señora de Purisma Concepcion de Quarai northwest of Mountainair is the most complete of the 17th century Salinas churches; San Buenaventura de Cochiti 24 miles northeast of Bernalillo has been standing since the 18th century; San Esteban del Rey de Acoma 52 miles west of Albuquerque at Acoma Pueblo has been in continuous use since 1641; and San Gregorio de Abo at Bernardo, first established in 1622, is approximately 70-percent original, and along Quarai (part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument) are unlike any others in the Southwest.

For regional history, Native arts and culture, fine art of the Southwest and folk art from around the world, the Museum of New Mexico comprises four museums and five state monuments across the state. The Palace of the Governors, Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of International Folk Art and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture are all located in Santa Fe.

The monuments include Coronado State Monument near Bernalillo was once home to agriculturists who thrived on the bank of the Rio Grande; Fort Sumner State Monument, the site of the million-acre Bosque Redondo Reservation where more than 9,000 Navajo and Mescalero Apache people were interned by the U.S. government from 1863-1868; Lincoln State Monument (the Town of Lincoln), rocked by violence during the Lincoln County War and made famous by such characters as Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett; and Fort Selden State Monument at Radium Springs, once home for the “Buffalo Soldiers.”

Special winter events include “Christmas at Coronado;” “Winterfeast” at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture; “Christmas at the Palace (of the Governors)”, also home of the annual Children’s Art Show and Sale; “Farolito Tour at Giusewa (Jemez State Monument); and “Christmas at Fort Sumner” and “Christmas Eve in Old Lincoln.”

Winter Season Celebrations

“...Chances are there is an annual celebration in your little corner of New Mexico”

If you can’t get excited about the upcoming winter season and all it has to offer, then you are new to New Mexico. Listed below are few of the bigger events, but don’t let apparent gaps in the calendar stop you from making plans. Chances are there is an annual celebration in your little corner of New Mexico.

Call around or check

Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count in Farmington December 14 - January 5,2014:

Jump into some warm clothes, grab your binoculars, and join fellow birder watchers at the Riverside Nature Center in Farmington for the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count December 14, 2013 through January 5, 2014. Bird watchers can count while hiking up to five miles along the Animas River or count back at the Center at bird feeders. Past sightings include bald eagles, multiple species of hawks, waterfowl, and sparrows, as well as woodpeckers, chickadees and finches. The Center also offers binoculars and identification guides, and weekly bird-identification courses. The cost is a $5-donation to the National Audubon Society.
Call 505-325-8619

Christmas Eve with the SFCA Orchestra
December 24, 2013, 5:00 PM, Lensic Performing Arts Center

Spend Christmas Eve with The SFCA orchestra and young violinist Caroline Goulding, whose immense talent has already earned her appearances everywhere from the Cleveland Orchestra to NBC’s “Today” and the “Martha Show” hosted by Martha Stewart. Goulding will treat concert goers to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61. SFCA maestro Joseph Illick will also lead the orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4.24.

Angel Fire Resort and Taos Ski Valley Torchlight Parades December 24 and 31:

The dark sky forms a perfect backdrop for the Christmas Eve torchlight parade and the New Year’s Eve torchlight parade and fireworks. Watch or participate in the parade as torches light the way for Santa and Mrs. Claus as fireworks on the mountainside slopes trumpet their grand entrance.
Angel Fire Resort – call 800-633-7463 or visit call
Taos Ski Valley – 575-776-2291 or visit

Snowshoe into New Year at Valles Caldera December 31:

Ring in the New Year with cross-country skiing an/or snowshoeing under the stars at the Fire and Ice New Year’s Eve Celebration, 6 p.m.–1 a.m., at the Valles Caldera National Preserve west of Los Alamos
December 31, 2012. Along with complimentary hot beverages and a variety of other refreshments, participants will benefit from campfires at three locations.
Call 505-661-3333 or visit