After more than 50 seasons on New Mexico’s ski slopes, I’ve come to know a good deal about their many attractions. I first hurtled down the beginner hill at the Santa Fe Ski Basin (today’s Ski Santa Fe) in 1960, and spent many youthful weekends at La Madera (today’s Sandia Peak) and at Taos Ski Valley during New Year’s holidays. In my twenties, I made a point of visiting all our ski areas, and for the more than 25 years since then, I’ve been writing a weekly regional snowsports-and-travel column called “Snow Trax.”
I’ve also sampled the goods at ski areas all across the West and have concluded without reservation that New Mexico has some of the best skiing and snowboarding anywhere. As with any list of personal “bests,” the calls I’m making here are highly subjective. I share my time-tested observations in the hope that they will help readers get the most out of their Land of Enchantment snow days.
By Daniel Gibson
Taos Ski Valley has opened its first resort-owned hotel, the Blake. The impressive slopeside property includes 80 luxurious rooms (including 15 suites), plus a wine-and-tapas bar, spa, fitness center, and retail shops. Red River has built its first quad chair, replacing a slow double in the popular section at the top of the ski area. And Ski Santa Fe has continued its excellent glading program, opening up new lanes mid-mountain between Avalanche Bowl and Double Eagle.
It’s difficult to single out one ski area—almost any run can be great with a foot of freshies! But it’s hard to beat anything off the Ridge at Taos on a pow day. At Ski Santa Fe, head to Big T, Cornice, or the off-the-map Stooges on a powder day. Because few people at Red River or Ski Apache like powder, they can also be wonderful during storms, offering up fresh tracks all day. And Pajarito, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, can be superb when it opens on Wednesdays after a storm cycle.
Ski Apache is a cruiser’s delight: Its mostly Texas-based clientele isn’t interested in moguls, so everything is carefully groomed. Likewise, Angel Fire is full of well-groomed intermediate trails. On the broad Gayway at Ski Santa Fe, you feel like you’re soaring out over the Río Grande Valley with the ravens. Sipapu has perhaps the top snowmaking crew in the state, allowing the area to open weeks ahead of other resorts. Taos also creates superb conditions across a wide range of mountain terrain. On its lower slopes, Stauffenberg is always a smooth, fast rush, and up top, check out the Honeysuckle-to-Totemoff route.
Can you tackle Al’s Run at Taos—one of America’s classic mogul runs—top to bottom without destroying your knees? If so, you’ve arrived! With the addition of Taos’ new Kachina Chair in 2015, Main Street on Kachina Peak is now also often an endless mogul minefield. Ski Santa Fe’s version is Roadrunner, right under the Tesuque Peak chair. Pajarito Mountain is also famous for its “Fab Four” bump runs: Nuther Mother, Sidewinder, Breathless, and Precious. At Red River, bag Cat Skinner.
Ski Santa Fe has arguably the best tree and glade skiing in the state (particularly Tequila Sunset, Big Rocks, and Cornice), as well as many natural and man-made stashes in the woods. Taos’ newish Wild West harbors 35 acres of often virgin glades, to go along with North American and Ernie’s. For some rare aspen tree skiing, seek out the little pocket at Pajarito—skier’s right at the top of Little Mother, below Oops. Angel Fire has also created three glades over the past few years.
Angel Fire has the most ambitious and extensive park program in the state. Night Rider Park is at the bottom of the mountain, so it’s accessible during the resort’s night sessions. The advanced complex, Liberation Park, includes progressive lines with jumps, rails, and boxes, plus its own short chair. Red River also has a well-maintained and interesting park, as does Taos.
Some 51 percent of Taos is rated expert—including a plethora of double diamond runs. Some of the hairiest include Werner’s Chute, Spitfire, Upper Stauffenberg, Thunderbird, Meatball, Kachina Chutes 2–4, and, perhaps most fearsome, Upper Hunziker. At Ski Santa Fe, the Big Rock Chutes pre-sent technical challenges, as does Chile’s Glade.
Taos Ski Valley’s Ernie Blake Ski School has been picked as the best in the country many times by national ski media, and offers classes for never-evers to lifelong experts. Ski Santa Fe has a fine kids’ program and adult lessons, from snowboarding to annual telemarking clinics. Ski Apache offers free lessons to first-timers.
For a commercial operation offering rentals, instruction, and groomed trails, head to Enchanted Forest Cross Country and Snowshoe Area, near Red River. Angel Fire also has a notable program based at the Country Club. For do-it-yourself outings near Santa Fe, head up the ski basin road to Aspen Vista, the Norski Trail, or Black Canyon, in Hyde State Park.
Angel Fire, Red River, Sipapu, and Ski Apache all go out of their way to cater to families, with special package deals, introductory ski lessons, and affordable prices. Many families also enjoy the old-timey feel of Pajarito. But Taos has the best single facility for children, including daycare for infants and on-snow play and ski programs, and Ski Santa Fe also has a notable children’s program with both childcare for tykes and ski classes and lessons for all ages.
The Boot Doctor at Taos is one of the nation’s top-ranked ski shops for its boot sales and fitting and general ski hardware. In Santa Fe, head to Alpine Sports for purchases and rentals, or REI for gear. At Angel Fire, Wintersport Ski Shop is the village’s oldest and most experienced outfit. Cottam’s shops, found at Taos, on the Ski Santa Fe access road, and at Angel Fire, have also been around for decades.
It’s hard to beat the lift ticket and lodging prices at Sipapu, which often offers free skiing with some overnight accommodations. Pajarito is also wallet-friendly. Cheapest ski-bum digs close to Taos: the Snow-Mansion hostel in Arroyo Seco.
The new Blake at Taos Ski Valley raises the bar considerably for cushy slopeside accommodations in New Mexico. The few rooms at the Bavarian at Taos are portals to alpine nirvana, as are the accommodations at Edelweiss Lodge and Spa.
Red River is home to two famous boot-scootin’ joints, the Motherlode and Bull o’ the Woods, while Ruidoso’s Win Place and Show has presented live music every night since 1952. At Taos, the Hotel St. Bernard is a convivial place for live music, or, for a younger vibe, check the Martini Tree.
At Taos, drop by Café Naranja, at Edelweiss Lodge, for a quick sit-down breakfast. For some great coffee, croissants, and other goodies, stop by Black Diamond, in the new base complex at the Blake.
For lunch at Santa Fe, belly up to the (often crowded) bar at Totomoff’s for green chile stew or tamales. At Taos, catch the always lively scene at the Hotel St. Bernard—if it’s cold, sit inside downstairs; if sunny, enjoy the deck. At Angel Fire, try the Sunset Grill at the foot of the Chile Express chair.
For dinner at Taos Ski Valley, treat yourself to a meal at the Bavarian, or squeeze in at the Hotel St. Bernard during non-peak periods. Ski Apache’s base community of Ruidoso is home to the excellent Michael J’s. At Red River, visit Texas Red’s Steakhouse or, for a rare treat, take the Snow Coach Dinner Tour up to the Tip Restau-rant. At Angel Fire, dig in at Pub ’n Grub, or at Elements, inside the Country Club.
The Taos Freeride Championships (March 2–4) is a world-class comp, where skiers are judged on their abilities to descend the wildest, most creative lines in the huge open bowls above tree line. For sheer antics it’s hard to top the annual Shovel Races at Angel Fire (Feb. 3–4) or Red River Skijoring (Jan. 13–15), with horses galloping down Main Street, pulling skiers on ropes over jumps.
Santa Fe offers a world-class range of things to do and see off the slopes—but it’s still underappreciated as a ski base village. The town of Taos, 19 miles from the Ski Valley, also features a full menu of cultural, retail, and dining attractions.
Ascend in comfort on the eight-passenger Arrow Gondola at Ski Apache; clear the stratosphere at 12,250 feet on Taos’ Kachina chairlift; or scrape up the west face of the Sandía Mountains on the Sandia Peak Tramway, which provides the nation’s quickest access to a significant ski area from a major city.
For a real treat, visit Ten Thousand Waves after a day at Ski Santa Fe. Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa offers discounts to skiers at Taos, a scenic hour’s drive away.