Ski New Mexico - Part 1: Family Fun

New Mexico and skiing: two ideas that don’t seem to belong in the same sentence. New Mexico conjures up images of flat desert and, yes, there are large swatches of arid, dry land that are beautiful in their own right. But the Rocky Mountains end, or begin depending on your perspective, in Northern New Mexico, and these ski areas have enviable proximity to world class destinations like Santa Fe and Taos. You can easily fly into Albuquerque, then rent a car and be on the slopes in a few hours. There are a number of ski areas and this post and Part II will focus on just four: Angel Fire, Ski Santa Fe, Taos Ski Valley, and Red River.

The views at the top of Angel Fire are stunning
The Hills Are On Fire
Angel Fire Resort is a low key, family-oriented spot, incredibly inexpensive offering skiing, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, tubing, and in the summer months this year-round resort offers horseback riding, mountain bike trails, eight tennis courts, golf and disc golf. Situated at 10,000 feet and so named by the Navajo for the brilliant sunsets and sunrises, Angel Fire is a two-hour drive from Santa Fe. There are a total of 67 runs and the top runs start about 10,500 feet. High season gets crowded as people return regularly because there is literally so much to do here, and it’s a perfect family getaway with plenty of lodging at the base. There is an indoor pool, hot tub, free wireless, live music on weekends, and even childcare. Angel Fire is privately owned and is the only resort in New Mexico to offer night-time skiing and tubing. Each year they also have the Shovel Race – and I think you can see where this is going: people launch down runs racing on shovels. 
Boarders and Skiers share the slopes in New Mexico
Seriously. There are six restaurants on site, most with average fare, but if you want a more upscale feel, their signature restaurant, Elements, will give you a fine dining experience in a sophisticated environment. For the curious, like me, they offer Nordic skiing, AKA cross-country. If you ski, you might think the 10 miles of outdoor trails will be easy to navigate. Yes, cross-country seems more like walking on skis and looks simple, but the reality is this offers a strong cardio component, and takes some time to get used to as Nordic skis are pencil thin. I didn’t fall as much as I thought I would, but after a brief training I did OK, and so will you. Cross county is also more serene, you don’t have borders and skiers passing you at breakneck speeds.

Big Mountain – Small Town
Then there is Red River, a small town of about 500 people whose population explodes during ski season. What makes Red River desirable is that the whole mile-long town is fully integrated into the slopes, meaning that about 80 percent of all the lodging is within a five block walk to the dual quads which take you directly up the mountain. In addition to winter skiing, snowboarding and tubing, there is summer tubing and an 18-hole disc golf course. The ski area is a throwback; completely low-tech with old hand written ski forms, but there is something comforting about the old-school approach. They have the widest runs for beginners and overall this is a great spot for intermediates. But Red River is also the only place to get on a snow mobile and take off to the Kit Carson Wilderness and explore with a guide on the back of a machine. Snow mobiles are not simple machines either, they do take some upper body strength to maneuver, but once at the top of the mountain, they let you loose in an open meadow where you can get your snowmobile up to about 40 mph – something that was way cool. You ascend in the late afternoon after the runs shut down, and return in the dark. Prices start at $70 for a two-hour tour and if you’ve never done it – this is the place for it. 

The Lift House at the base of the Platinum Chair run
On Saturday evenings in season you will be able to watch the Torchlight Parade which begins around 7:15 p.m. Skiers holding flares ski down the lower slope of the Platinum Chair circling back and forth creating an orange colored light show – a weaving graceful ballet of amber lights. It’s brief but fun and occurs only here. There are plenty of hotels and condos to stay at: I stayed at the Ponderosa Lodge, a three block walk to the lifts, and I have to say, though Ponderosa is not a spanking new property, it has a rustic feel with a stone fireplace and full kitchenette. The Lift House (at the base of the run) has fine bar food, and Capo’s is a family run Italian place with large portions and friendly staff. Texas Red’s Steakhouse is just that – lots of meat; all good places to satisfy your hunger after a long day.

Wide runs at beautiful scenery at Red River
The unique part of skiing in New Mexico is the friendly people, the lack of pretentiousness and the genuinely terrific runs and views. Lift tickets are routinely 20 percent cheaper in New Mexico than most other areas, and the diversity of these ski spots, and their reasonable proximity to each other, means you can visit all four in a week. They may be slopes less traveled, but are worth checking out.

www.AngelFireResort.com, (800) 633-7463
www.RedRiverSkiArea.com, (800) 331-7669

For my 2 Minute Travel Video recorded at Angel Fire Resort, Click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WO3cLCJW3Y0&feature=plcp

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