Catch a Lift

Steep upgrades at Ski Apache and Ski Santa Fe promise a grand opening for the state's winter ski season.

Skiers and snowboarders of New Mexico, rejoice. It doesn’t matter whether you like to get your whoosh on in the northern or southern part of the state—capital improvements abound. Ski Apache and Ski Santa Fe greet this season and their guests with state-of-the-art lifts and lodges that take the experience up several notches—and pave the way for many more downslope runs per day.

Ski Apache, outside Ruidoso, will be fully operational by its expected opening date of Thanksgiving Day, November 22, with three new chairlifts and some $15 million in capital improvements wholly funded by the Mescalero Apache Tribe. They splurged on an eight-passenger Doppelmayr Gondola, which will climb 1,646 feet to the mountain peak in just eight minutes—twice as fast as its predecessor. The only gondola lift in the state is expected to carry 2,000 skiers and snowboarders to the top every hour. Other additions to the fleet are Doppelmayr triple and quad chairlifts, which will whisk 3,600 more skiers to their trail heads each hour, giving Ski Apache the highest lift capacity in the state.

“Our guests are going to be able to ski more and wait less,” says Frizzell J. Frizzell Jr., chief operating officer of parent resort Inn of the Mountain Gods. “We’ve really listened to our customers in making these improvements; they don’t want to wait in line. We wanted to buy the best that’s available to us to create an optimal ski experience.” Ski Apache is also upgrading its snowmaking equipment throughout the mountain, and giving a face-lift to all the buildings marred by last summer’s Little Bear fire. (575) 464-3600; skiapache.com

Ski Santa Fe’ s La Casa Lodge will open the season with a 12,000-square-foot expansion designed to let skiers hit the slopes more quickly. Visitors will flow through a ski-rental area twice as large as the one it replaces, with shorter lines; nods to contemporary style include such details as corrugated aluminum, black countertops, and wood trim. The addition of Head BYS ski-rental and Burton snowboard-rental systems will allow skiers to be fitted quickly with appropriate gear, proceed to the new locker area, and head to the lifts. When it’s break time, visitors can move quickly through an expanded food court with a grill, pizza and pasta bar, deli, bakery, and coffee shop. Even on the busiest days, visitors will find plenty of seating in the cherry-wainscotted dining room, with a capacity of 650. (505) 982-4429; skisantafe.com

Improvements are also afoot at Taos Ski Valley. In September, the Forest Service approved the ski area’s master plan, which will help it remain a top destination for steep and deep skiing. Although there’s no set time frame for enacting the plan, in future years skiers and snowboarders can expect two new alpine lifts, to the Kachina and West Ridge areas, which were previously accessible only by hiking; upgrades of three other lifts; two expanded glade areas for intermediate skiers; a permanent tubing facility; and a system of snowshoe trails. (575) 776-2291; skitaos.org

Skiers will have to wait until Thanksgiving weekend for most areas to open, but Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort plans to crank up its lifts in early November, making this the ninth year in a row it will be the state’s first ski resort to open. The family-run resort, 20 miles southeast of Taos, is affordable and unintimidating to first-timers and families with children, thanks to its small scale. It offers a wide array of specials, from free lessons for kids to gratis nights in their homey lodging options. Plan ahead for the February Fun Fest (February 16–18), a free family event with costume contests, scavenger hunts, and a two- to three-story snow castle full of slides, steps, and tunnels. On March 16 the ski area will host its annual Cardboard Derby, in which participants construct amazing vessels made only of cardboard, duct tape, paint, string, or twine, then ride them down the mountain, aiming for a bull’s-eye. (800) 587-2240; sipapunm.com.

Sandia Peak Ski Area, outside Albuquerque, remains a good place for families and learners, thanks to a wide number of beginner trails. In January, competitors face off in the Sandia Snowshoe Race (sandiasnowshoe.com), one of the many snowsports available in New Mexico in addition to downhill skiing. (505) 242-9052; sandiapeak.com

Just outside Santa Fe, cross-country skiers and snowshoers will discover more than 125 annual inches of snowfall and scenic trails throughout Hyde Memorial State Park (505-983-7175; nmparks.com) and along the Norski Trail, near Ski Santa Fe. The Santa Fe Striders (santafestriders.org) sponsor the Santa Fe Snowshoe Classic, a 3.6-mile race, each January. Outside Los Alamos, traverse an 89,000-acre collapsed volcanic crater at the Valles Caldera National Preserve (866-382-5537; vallescaldera.gov). Check the Preserve’s schedule, too, for moonlight skiing events. Chama Valley (800-477-0149; chamavalley.com) offers 10K of ungroomed trails. The city also puts on the Chama Chile Ski Classic (575-756-1926; chamaski.com), on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

Along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, Angel Fire Resort’s Nordic Center provides 15K of groomed trails and snowshoeing lanes. For one of the most unusual events of the winter season, plan ahead for its World Famous Shovel Races (February 8–10), in which competitors as young as six years old zip down the mountain sitting on snow shovels—some at speeds of more than 80 miles per hour. In addition to being a ski resort, Angel Fire also offers snowmobiling, sleigh rides, and tubing. (800) 633-7463; angelfireresort.com

The Enchanted Forested Cross Country Ski Area (575-754-6112; enchantedforestxc.com), outside Red River, offers 33K of groomed trails for ski touring and 15K of trails devoted to snowshoeing. It hosts the Low O2 Challenge January 26–27, a 10K nationals qualifier for snowshoeing, and the more laid-back Just Desserts Eat & Ski on February 23, in which skiers glide to clearings where tables laden with delectable goodies have been set up. Triple-chocolate cake, anyone?

Athletes with talents in multiple sports can test their skills at the Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon (800-748-2142; mttaylorquad.org). In this early-February event, competitors bicycle, run, cross-country ski, and snowshoe from Grants to the top of Mt. Taylor.

For more information about skiing and snow conditions, consult Ski New Mexico (skinewmexico.com).

 

Other Winter Activities

Those folks looking to get outside this winter for less adrenaline-spiked fun should head to the Valles Caldera National Preserve for a 60-minute ride through the preserve in a horse-drawn sleigh. Roadrunner Tours (575-377-6416; rtours.com) also offers sleigh rides in the Angel Fire area.

For those with more get-up-and-go, Bobcat Pass Adventures (575-754-2769; bobcatpass.com) outfits snowmobile tours of the beautiful Moreno Valley between Red River and Eagle Nest. Big Al, of A.A. Taos Ski Valley Wildness Adventures (575-751-6051; bigaltsv.com) leads snowmobiling tours that gain 3,000 feet in elevation and provide 360-degree views of stunning Taos Ski Valley.

Families enjoy tubing together at Ruidoso Winter Park (575-336-7079; ruidosowinterpark.com), Angel Fire Resort, and Red River Ski & Snowboard Area (575- 754-2223; redriverskiarea.com).

From November through February, visitors can lace up their skates for a turn on Los Alamos County Ice Rink (505-662-4500; losalamosnm.us), a refrigerated, outdoor area set in a scenic canyon. In the south, the charming village of Cloudcroft, which has a ski area of its own, also boasts outdoor skating at the James Sewell Ice Rink (575-682-1229), open mid-December through the beginning of March.

At Eagle Nest Lake State Park (575-377-1594; nmparks.com), visitors can dip into icy waters—with their fishing poles, that is. Anglers can fish for kokanee salmon and rainbow trout from mid-December through early March, depending on the ice thickness. The Park also hosts a fishing derby in early January, conditions permitting.