New Mexico maybe be part desert, but it’s also part mountains — a big part. There are the Sandias and the Sangre de Cristos (part of the Rockies), along with several other chains, and the combination of elevation and weather makes this one of the country’s premier ski destinations.
But in New Mexico, you also have access to world-class art, Native American heritage, and some of the country’s most cinematic terrain, which means skiing here is a cultural experience — not just a sporty one. When you’re here, you’ll get it. Here’s seven ski experiences you can’t have anywhere else.
1. Mountain + museums, Santa Fe
Santa Fe is known as an artistic and cultural hub, and not just within New Mexico — it’s one of the top destinations for independent artists in the country. It also happens to sit at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and though it may not seem obvious at first glance, these two things are very, very related.
Start your day on the mountain at Ski Santa Fe. It’s 20 minutes from downtown, has a surprisingly high base elevation of 10,350 feet, and includes 83 marked trails. Among those 83, you’ll find a solid mix of beginner slopes, cruisers, long bump runs, glades and tree runs, chutes, and small bowls (and Chipmunk Corner for the wee ones!). There’s also on-mountain refreshments at Totemoff’s Bar.
After a solid half day or more of skiing, spend the afternoon touring the city’s unique museums, like the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (the go-to spot for original O’Keeffe works), the Museum of International Folk Art, or Site Santa Fe.
2. Happy Hops Hunt, Sipapu
Sipapu Ski Resort, a small resort just south of Taos and two hours from Albuquerque, has the longest ski season in the state, generally from the beginning of November to the beginning of April. It bills itself as one of the fastest-growing resorts in New Mexico — that’s probably true, and likely because it’s a laid-back, family-friendly getaway with 41 trails, six lifts, and no waiting.
And at Sipapu, if you time it right, there’s no need to wait until aprés-ski to enjoy your other favorite pastime, either. On February 17, 2018, Santa Fe Brewing Company will host its second annual Happy Hops scavenger hunt, where you can scour the mountain for Santa Fe Brewing beer cans stuffed with prizes, and then redeem them at the base area, where locally brewed craft beer awaits you.
3. Double blacks and bratwurst, Taos
Most major ski resorts offer a variety of runs from terrifyingly steep to nearly flat. The dauntingly vertical Taos Ski Valley, however, unapologetically leans toward the former. Founded in 1954, Taos Ski Valley attracts intrepid skiers with its suite of black diamond and double black diamond runs, including the expert-only West Basin Ridge. That being said, there are a handful of beginner-level runs for the kids.
For aprés-ski, head down to New Mexico’s most enthusiastic wintertime ski community for bars full of skiers and snowboarders. Then make the drive over to Ojo Caliente Spa for a soak in natural mineral waters or a mud pool bath, or stay at the Bavarian Lodge in authentic-ish German comfort, complete with Alpine cuisine including spaetzle, wienerschnitzel, and strudel.
4. Mardi Gras in the Mountains, Red River
If you ever wanted to celebrate Fat Tuesday with some gumbo and some fresh powder (who said you had to choose?), head to Red River between February 8 and 13 for Mardi Gras in the Mountains. The town is a paradise of Western kitch and basically exists for the skiing, calling itself “the Ski Town of the Southwest.” It’s right in the middle of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and during this week in February, it’s definitely the best of both worlds.
After catching some beads, attending a Cajun cookoff, and dancing to zydeco, walk to the ski lifts from Main Street for some excellent Rocky Mountain skiing. You can hit up (and slide down) Red River Ski Area’s 63 runs — most are beginner or intermediate, making this a great spot for families. Another way to burn off those Mardi Gras calories is to take to the trails at the nearby Enchanted Forest Cross-Country Ski and Snowshoe Area.
5. Downhill skiing at 33.3° N
Ski Apache is New Mexico’s only ski resort to be owned by a local native American tribe. It’s located on the edge of the Mescalero Apache Reservation and near the towns of Ruidoso and Lincoln (the latter is known for its association with Billy the Kid). It also happens to be one of the southernmost ski resorts in the US, more or less equal in latitude with Myrtle Beach, SC (at, roughly, 33.3° N).
Ski Apache offers unique ski classes, like the Men’s Mountain Masters (men-only) and the Snow Divas (women-only). Pick up some skills and try out all 55 of their runs. Or, if you can’t stay upright on either a snowboard or a pair of skis, head up the mountain on the state’s only eight-passenger gondola to the “Gazebo” at the 11,500-foot summit. Take the zipline tour down and you’ll get to the bottom faster than anybody.
6. Nuclear skiing, Pajarito
Pajarito Ski Area, in the Jemez Mountains just 15 minutes from Los Alamos, is historically tied to the Manhattan Project, and its trails were enjoyed by many of the folks who worked (in secret) on the Bomb during World War II during their few leisure hours. Turns out, history and skiing go hand in hand, too.
After navigating down 44 named trails ranging from easy to difficult (and a terrain park, if that’s your thing), head over to the Bradbury Science Museum and then to the Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op for some craft beers with bona fide Los Alamos National Lab eggheads. If you’re a beer connoisseur, you’re in good hands. Hint: Their beer-making method is very precise.
7. Terrain parks galore, Angel Fire
Angel Fire, New Mexico’s favorite get-away-from-it-all ski resort, turned 50 last year. Half a century since it’s founding, it’s now expanding its terrain parks and trails under the guidance of ski guru John Eppler, with plans for a new boardercross / ski cross course inspired by courses Eppler created for the Winter X Games.
The resort is also home to some hike-access steeps and the “Stash Parks,” which use features of the natural landscape to give riders and skiers a place to play. There are 80 trails, three terrain parks, and four glade trails over 30 acres that let you dip and soar through the trees like nature intended, and the truly intrepid can experience night skiing on select evenings. Book a cabin or stay at the Lodge at Angel Fire to make a weekend of it.