Though people from outside the state often think of New Mexico as a dry, stark environment, more known for earth tones than green and certainly not perceived as a place receiving copious snowfall each year. They don’t realize how many alpine regions exist in the southern Rockies. Though our neighbor to the north is known for fantastic skiing, and is consistently one of the top vacation destinations for winter recreation, New Mexico resorts are lesser known, less expensive and don’t require patience for crowds at the lift lines. The higher elevations usually receive an abundance of light, dry snow, creating a haven for powder enthusiasts. The 300+ days of sunshine create skiing conditions that don’t require arctic tundra wear to avoid freezing. However, the quality of New Mexico skiing is heavily influenced by El Niño/La Niña weather patterns.
El Niño/La Niña load the dice for New Mexico’s winter weather, encouraging the jet stream to follow patterns that determine whether the winter storms slice through southern Colorado into Texas, or dip further south into New Mexico, blanketing the southern Rockies in snow. Every year, as the winter months approach, tales of El Niño-induced, record-setting snowfall and endless powder days for the ski season start to swirl. Often it is little more than wishful thinking, with several consecutive years of drought, and lighter than normal moisture, putting a damper on small, northern communities relying on healthy snowfall to bring skiers and snowboarders to their restaurants and businesses. However, there’s no reason not to have an optimistic outlook and the meterological indications support the influence of a moderate to strong El Niño this year. Usually that brings wetter weather and more snow to the desert southwest. Northern New Mexico has already seen a few flakes, with the mountainsides lightly covered in snow providing contrast to the fading gold of the aspens. This is good news for New Mexico ski areas and a great opportunity for everyone to take advantage of New Mexico's dry powder.
Taos Ski Valley is rated the best ski resort in the state by onthesnow.com, with Angel Fire ski resort coming in second. Taos prides itself on being a rugged, authentic place for skiers to challenge themselves. With one of the top ski schools in the country, they have runs to challenge the advanced skier and facilities to train people new to the slopes. 12,481 foot Kachina Peak offers skiing and snowboarding to entertain the most experienced. For people looking for beginner and intermediate slopes and fewer crowds, Taos is a good place to start, because Angel Fire, Red River and Sipapu are nearby.
Angel Fire is thirty minutes to the east of Taos. Angel Fire Resort is known for an abundance of beginner and intermediate terrain. If you prefer cross country or snow shoes, the Angel Fire Nordic Area has trails that will keep you occupied and entertained until the snow melts.
Red River Ski Area and Enchanted Circle Cross Country Ski area are a short drive from Angel Fire and Taos. Red River makes getting to the slope ridiculously easy, with a chair lift heading up the mountain off of Main Street. Though not as challenging as Taos, Red River offers very affordable vacation packages for families interested in beginner and intermediate runs. Additionally, Enchanted Forest, outside of Red River, is a beautiful destination for cross country sking or snow shoeing.
Sipapu is south of Angel Fire, near historic Chimayo. With so many ski resorts nearby, Sipapu offers a variety of runs to challenge and entertain novices to experts, usually with fewer people than Angel Fire and Taos.
In the northwest corner of the state, on the Colorado border, Ski Chama hosts the cross country Chama Chile Ski Classic in mid-January. When the winter weather conditions are favorable, most of the public lands near Chama have groomed trails for some form of winter use, whether snow shoeing, cross country skiing, ice fishing, etc. Many trails are open to snow mobiles. Affordable rental on gear is available in Chama.
Further south, with a 12,075 foot summit, 1,725 foot vertical drop, 77 trails, 225 inches of average annual snowfall, Ski Santa Fe has the benefit of excellent skiing conditions and easy access to Santa Fe, a town consistently ranked as a top vacation destination. Between the ski area and Santa Fe, 10,000 Waves Spa provides close of day hedonism and relaxation. With so many world class restaurants, museums and galleries nearby, Santa Fe Ski Area is New Mexico’s Aspen (Taos would be New Mexico’s Vail)...maybe it is the other way around. Any thoughts?
Pajarito is located on the eastern slopes of the Jemez mountains, northwest of Santa Fe, near Los Alamos. Conditions vary yearly based on weather conditions. With a 1440 foot vertical drop, 300 acres of terrain and little traffic, they often have outstanding powder conditions for local skiers alert to the opportunity.
The Valle Caldera, also in the Jemez Mountains, offers the opportunity to cross country ski or snow shoe in a super volcano. There are a limited number of opportunities to camp in this amazing, breathtaking area. They also provide horse drawn sleigh rides when the conditions are right in the winter (note: this makes for a splendid Christmas or Valentine’s Day gift).
Sandia Peak ski area, outside of Albuquerque, is New Mexico’s oldest ski and snowboard resort. Access to the ski area involves driving through the canyon from Albuquerque, around and up. For those seeking more immediate satisfaction, the ski lift can be accessed within 20 minutes by taking the Sandia Tram, which is an experience unto itself. The 60-person aerial tram rises 4,000 vertical feet, going through three distinct biospheres on the way. The rock formations along the way are beautiful and formidable.
Ski Apache, in southeastern New Mexico, is owned by the Mescalero Apache Native America Tribe and is home to the state’s only gondola. Their beginner run, Snow Park, is known for being one of the most difficult beginner runs in the world, steeper than some blues at the resort.
Ski Cloudcroft, near Alamogordo in the Lincoln National Forest, is 9,000 feet above sea level, often with ski conditions conducive to a t-shirt. Not that I recommend that. A wicked sunburn would be inevitable. More affordable and less crowded than some of the more prestigious ski areas, Cloudcroft is a good alternative for families looking for a getaway without congestion on the lift lines.
Click on any resort below to check on weather reports and ski conditions for New Mexico ski resorts. Please leave comments about your favorite New Mexico ski area, winter destination or activity. Most importantly, be thankful when the snow arrives and ski New Mexico!
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Ski New Mexico
Snowboard, Alpine, Cross country
New Mexico Nomad