The air is thin and dry at 11,500 feet on a mid-February morning. The clouds have parted, the sun is shining, and 6 inches of fresh powder blanket the double-black runs off Taos Ski Valley’s Highline Ridge near Taos, New Mexico.
“There are no friends on a powder day,” the old saying goes. Still, a hard-charging local is patiently waiting for me to follow him down Tresckow, a tree run stashed with snow. But first I turn 360 degrees to soak in the 100-mile view. The arid Rio Grande Valley spans the west while 13,167-foot Wheeler Peak, the tallest in New Mexico, rises to the southeast. Before I drop in, I silently thank the snow gods that I live in a state that is an unsung mecca of skiing.
That doesn’t mean all of New Mexico’s eight alpine areas require boot packing to double–black-diamond runs. From Ski Apache, the southernmost ski area in the United States, owned by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, to Red River, a family-owned mountain rising out of a historic mining town, there is a style of schussing here to match every skier and snowboarder profile.
New Mexico goes way beyond having just mountains with snow. It also has the heady combination of sunshine, Southwestern eats, and a melting-pot American Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo culture. Where else in the country will you find a green-chile cheeseburger served at the base of almost every mountain and have après ski access to hot springs where Natives have been soaking for centuries?
Here’s a sampling of the ski ambience that only New Mexico offers: hearty, organic Southwest breakfasts; vistas that include sand dunes and cacti; and après-ski Silver Coin margaritas.
Southeastern New Mexico has always been my blind spot. I’ve spent little time there and am mystified by how such a vast, arid, wide-open space could hide the Sierra Blanca, a range that contains a ski area with 11 lifts and 55 runs—and tops out at 11,500 feet. About 200 miles southeast of Albuquerque, in cornmeal-colored, cactus-filled scrubland and black volcanic country known as the Valley of Fires, you’ll find a much larger and fiercer mountain than expected. In fact, it requires guts just to get to Ski Apache. The only way up is via a twisty, precipitous 12-mile road marked with yellow wild horses warning signs. This is truly skiing in the Wild West.
Ski Apache may not have the most difficult terrain in New Mexico, but it has enough challenges to keep skiing interesting for a long weekend, from the variable snow conditions in Apache Bowl to the black-diamond bump run known as Terrible.
Also keeping things interesting is the Apache Wind Rider ZipTour, one of the longest zip lines in the world, where you can James Bond your way down 8,900 feet at speeds of more than 65 mph. 575-464-3600; skiapache.com.
Ski Santa Fe
About 213 miles north of Ski Apache, I gawked under bluebird skies from the top of 12,053-foot Gayway, an epic cruiser run at Ski Santa Fe that has massive views to Sandia Peak in the south and the Jemez Mountains in the west.
This ski area, which sits 18 miles northeast of Santa Fe, is the city’s best-kept secret, with two “magic carpet” conveyor lifts for beginners and huckable cliff bands for experts. The grooming crew here is one of the best in the Southwest, so if you catch the first chair up, you’re guaranteed to find a perfectly crenulated cruiser, if not fresh powder. Either way, the sensation going down is nothing short of flying. 505-982-4429; skisantafe.com.