Enchanted skiing in New Mexico

Photo by Dino Vournas: Skiers at Huntziger Bowl at Taos Ski Valley.

 

Bob Cox Ski Blog: Enchanted Skiing in New Mexico

 

TAOS, N.M.  – The image of a towering mogul run rising out of the base area at Taos Ski Valley has terrified newcomers to New Mexico skiing for decades.

Even the sign promising that what you see is only a fraction of the skiable terrain, and that there are many easier runs, doesn’t calm many first-time visitors.

Taos remains one of the top destinations on any serious skier’s dance card, mostly because you can now ride a chairlift to the 12,450 Kachina Peak. It was the centerpiece of this five-day trip for our traveling group in late January, but we also enjoyed Ski Santa Fe and Angel Fire, two ski areas with less renown but much to offer.

For most in our group, the adventure began with a flight to Albuquerque or Santa Fe.  Southern California skiers may have noticed stories and ads offering direct air of Taos Air from Hawthorne Airport to Taos for about $300. What’s not to like about that? And they throw in free rental skis or snowboards if you don’t bring your own. (Side note: Ski Butlers covers much of the western U.S. skiing map but is not yet in New Mexico. If you are not bringing your own skis, you are renting at the ski area.)

New Mexico skiing promises awesome views, varied terrain, snow that includes dry powder with consistency, monstrous peaks – and wide-open spaces. In four days at three resorts, we never spent 3 minutes in a lift line, and that may be a generous exaggeration.  Granted, we were skiing mostly mid-week on a non-holiday week, but that’s the best time to enjoy any ski area.

Our group included skiers from both coasts and at least one from middle America, and the raves about New Mexico skiing started early from the first-time visitors and continue throughout the trip.

In a ski world now dominated by the giant corporations and the two mega passes (Epic and Ikon), this is a trip back to family-owned resorts and skiing with family in mind. It’s a world where high-end lodging remains affordable and where you are more than a number to the staff. Whether it’s the Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe, the El Monte Sagrano in Taos, or The Blake at Taos Ski Valley, old-world values resonate at the lodging properties.

The towns of Santa Fe and Taos are year-round attraction and each has a special niche for attracting the high-end customers that come to festivals and warm-weather events. Neither town is as crowded during ski season as during the summer, which makes for some easy decisions as you plan your trip.

Our trip started at Ski Santa Fe, a family-owned area that includes the fifth highest base area in North America at 10,350 feet. The lift-served peak exceeds 12,000 feet, which helps explain the heavy breathing from a few in our group who live at sea level. The Abruzzo family has owned Ski Santa Fe since the 1980s, and third-generation general manager, Ben, vows that his family will remain true to core values of quality wages for employees, a great ski product, and prices that remain short of the stratosphere. (A daily lift ticket is $86.)

Long cruising runs, mixed in with enough steeps and trees to keep your interest marked this day for us. The town of Santa Fe is one of the most attractive in the ski world and two nights barely scratched the surface of the dining attractions.

We moved 90 minutes up the state to Taos, where we dropped our bags at the El Monte Sagrano and hit the mountain on a sunny but crisp morning. And while I had hiked the upper reaches of this powerful mountain 15 years ago on a previous visit, it was a thrill to get to the top via chairlift.

Taos Ski Valley remains one of those ski areas that cannot be over-rated. A run labelled with two black diamonds is to be respected as much as any in skiing. But there are also miles of cruising runs, and opportunities to test yourself through the trees for short powerful stretches.

TSV is about a half-hour shuttle from the town of Taos and many visitors remain at the lodging properties at the ski area. Our choice was to stay in the town and we enjoyed the options that allowed.

For our final day in New Mexico, we drove 45 minutes to Angel Fire, another privately owned mountain popular with skiers from the southwest, most notably Texas. Angel Fire’s 10,677-foot peak is reached by the long high-speed Chile Express lift, said to be the second longest in North America (after one at Sugarbush in Vermont). Long swooping groomers lent themselves to high-speed cruising, a nice change from the challenges of Taos the previous two days. Lift tickets that range from $70 to $80 per day are part of the attraction.

The skiing in New Mexico is a major reason for the visit, but the options for lodging, dining and exploring are a reason to extend your trip beyond Taos. Check with Ski New Mexico (skinewmexico.com) for promotions and special offers.

 

(bcskis@aol.com)     

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