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New Mexico Skiing
November, 2011, Page 60
Taos Ski Valley
Santa Fe and Taos are famous for their arts scenes, but the surrounding slopes make a scenic ski escape for bunny-slopers to black-diamond daredevils.
It starts with a soft chant somewhere up on the dark, snow-covered ski slope. “TOOORCH-light…. TOOORCH-light....”
Pink road flares glow against the Red River Ski Area’s black-diamond run. A long line of skiers and snowboarders – some adult instructors, some children barely tall enough to sip from a drinking fountain – start to weave their way down a short black-diamond that ends at the Red River lift house. They wave the flares like firework sparklers, and an expectant crowd is gathered at the rail of the lift house saloon.
The traditional torchlight “parade” at this family-owned ski resort may seem a bit campy, but it underscores the uniqueness of New Mexico’s skiing opportunities. While we Valley dwellers have our own snowplay traditions at Flagstaff’s Snowbowl and Sunrise Ski Resort in the White Mountains, ski resorts in north-central New Mexico are offering some attractive new options for families, friends, casual skiers and downhill daredevils that are worth a serious look as the ski season approaches.
Powder Steeps, Angel Fire Resort
Angel Fire Resort
This 45-year-old ski resort sits two hours from historic downtown Santa Fe at a base elevation of 8,600 feet. With a summit at 10,677 feet, that’s almost a half-mile drop along runs mostly suited for intermediate skiers. The mountain offers glade skiing (tight, thinly wooded areas between runs that technical skiers enjoy), two freestyle parks and three cross-country trails of varying degrees of difficulty. Crews can make enough snow to cover half of the runs.
Start at the lower lodge and take the Chile Express high-speed quad lift to the summit – well, almost the summit. This lift drops skiers about 600 feet short of the true top, but it has other features that the summit lift does not – namely, a bar and grill, a small open-aired chapel (so you can pray for your backside to survive) and excellent opportunities to photograph the sweeping view of the valley below.
Exit the lift, go left and try Hallelujah (green), Hully Gully (blue) or Hells Bells (black). Speedsters will love the Nitro run – an arrow-straight black-diamond that zips from the top down to a green so skiers can ease off the gas as they approach the lift.
The ski season is loaded with quirky events. In late January, the resort hosts its “Big Ol’ Texas” weekend with music, food and poker tournaments. Last February, the resort hosted the Travel Channel’s world-championship of shovel racing, a 1,200-foot skid down a groomed track at speeds of up to 60 mph. And then there’s Mardi Gras, which draws one of Angel Fire’s top client bases: Southerners. Evidence of the resort’s weeklong festivities is in the treetops, where colorful beads dangle after being tossed by skiers riding the chairlift to the top. (Mardi Gras is scheduled for the third week in February next year.)
couple enjoys a glass of wine, Angel Fire Resort
The most recent addition to this corporate-owned ski resort is Angel Fire Resort Country Club, which offers a more upscale option to the resort’s lodge. The original facility was gutted and renovated for $16 million in May 2010 and now features a modern, timber-and-stone lodge with views of Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico’s tallest peak, and panoramic vistas of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains surrounding Angel Fire. Store that pricey pinot noir in the club’s 2,200-bottle private wine cellar, hit the slopes, then come back for a dip in the club’s indoor swimming pool before heading upstairs to Elements for a fine-dining experience in its private wine room.
a snowboarder catches air at Ski Santa Fe
Ski Santa Fe
One of the ancillary benefits of living in the artistic and cultural hub of Santa Fe, famed for its charming historic center, is having a solid all-around ski area in the backyard. Located just 16 miles from town, this family-oriented powder paradise features a new high-speed chairlift that zips skiers up to the 12,075-foot summit, as well as The Boneyard, a freestyle terrain park.
Warm up with an easy cruise along Broadway (blue, then green), and stay to the right to catch the Millennium chairlift to the summit, which offers jaw-dropping views on the ascent. Exit the chair and bank left onto Sunset (blue), tapping into other blue- and black-diamond runs on the way down while weaving past snow-covered boulders and gliding through powdered glades.
After returning to the Millennium lift, opt for the adjacent Tesuque Peak chairlift. At the top, turn right and head down Gay Way. It’s the mountain’s can’t-miss run, says Ski Santa Fe snowsports school director Bill Gould. “It’s a beautiful wide boulevard from the top that has fantastic views and great snow.”
Ski Santa Fe operators have carved a new black-diamond trail into the mountain called Richard’s Run, which drops from 11,000-foot-high alpine glades into several blue runs. They have also revived the “Beats on the Basin” event, which features musical acts playing inside the mid-mountain facilities between January 21 and March 24. Winterfest will offer various ski-related events, art galleries and more from January 27 through February 5. New construction is adding 6,000 square feet of space to the chalet’s retail, rental and food areas, but the work won’t be completed until the 2012-13 ski season, says Ski Santa Fe spokeswoman Debi Owen.
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