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New Mexico Ski Area Guide -- Very Complete
- Angel Fire Resort, Angel Fire • 445 skiable acres on 2077' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 10,677'; Base elevation: 8600'. 6 Lifts: 2 quads, 3 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 5700/hr. Terrain Mix: 31-48-21. Longest Run: 16,900'. Season: usually early December to March. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 210". Snowmaking: 52%.
The SKInny: Unfortunately Angel Fire is better known for what it could be than for what it is. This is a golf/condo/resort type place that happens to offer skiing. The skiing happens to be on a fabulous 2000+ feet of vertical, with trails of every type, length, and variety. If you can manage to ski Angel Fire mid week, in mid January, you've got a fantastic day of skiing to look forward to. If you arrive on a holiday weekend or during spring break you are in for some tough sledding: Long liftlines, understaffed facilities, illogical operations. The snow is often fantastic, skiing can be great. Needs more lifts and some traffic and trail planning to make this a legitimate contender. Reminds you of the gifted athlete who has all the tools but is just too lazy to train properly. As it is now, it's very much a mountain for intermediates and developing skiers who are more concerned about the resort experience than the skiing. Except for the back country, nothing much here for the hotshot except long liftlines.
- Ski Apache, Ruidoso • 750 skiable acres on 1900' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,500'; Base elevation: 9600'. 11 Lifts: 1 gondie, 2 quads, 5 triples, 1 double, 2 surface. Uphill capacity: 16,500/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-35-45. Longest Run: 12,145'. Season: usually late November to March. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 185". Snowmaking: 33%.
The SKInny: Inundated with Texans. Caters to 'em. Now, Texans are great people, but they aren't known for being great skiers. That isn't usually a problem, unless you happen to prefer extremely difficult, uncrowded trails. Apache has neither. But it is a terrific ski area, and manages the crowds well. And the Texans are laughing out loud -- they live in balmy El Paso and ski 1900' vertical just a few hours away in Ruidoso. Conditions can be spotty; Apache is seldom fully open. The trail layout naturally herds a lot of people to the right hand side of the ski area, as a result the bowl and gladed areas are frequently untracked and fabulous. Not a heck of a lot here for the hotshot, other than the trip up the mountain road. Wanderers will be ok. Great for families.
Signature Trail: Capitan.
- Pajarito, Los Alamos • 280 skiable acres on 1410' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 10,411'; Base elevation: 9200'. 6 Lifts: 1 quad, 1 triple, 3 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 6,500/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-50-30. Longest Run: 6340'. Season: usually late December to mid April; Fri-Sun plus holidays. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 150".
The SKInny: This is a terrific ski area with a little something for everyone. Steep bump runs for hotshots, groomed cruisers for advancing intermediates, true greens for beginners, even a trail for skiers only. Arguably one of the best, if not the best, ski areas in New Mexico. It's run by a local club/board of trustees type group, and the emphasis is solely on skiing...not condos, or golfing, or catering. The only knock on the place is that it isn't open during the week, but that keeps costs under control and the snow on the slopes. Trails snake like ribbons off Pajarito Mountain, with virtually no winding turnpikes that intersect with the diamonds. It makes for some great, leg-burning runs. Some of the trails might be redundant, seeming virtually the same as the one next to it, but the sheer quantity of these trails keeps the skiing clean and crowd-free. Be warned that the bump runs really are bump runs -- Pajarito has some groomed trails, but not overly so. An excellent ski area for every type of skier: Hotshot, wanderer, beginner...you name it.
Signature Trail: Aspen, Nuther Mother.
- Red River Ski & Snowboard Area, Red River • 290 skiable acres on 1600' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 10,350'; Base elevation: 8750'. 7 Lifts: 2 triples, 4 doubles, 1 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 6720/hr. Terrain Mix: 32-38-30. Longest Run: 13,200'. Season: usually late November to late March. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 200". Snowmaking: 87%.
The SKInny: Quirky operation. Has three distinct base areas, a novice "backside," and a lot of old lifts that seem slow and cranky. Pleasant village of Red River makes the place feel like a legitimate mountain ski town, which it is I guess, but the skiing falls a little short. Known for long lines during holidays and vacation weeks.
Signature Trails: Broadway, The Face (actually one trail)
- Sandia Peak Ski & Tramway, Albuquerque • 200 skiable acres on 1700' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 10,378'; Base elevation: 8678'. 7 Lifts: 1 tram, 4 doubles, 1 poma, 1 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 4500/hr. Terrain Mix: 35-55-10. Longest Run: 13,200'. Season: usually mid December to mid March. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 125". Snowmaking: 15%.
The SKInny: Where Albuquerque locals ski. Mostly intermediate terrain, icy at times. Unfortunately Sandia hasn't kept up with the times; lifts are slow, lines can get long on some weekends. Weekdays are empty...but so is everywhere else. Overall the views are fantastic; this "feels" like a much bigger vertical drop because of the incredible desert panorama. Snow can be hard to find; head north when conditions at Sandia are iffy. Hotshots and wanderers will not like Sandia; it has only a dozen or so legitimate trails. Another seven or eight trails are very short chutes, and they happen to be most of the black diamond trails. But again, this is a great asset for locals, and it has great skiing. Just don't head to Sandia with the idea that it is a "destination" ski resort.
Signature Trails: Cibola, Double Eagle.
- Ski Santa Fe, Santa Fe • 660 skiable acres on 1700' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 12,053'; Base elevation: 10,353'. 7 Lifts: 1 quad, 2 triples, 2 doubles, 1 poma, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 7,800/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-40-40. Longest Run: 15,840'. Season: usually mid December to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 225". Snowmaking: 45%.
The SKInny: Like its sister ski area at Sandia, Ski Santa Fe is another underachiever. Also on US Forest Service land, it's an underdone ski resort operating slow lifts with conditions that tend toward less than optimum. Unlike Sandia, Ski Santa Fe is sort of a destination spot for Texans on spring break. As a result it can be nightmarish during holiday weeks, from impossible parking to unbelievably long lines. But, if you can catch this area with decent conditions on an off-peak time, you will honestly think you found skiing nirvana. Ski Santa Fe is hard to find at its best, but when you do, it's hard to beat.
Signature Trail: Columbine Glade, Gateway.
- Sipapu Ski & Summer Resort, Penasco • 70 skiable acres on 1055' vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 9255'; Base elevation: 8200'. 4 Lifts: 2 triples, 2 pomas. Uphill capacity: 2900/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-50-30. Longest Run: 7,000'. Season: usually late November to March. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 130". Snowmaking: 45%.
The SKInny: Small, throwback ski area, seldom crowded. Doesn't measure up to the bigger resorts, but it's hard not to have fun at Sipapu. Not for hotshots, not for a group of experts, but outstanding for families, emerging blues, etc. Even the wanderer will enjoy this for a day. No lines, great views, outstanding prices. Isn't necessarily the best place to learn to ski, but anyone above pure snowplow will have a great time at Sipapu. Don't show up expecting Taos-type skiing. Expect mildly challenging, uncrowded slopes, quiet atmosphere.
Signature Trails: Oops, Butterfly.
- Ski Rio, Costilla • 1100 skiable acres on 2100' vertical
Specs: currently closed.
- Taos Ski Valley, Taos • 1300 skiable acres on 2600' vertical (additional vertical not lift served)
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,819'; Base elevation: 9207'. 12 Lifts: 4 quadS, 1 triple, 5 doubles, 2 surface. Uphill capacity: 15,500/hr. Terrain Mix: 24-25-51. Longest Run: 30,360'. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300". Snowmaking: 50%.
The SKInny: Historic ski area built by Ernie Blake, still run by the Blake family. It isn't what you consider a typical ski destination, but Taos is worth the trip. You'll find legendary terrain: a combination of mountain cirques, meadows, forests...and all types of ski runs: from bowls, chutes, glades, gentle groomers, to the front-and-center show-off run-the-zipper mogul-basher known as Al's Run. Easterners talk about Superstar, Coloradans talk about Ajax Express or the Tourist Trap, but the ultimate hot drop for hotshots is Al's at Taos, end of discussion. So yes, Taos is prime skiing for hotshots. When conditions are on, it's also wanderer heaven, and the sheer quantity of terrain means that the 24% rated novice is a healthy dose of trails. Lifts are efficient, terrain is varied, and the feeling at the base area is a laid-back cool. For the pedal-to-the-metal maniac, Taos has extreme skiing that defies sanity. For the get-away-from-it-all skier bent on making fresh tracks, Taos has plenty of hiker-served backcountry. When the weather in the southern Rockies is unkind to skiers, Taos isn't necessarily your first choice for a ski vacation, but its snowmaking does top anything else in the southwest. Taos is #1 in the region, and a true treasure as ski areas go. We used to make a big deal out of their "no snowboards" rule, but economics dictated a new policy. Fact is, the snowboarders we've met in this region are cool. So we're ok with that.
Signature Trail: Al's Run.
Taos Ski Valley, with Kachina Peak in background, circa 1960.
Best all-around Skiing Guide for Women...
Mom has a pretty raw deal on the average ski trip. They're expected to make sure every child is geared up and ready to go...settle the arguments, feed the family, prepare the snacks, pack the chapstick, and so on...and then ski the black diamonds with dad after the second lesson.
The book, Skiing: A Woman's Guide by Maggie Loring and Molly Mulhern Gross ought to be mandatory reading for every ski mom. It not only provides the basics for managing the gang, it also gives a step-by-step instructional guide from a woman's point-of-view. This link is to amazon.com, where you can usually pick up a used copy for about two bucks. Mom, it's the best two bucks you'll spend all winter.
Hotshots are skiers who can ski anywhere, anytime, in any conditions, and generally enjoy showing off those skills. Wanderers are skiers who like to go exploring, to essentially get "lost" and move from face to face, seldom skiing the same trail twice. Newbies are the girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband who has never skied before, but gamely insists on going along. Obviously, Blues represents intermediate skiers, while Blacks refers to experts.
A note about ski area statistics: Although it's hard to believe, some ski areas are (gasp!) less than truthful with their numbers. Like the guy who lies about his, uh, shoe size, some ski areas believe that inflated numbers make their resort sound more appealling. When these numbers are obviously questionable, we put a note: (?!) and will attempt to verify the legitimacy of the claim.
A Signature Trail Is mostly subjective. Whether it's history, reputation, the view, or degree of difficulty...it's the run you have to do, even if it isn't necessarily the best the resort has to offer. If a ski area calls a trail by two names (one at the top, and another at the bottom) in an effort to claim more trails, we go by the upper name. If a trail is called "Upper Whatever" and "Lower Whatever," we simply list it as "Whatever" in this index.
Trail to Improvement
Probably the most helpful book I've seen to help you make the jump from strong blue to expert or hotshot level, is All-Mountain
Skier: The Way to Expert Skiing, by R. Mark Elling. If you've tried to follow the recommendations in magazines and books, and had trouble mimicking the photos, this book somehow makes it all work, makes it understandable and easier to apply on the slopes. This link goes to amazon.com, where you can generally snag a used copy for about six bucks, or buy a nice squeaky clean one for about 20% less than retail.
-- Rick Bolger
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