Going Further Afield: Santa Fe, New Mexico 4
By Anne Fitzpatrick, Guest Author

When my friend Kari and I boarded the Super Chief Quad lift at the base of Ski Santa Fe resort a week ago Saturday, the young couple sharing the chair with us were too busy making out passionately to notice that anyone else was there. This did not bother us and in fact was kind of amusing. Besides, we were too busy chatting about what a beautiful day it was and how we could not wait to head all the way up to the top of the Tesuque Peak Chair Lift to - you guessed it - 12,000 foot Tesuque Peak.

Not only is the view from Tesuque Peak simply stunning, but it is very easy to get to. Ski Santa Fe is like a Santa Fean’s own personal ski area. This place is practically in my own backyard - a mere 16 mile drive from my house up New Mexico highway 475 -; Artist Road past Hyde State Park. This morning, Kari called me and said “Get your gear!” She did not need to twist my arm, and off we went. We were on the slopes about 45 minutes later, looking forward to an afternoon of delightful skiing.

It’s springtime in New Mexico: the deciduous trees along the Rio Grande are turning green, the crocuses and tulips are peeking through the ground, love is in the air, and the juniper pollen is in full blast and the cause of much sneezing. But it’s all very welcome except perhaps for this last aspect. The temperature reached about 60 degrees down at my house today, and the mid-50s up at the ski area. The sky was crystal clear, and about a foot of new slightly wet snow was on the ground. New Mexico got some late winter blasts in March, at the bottom of the storm system that dumped up to 5 feet in places in Colorado. Today Ski Santa Fe reported an 86-inch base and had received 12 new inches of snow in the previous days. The thick, white snow-coated pines against the azure blue ski were awe-inspiring.

Ski Santa Fe is not big area, but its variety of slopes, convenience, weather, and views make it a favorite of many people - both locals and visitors - year after year. It boasts 660 total acres of terrain with a 1703 vertical foot drop. Its 44 trails are of mixed difficulties: 20 percent easy, 40 percent intermediate, and 40 percent expert. Usually about half of its runs are groomed. The base sits at 10,350 feet, and its highest point is 12,053 feet.

Ski Santa Fe has six lifts, including one quad, one triple chair, a beginner double chair that serves the green Easy Street slope, a tiny rope-tow surface lift and children’s area rope-tow surface lift. The area is due to receive a new Millenium triple chair in the near future that will serve the north side and majority of black diamond runs. There have been on and off plans to expand the skiable area over the last several years but many locals have strongly opposed this - with well-founded reasons - due to ecological, water, and congestion concerns.

Ski Santa Fe is popular with snowboarders and families, and caters to kids with its Chipmunk Corner children’s center featuring daycare for babies, and ski lessons and fun winter activities for kids up to age nine.

The base area is small, but has an equipment rental counter, lockers, and various skier services such as lessons. La Casa Café Grill makes quite tasty frito pies, and further up the mountain is another café, Totemoff’s Bar and Grill, where people often spend half their day lounging on the outside deck during nice weather.

Today we started out cruising Upper Midland, Davey Lane, most of Upper Broadway, the Spruce Bowl (which is a blue run, not a bowl area) and Lower Broadway. Going up the Tesuque Peak Chairlift the first time, we cruised casually over to the north side of the area and glided down Sunset, over Camp Robber to Marmot and back to the Tesuque Peak lift, of course stopping several times to take photos of the spectacular scenery.

Left off of Sunset, the Tequila Sunrise, Wizard and Columbine are all very steep ungroomed tree runs that deposit you on the green Lower Burro that winds back down to the Tesuque Peak and Sierra lifts.

The second time we got off the top of the Tesuque Peak lift, we headed right onto Gayway, which is what we had been looking forward to the most: the wide blue Gayway and black Cornice runs open up into one of the most beautiful views in the world, as the New Mexico desert stretches out before you from the city of Santa Fe to Sandia Mountain in Albuquerque and west towards Grants and the Navajo Nation. On a clear day you can see for 100 miles. I personally have never encountered a better view at any ski area in the United States. It is simply gorgeous up here, with some of the most romantic views one may ever witness.

Continuing down, Gayway becomes black and bumpy towards its end, but we managed this quite easily. We cruised around on the Open Slope several times, and I had fun checking out black diamond Muerte then over to Spruce Bowl and back down to the base.

The lifts open every day at 9:00 am and run until 3:45 or 4:00 pm. The base area lifts close at 4:00 pm sharp, and we caught lift #2 right at 3:59 pm to get in one final run, swinging violently back and forth on the trip up as the stoners sitting behind us were preoccupied with bouncing up and down in their chair. We got one last run in on nearly empty slopes at 4:15 on the Open Slope and Lower Midland. Today was my last day of the 2002-2003 ski season and I enjoyed every minute of it as did Kari.

I’ll be back here again though long before next winter arrives. The ski area is located in the Sangre de Cristos mountain range, so named because of the deep crimson color they turn at sunset every evening. This range is the southernmost part of the Rocky Mountain chain. From mid-spring through the fall, hikers, campers, horseback-riders, mountain-bikers and outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the extensive trails that wind through these mountains and around and near the ski area.

Too, every fall from late September to mid-October Ski Santa Fe runs a couple of its chairlifts for sight-seers to ride up to the top of the mountain to view the Aspens as they turn blazing yellow-gold.

Ski Santa Fe does not have any lodging on site, but numerous nice hotels and charming bed and breakfasts are found in the city just down at the foot of the mountains. Santa Fe contains many wonderful restaurants ranging from gourmet fusion cuisine to spicy New Mexican fare. One could write an entire separate essay about where to stay and dine, and on the many wonderful things to do and see here.

For a real treat, on your way down the mountain from the ski area stop in at Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Health Spa on Artist Road for a soak in an outdoor clothing-optional hot tub surrounded by trees, or a massage or other spa services. This place is incredible, so reservations are strongly recommended.

Albuquerque is the nearest major airport. Santa Fe is a little over an hour’s drive north from Albuquerque via I-25. Santa Fe itself has a tiny airport, but only offers limited commuter services and a few daily and extremely expensive United Airlines prop plane flights to and from Denver.

Ski Santa Fe will close this Sunday, April 6, 2003. Spring skiing in New Mexico can get a little mushy, yet during the last two days of the season, April 5th and 6th, Ski Santa Fe is offering $22.00 lift tickets. Washingtonians had better hurry out here if they want to catch this deal.

I have been coming to Ski Santa Fe since 1995, and have never tired of it. All of New Mexico has a kind of enchanting draw to it, and for skiers, the snow, lovely weather, and vistas are irresistible. Ski Santa Fe has a fun and friendly atmosphere and attracts a lot of interesting folks; sometimes I even bump in to people I know here. And all right, just maybe when I find the love of my life, I wouldn’t mind making out on that chair lift either.

Photos provided by Anne Fitzpatrick.

About the Author

Anne Fitzpatrick is a Washingtonian who currently lives in Santa Fe and works at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. She will be in Washington, D.C. next week just in time for the Cherry Blossom Festival.

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Reader Comments

Kevin R.
April 3, 2003
Hey, sounds pretty sweet and at only 16 miles away, why not ski everyday! ;-)

So when does the season open? Southwest flies into Albuquerque and would be do able from us folks out here near BWI... passing up Salt Lake.

Would it be worth it for a weekend or so? Is there lodging?

I keep thinking about trying Utah early season with same idea but debate on whether it is worth trouble for less than a week...

???
Johnfmh
April 3, 2003
Anne:

I'm surprised Santa Fe is installing a new triple. I thought triples went out of style years ago. It seems like most new lifts these days are 6-packs or at the very minimum, high-speed quads. Perhaps Santa Fe is buying a second hand lift for its expansion. That might make good financial sense for a small resort.

BTW, I have good memories of viewing Santa Fe Mountain from the NE Heights area of Albuquerque. Alb also has a little ski area at Sandia Peak, but I did not have time to ski it on my last trip. I did, however, take the tram to the top of Sandia for a sunset view. Cool Mountain. The Alb side is a sheer stone cliff but the backside (the ski area side) is forested and more gradual in grade. Maybe you'll provide us with a firsthand acct. of Sandia next year.

PS Another cool thing about Sandia is that you can access the tram station via public transportation. I could easily see skiing there daily if I lived in Alb.
JimK
April 4, 2003
Super. I enjoyed a beautiful day at Ski Santa Fe in March 1992. It has one of the highest base elevations in the US, or the world for that matter. I remember some picturesque runs in the area of Columbine and Lower Burro, tons of snow and evergreens high above the dessert landscape below. I also remember getting some good New Mexican food in a roadside joint with live music in the town of Tesuque afterwards.
Anne
April 4, 2003
Kevin,

Ski Santa Fe usually opens around Thanksgiving, but it greatly depends on hom much snow there is. They do make snow there as well.

Southwest is the dominant carrier into Albuquerque. I don't know if there is a direct flight between BWI and Albuquerque or not. I personally don't like flying Southwest because it's like a cattle car and they're never on time.

Santa Fe has all kinds of lodging and people do come out here to ski for a long weekend during the winter. Some people do a day at Santa Fe and a day or two at Taos.

John - I think smaller ski areas still use triples just because there isn't the volume of people as at, say, Snowshoe, WV where I remember the lift lines being terrible ten years ago.

I've never skied Sandia; it is owned by the same people who own Santa Fe. Sadly, Sandia didn't open this year due to lack of snow. Pajarito in Los Alamos only opened for a few days this year as well for the same reason. Now there is an area I want to review: Pajarito is small but has some wicked, challenging runs. I learned to downhill ski there.

Ah, it would be nice to ski every day but one has to earn a living somehow...so for now I'll keep my day job ;-)

Ski and Tell

Speak truth to powder.

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