Ski Apache is in the sweeping, majestic Rockies which rise dramatically from the Southwestern New Mexico desert. It has some very challenging terrain and spectacular views. It is the southern-most major ski area in the United States consistently open for a full season, and it gets abundant snow. Its average season begins at Thanksgiving and ends at Easter. The highest mountain is the 12,003-foot Sierra Blanca Peak, and skiers and snowboarders glide by on 55 trails which range from 9,600 to 11,500 feet in elevation.
One of the most fascinating aspects about Apache, to me, is the fact it is owned and operated by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, on lands of the Lincoln National Forest. We were able to scratch the surface and begin to learn about Indian culture, and the various tribes, during the visit. There were terrific representatives of the Tribes at Apache - perhaps best personified by ski instructor Ray Barela. We have a lot to learn about the Indians, and a visit to the Indian Heritage Museum in Washington might be a good start before any trip to New Mexico. In Ruidoso, there is also the Hubbard Museum of the American West, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian.
Ski Apache, and the rest of New Mexico, is home to many cultures. English and Spanish speaking skiers, of course, predominate. But, there are a growing number of Asians who have discovered the beauty and warmth of New Mexico sports and there are German skiers, who live with their families and train on some of the nearby military bases. The majority of visitors, of course, come from Texas and Arizona, in addition to New Mexico.
Visitors from the greater Washington, DC area can get here inexpensively on Southwest via BWI; Ski Apache is a 2-hour drive from El Paso, Texas and about 3 hours from Albuquerque. Our internet special was about $200 roundtrip per adult. The shared shuttle van was about $40 each way for two people. A lot less hassle than driving.
At the mountain, the majority of Ski Apache trails are listed as blues or blacks, but there are a number of greens. There is the challenging Apache Bowl which starts at the 11,500-foot level. On a clear day, you can see the White Sands Missile Range from the peak before you launch your own descent. Apache has some beautiful wide, sweeping trails in the beginning areas, such as Snow Park, Capitan, and Deep Freeze. Many are shielded by the forests which are a welcome refuge from the wind and snow. Trails have some great names, such as Ambush, Geronimo, Screaming Eagle, Dead End, The Terrible, and Moonshine Gulch. I didn’t see any named after Billy the Kid, although this is part of the country he inflicted with his robbery and killing spree.
Apache has the only Gondola in New Mexico, in addition to 10 other lifts. Many of them are showing signs of age, but plans are afoot to renovate them. Coming from the land of lawyers, I was a bit unnerved by chairs with no safety bars, but this is the Wild West and people here take more responsibility for themselves. Apache is constantly improving and opening new terrain and lodges. It will only get better as more people learn about it and visit. Apache also makes a special point of welcoming snowboarders. It’s Terrain Park is exceptionally beautiful.
Apache is about 180 miles from Albuquerque New Mexico, and 130 miles from El Paso, Texas. The drive is straight highway driving most of the way. But, there is a challenging, corkscrew road up to and down from the mountain which lasts for about 12 miles, up from the wonderful city of Ruidoso. If you don’t know the area, make certain to drive it in daylight. Chains may be required on your car, especially if you have not rented a four-wheel drive vehicle at the airport.
By the way, a brief word about snow. My husband Charles and I have decided we have a new motto - we visit and bring the snow with us. Last month, in Reno-Tahoe, we were part of the scene that experienced 21 feet of snow. The snow followed in New Mexico, providing excellent conditions but obscuring the famous views and vistas. There were over 58 inches of snow in Apache and we brought another foot or so. However there was no wind, and the temperature was mild in the high 20s. So I guess our new motto is - we visit your areas, and are cheaper than snow machines!
One of the neat things about snowsports is the chance to visit new places, and meet interesting new people. It is the best way to experience and appreciate this terrific country of ours. We were fortunate to be the guest of Ski New Mexico. Special thanks to Steve Lewis of LOCAS Communications. Thanks also to Laura Doth, the talented President of Grindstone Graphics and Marketing Services. And thanks to Scott Goeller, the Manager of Ski Apache. He used to direct the ski and snowboard school at Ski Apache, and has been devoted to the area for 28 years. In fact, loyalty and long-term service to Ski Apache appeared to be one of the trademarks of many of the people we met - they love their significant slice of heaven, and know they are onto a good thing by living here!
Lodging, by the way, is also a good draw to the region. There are a large variety of hotels, motels, casinos, and other neat places to sleep and eat in Ruidoso. It is an especially interesting and beautiful city about 16 miles from Ski Apache. That is as close as you can get - you have to drive up the mountain road to ski. For horse nuts like me, there are also some magnificent horses in the area. Ruidoso is home to a famous race track and the over one million dollar “All American Futurity,” called the world’s richest Quarter Horse race.
Other attractions, when the snow season ends, include golfing, fishing, hiking, and biking. There are also casinos, one with the colorful name of “The Billy the Kid Casino.” Again, I am not a fan of gambling, but millions of people are. Areas that have casinos also offer some terrific deals on lodging and food, so are worth checking into. We lucked out - staying at the new Hawthorn Suites golf and convention resort. Our suite offered a large whirlpool spa, kitchen, gas fireplace, balcony, king size bed, 2 t.v.’s, and lots of extras. The list price was about $150, but there appeared to be lots of possibilities for packages and reduced prices.
Our New Mexico saga continues for the week, so there is more to come. But, think of this state when planning ski trips to the West. The West is actually much closer than we often realize, thanks to better airline connections. Sometimes a lot less hassle than driving. I strongly suggest the West after our local areas close back home. And, as usual, I welcome your letters and comments.
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.