Fat Tuesday brought some of the best skiing we have had this season! My husband Charles and I have been saying, we bring the snow wherever we go. The tradition continued. Heavy snow had greeted us throughout the visit to New Mexico (as it did last month in Tahoe). We awoke to a dismal, snowy morning in Santa Fe and thought - “oh no, another day missing the wonderful vistas.” But, thankfully, the weather was relatively mild, and there was little wind. So our press group was on our way, up another “long and windy road” to the mountain top.
The morning runs were fine, but we could not see the mountain. Then, after a gourmet but economical lunch at the mountain, cooked by a French chef, the miracles happened. The skies cleared, the vistas and mountain peaks appeared, and it was time to relish the fresh powder.
What powder - the base depth was listed at 98 inches, but has no doubt topped that. The residents say this is the best snow Ski Santa Fe has had in years. It was light, fluffy, forgiving, beautiful powder! We danced up and down the mountain most of the afternoon like ballet dancers. I could have lasted for hours more. When the lifts closed at 4, there was still bright New Mexico sunshine and tons of virgin powder on the mountain.
Ski Santa Fe is a real gem, and we hope to return soon. Its height and size surprise many, who may think it is a small mountain near the charming, famous arts city of Santa Fe. Small my eye! It has the second or third highest base in North America - at 10,004 feet. We felt it carrying our equipment up the stairs. This is part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. The highest peak, at the top of Roadrunner chair, is 12,053 feet, with 1703 vertical feet of skiing. The weather was relatively mild - listed as 18 degrees in the morning, but probably in the mid-twenties in the afternoon. My hands were cold at first, until a wonderful lady in the marketing department gave me her glove warmers. Why have I never used those “Stay Warm” packs before? Boy, have I been missing out on an important element. While we are on equipment, don’t forget your sunscreen, glasses, and goggles in New Mexico. Fortunately, they are really needed!
Ski Santa Fe has 6 lifts and 45 trails, although many people were ducking under the ropes and going backcountry (I confess, we did it for a few minutes too - could not resist that fresh powder). A huge new project, the Millennium Triple Chair, is planned for next season. Most of those runs will be advanced. Snow falls average 225 inches a year, and the season usually lasts from late November until April. Who says New Mexico is just desert?
On the top of the mountain, when the snow and clouds moved out, we had vistas comparable to those I remembered at Vail. In fact, we could see across to Colorado. We could also see the expansive Santa Fe city and valley, and Sandia Peak. As we rode up the lift, Mardi Gras beads, bras, and panties were seen hanging from the glistening, snow-covered trees. This is a Mardi Gras tradition, topped off by joyous, costumed parades and parties through the streets of Santa Fe at night. I don’t quite understand why anyone would waste expensive undergarments on trees!
Back to skiing - there were numerous advanced and intermediate trails from the top, but we stuck largely to the intermediate, since the area was new to us. Many black trails have colorful Spanish names, such as Muerte, Desperado, and Tequila Sunrise. Thought it was best to avoid those!
The skiing is relatively inexpensive - at $47 dollars a day, even on weekends. Children (12 years and under) and senior rates (62 and over) are $34. Seniors, over 72, and young children, “under 46 inches tall in ski boots,” are free! As I mentioned the cafeteria has truly gourmet European food, at standard ski area prices. The French chef, Guy Mazire, has lived in the area for years. But, the eating area is not snobbish. Brown-baggers are welcomed to bring their lunch to the same cafeteria. There are also microwaves, making it easier for affordable meals. This is all part of the warm, family-style appeal of Ski Santa Fe.
There is a wonderful array of lodging in Santa Fe, ranging from hostels, inexpensive motels or hotels, to the top-of-the-line Hotel El Dorado, where we were priviliged to stay as guests. A beautiful hotel, but not cheap, and many charges are extra - including breakfast, and 800- calls from the rooms (less expensive hotels often include these services for free, which I think is a good inducement). There was, thankfully, a business center which you could use for free at night, but it is so much easier to phone and work from your own room.
One other word about lodging - military families can stay at Bachelor Officers Quarters and other facilities for reasonable rates. They are also welcome to bring their families, despite the name. There are several military bases throughout New Mexico, and many are within a reasonable driving distance from the top ski areas in New Mexico. I would bet service members can get a discount on skiing, if they ask. So, it may be wise for military personnel and contractors, who come to New Mexico for business, to pack some warm weather equipment, take a break from their serious work, and “Ski New Mexico.” Now, onto another adventure and another ski area. More later!
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.