Angel Fire is said to be named after the spectacular sunsets like the one we saw from our room over the pool in its family-friendly resort hotel. It may be best known for its World Shovel Race Championships. Yes, I said shovels! We were told that you sit in the shovel and steer with your feet on the handle; note I say YOU not I; not recommended if you haven’t had all the children you want! There are traditional classes and modified shovels which look like dragsters and reach similar speeds down the mountain. If you want to witness the event, the 30th annual Shovel Race Championship is held from February 18th to 20th, 2005. Their promotional posters boast, “Shovel this!”
The sun was shinning in the bright blue, flawless New Mexico sky and the valley is sheltered from the wind so the air temperature of 23 felt like 43. The runs were groomed to the point of being hard packed and extremely fast. Little of the powder remained from the previous day’s 10-inch accumulation, except on some ungroomed runs.
Angel Fire gets most of its guests from New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Many of the families, school and Church groups drove over 22 hours to get there. It was Mardi Gras vacation week in Louisiana, so most of the New Mexico resorts had a heavy Cajun atmosphere. The experts tell us their visitors are not used to powder, and prefer the hard pack, groomed runs. It gives an Eastern flavor to the resort but, of course, it is much bigger. Many of the runs are wide, fast, intermediate, and beautiful.
The area has a base elevation of 8,600 feet. If you stay at the Angel Fire Resort or the condos, you have to walk up a series of at least four flights of stairs to the lift area. That is not easy, when in boots and carrying heavy equipment. There is a parking lot close by, but the sign says $10 for parking. The lot was also very small and muddy when we were there (on the other hand, the steps were icy. I took a nasty fall and really cracked my head. Guess I should also wear a helmet when walking!). Hopefully, Angel Fire will install an elevator to get more people up the steps. There are other parking lots nearby which are free, and a shuttle bus system. Try to avoid those steps if you can, especially if you have not adjusted to the altitude. Angel Fire opened this year on the 10th of December, and plans to remain open until March 27, 2005. If the snow is sparse, the resort can rely on 56% snowmaking capacity.
The resort is modern, and growing. At present it has 72 trails rated at 28% beginner, 50% intermediate, and 22% advanced. There is a challenging terrain park and halfpipes, which continues to be improved. Trails we took included Hells Bells - which reminded us of Bold Decision at Whitetail, with a lot of challenging bumps. Other good ones were Hully Gully, Jaspers, Malpais (as in the solid lava rocks), and Bodacious.
If you visit Angel Fire, the Resort Hotel is very good for families, with the swimming pool in the center, a hot tub, game rooms, and a very smoky Texas-style bar (not for the kids). The prices are reasonable. There is no charge for internet or 800- phone service from the room; a very important feature. There are also refrigerators and coffee makers, but no cooking facilities. Many families stay at the condos which are almost all within walking distance. Best option is to work out package deals with the resort, which includes room and lift tickets.
There are many people of note at Angel Fire. Special thanks to dynamic and charming P.R. manager Christy Germscheid (she and her family used to live in Virginia, until the West called them back). Also thanks to General Manager Jon Mahanna, who moved West from Massachusetts and Georgetown. And, pay a visit to the gourmet restaurant, “The Roasted Clove,” owned and run by its executive chef, Thomas Bowles. At that restaurant, we met a colorful 83-year old man who skis everyday, and was about to remarry. Must be something about that pure mountain air. I am about to experience more of it, as we head off to another ski area! Enjoy the snow!
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.