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TRAVEL AND ADVENTURE-Skiing the Southern Rockies of New Mexico PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stuart Wasserman, Creative Syndicate   
Thursday, 01 December 2011 04:55

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACK AFFLECK.

A youngster tries snow tubing at Angel Fire resort in New Mexico.

Now that the colors of fall are history and winter is in full swing, it's time to start planning a weekend skiing getaway. The problem in some situations is that a spouse or friend isn't all that much interested in hitting the slopes. The solution is to come to New Mexico, where skiers and non-skiers alike can enjoy the fun.

Santa Fe boasts of several significant museums and more than 200 art galleries, many located along the Canyon Road art trail, making it a major art center after New York and Los Angeles. Shopping opportunities also abound. Skiers in the group can easily get three or four days of skiing in before anyone notices they are gone.

This is truly beautiful country. The area just outside of Santa Fe that attracted Georgia 0'Keeffe resembles parts of Utah since this is, after all, the same Colorado Plateau that stretches southward.One way to enjoy it is to drive the Enchanted Circle -- an 83-mile scenic New Mexican byway that leads to four different ski areas: Taos, Red River, Angel Fire and Santa Fe. The road, which is called Highway 64 in some parts and Highway 38 in others, circles Mount Wheeler, the highest peak in the state at 13,161 feet high.

The Stonewood Wine Room at the Angel Fire Country Club is not to be skipped. It is just 2 years old and resembles the craftsmanship of lodges built in the Pacific Northwest during the 1930s. The chef is from Europe, and everything he makes he makes well. I went back a second time.

Skiing here offers more of a cultural experience than other Western ski areas because of the high percentage of American Indians living in the state. There are 19 Pueblo Indian tribes in New Mexico. The Taos Ski Resort employs many of them in the ski shop. Some have worked there for 40 years, and now their grandchildren work there, too.

Angel Fire is culturally different, too, because most of the people on the slopes will undoubtedly be from Texas. Angel Fire is about 285 miles from Amarillo and 650 miles from Dallas.

"We get a lot of Texans here," said Christy Germscheid, a marketing director at Angel Fire Resort. She recalls driving with her mom and dad from their home in Southern California to the resort every year when she was a child -- a drive that took 16 hours. "Back then the ski slopes were not crowded," she said.

Even today the 11 downhill and cross-country areas that make up Ski New Mexico report fewer than a million annual visitors to all the mountain slopes combined.

Taos has seen the annual numbers drop compared to the 1990s.

"Looking back, keeping snowboarders out was killing the business," said Chris Stagg, a vice president of Taos Ski resort, which has remained a family-owned business since its opening in 1955. Stagg is the son-in-law of founder Ernie Blake. "Today 20 percent of the Taos guests are snowboarders, and they add youth and energy back to the mountain."

Taos was a holdout and only opened up their world-famous slopes to snowboarders three years ago. Taos is located 45 minutes from Santa Fe.

Santa Fe has its own ski area located a bit closer -- about 30 minutes from town. The lifts are fast, and there is a bar and grill on the mountain that features a blues band playing outdoors under winter sunshine.

Ski Santa Fe has a base area elevation of 10,350 feet. The lifts take guests up another 1,725 vertical feet to a summit elevation of 12,075. The Santa Fe Ski Area features wide intermediate and beginning runs with sweeping views of the Jemez Mountains off in the distance.

I brushed up on my wobbly technique with an easy-going ski instructor named Rob Kahn. If we weren't talking about my holding the ski poles out like headlights on a car, we were talking about recent world political history. Kahn served as a foreign service officer in half a dozen countries before retiring a few years ago.

The peaks of New Mexico may be a little smaller than some of the Colorado peaks to the north, but the prices of lift tickets are lower, too, another reason for making New Mexico a serious consideration for a ski getaway.

WHEN YOU GO

Getting there: Santa Fe has a small airport that American Eagle services with two flights a day from Dallas and one from Los Angeles. The main gateway airport for Santa Fe is Albuquerque, located an hour away and served by major airlines, including Southwest.

The Rail Runner train, which connects Albuquerque Airport and the city of Santa Fe, is 2 years old.

Where to stay: The Inn on the Alameda, three blocks from Santa Fe's famous Plaza, offers a wine and cheese tasting every afternoon from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. The gathering is free to guests and provides a wonderful way to meet others who are staying in the hotel: www.innonthealameda.com

La Posada de Santa Fe Resort and Spa is also within walking distance to town and offers a spa and an outdoor swimming pool: www.laposada.rockresorts. com.

Where to eat: Tim's Stray Dog Cantina is the restaurant with the blue metal roof that features family-style wood tables, pork mole enchiladas and chilies rellenos, all really spicy: www.straydogtsv.com.

Where to stay in Taos: Sierra de Sol is two minutes from the lifts and is nicely furnished with wide comfy couches and a wood stove. Studios to condos that sleep six start at $480 or $80 per person per night: www.sierrataos.com

Where to ski: Red River, www.redriverskiarea.com; Angel Fire, www.angelfire.com; Ski Taos, www.skitaos.org; Santa Fe, www.skisantafe.com

Stuart Wasserman is a freelance travel writer.

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