If Storms Cooperate, New Mexico Can Bring A Full Winter Menu
Nine ski and snowboard mountains in New Mexico drop the ropes each season in hopes of coaxing Pacific storms to sag to the south and bring what can be some of the lightest and deepest snow in the Rockies.
The Rocky Mountains southernmost arm is the Sangre de Cristo Range. It begins in Colorado near Salida, crosses into New Mexico just below LaVeta Pass, and stays elevated past Santa Fe to its terminus at Pecos. El Nińo and La Nińa storms that veer to the southern tier of the Rockies get captured by these mountains and drop some of the fluffiest stuff around. If they veer more northerly, not so much.
So it's clear why most of New Mexico's ski and snowboard resorts cluster in the Sangres. The northern range around Taos holds four destinations. The choice ranges from tight snowboarder haven Sipapu (215 skiable acres); easy-peasy Angel Fire (560 a.); pitchy but gentle Red River (209 a.); and, steep and bulky Taos Ski Valley (1,300 a.) above town of Taos.
All of these are within an hours' drive of each other, with Taos as the "big city" hub with beds, bars and classic red-sauce cuisine. Taos Ski Valley is an Ikon Pass partner, Angel Fire is Powder Alliance resort, and Sipapu takes the Power Pass.
Across the Rio Grande, Pajarito Mountain's 750 acres sprawls along a ridge above the town of Los Alamos. Originally cut for scientists working on the Manhattan Project, it remains a town hill but has gotten some upgrades as a member of the Power Pass family.
Near the south end of the Sangres, Ski Santa Fe pokes up above treeline to 12,075 feet at the summit. A windy access road out of "City Different" Santa Fe reaches a tall and tight hill: 660 acres with 1,700 vertical drop. Expect weekend crowding.
Just off the range, Sandia Peak (200 acres) is an on-again, off-again enterprise on the back side of the Sandia Mountains above Albuquerque. Reached by a winding access road or a tram ride from town, the east-facing trails rarely get more than two weeks' of snowfall as season, but 30% snowmaking and a recent infusion of operating capital can offset that.
Owned by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, Ski Apache nestles on the shoulder of Sierra Blanca Peak (11,981), the most southerly mountain in the U.S. of that elevation and the only real snow-catcher in the region. To augment its locale, Ski Apache covers about a third of its terrain with manmade snow. The summit gondola drops off at timberline, and winds can be high.
An hour-and-a-half drive south, Ski Cloudcroft's 9,100-ft summit rises out of the Sacramento Mountains. A true "town hill," it sits five minutes from the artsy tourist town of Cloudcroft with 70 acres, 750-ft vertical drop, a nice mix among 25 trails, one chairlift, and plenty of snowmaking.