“Front Row!,” the ski lift operator at Ski Santa Fe barked loudly in the crisp stillness of the early morning mountain air. The cable noisily hummed through the gear wheel. Groups of people milled about patiently and quietly waited for their morning coffee to kick in. The stillness was only broken as the first row moved slowly forward and the fresh snow crunched under their skis. Of all the sounds in the world, that sound makes me the happiest. It transports me back to the happiest times of my youth.
I grew up in the mountains of Colorado. As a teenager, I had a season pass to one of the mountain ski resorts and could be found there every weekend – honing my skills. Skiing was a chance to escape the scrutiny of parents and find freedom in the solitude on the mountain.
Now, years later as an adult, we had the chance to spend a week in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a family. High on our list was to go skiing in Santa Fe at the nearest mountain. It had been many, many years since we had been skiing and anticipation was high as we drove up the winding mountain road to the resort. The night before, a fresh covering of several inches of snow had coated the road and the trees. It was an early morning and we weren’t very talkative. We drank our coffee in silence and fogged up the windows with our heavy breathing. The high elevation taking its toll on our lungs that are used to air from sea level.
Ski Santa Fe isn’t a large mountain, especially by the standards I was used to from my days as a teenager in Colorado. They only have seven chairlifts and 79 runs. There’s no high speed gondola. There’s no expensive, fancy mountain-top restaurant with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. There’s no Giorgio Armani-designed ski instructor outfits. And forget about valet parking. The shuttle that takes you out back to your car is an open trailer pulled by a pick-up truck that lacks private heaters and Kenny G on the sound system. And that’s just fine by us! Ski Santa Fe was absolutely perfect.
That’s not to say that Ski Santa Fe lacks amenities or comforts. What it means is Ski Santa Fe is the kind of resort that lacks pretense and attitude. The focus is on skiing in the Santa Fe National Forest. The priority is on minimal lift lines and maximum fun. And everyone is so damn nice.
Laura and I spent the morning skiing together on the lower mountain. Since it had been so many years since we’d been skiing, we warmed up the Easy Street and Sunnyside trails before heading up to the top of the lower mountain for a couple of long morning runs.
The La Casa Lodge complex has a food court/self-service buffet on the second floor. It’s quick serve food and is generally unremarkable with one major exception: the green chile cheeseburger. Evidently, green chile cheeseburgers are practically the official food of New Mexico and the La Casa Lodge makes a good one!
Back on the slopes in the after lunch, we reunited as a family exploring the entire lower mountain, which consists mostly of blue and green trails. After lunch, a light snow came down putting fresh powder on all the trails. It also made for some challenging times in depth perception. Laura’s mom took a hard fall on Upper Midland and I managed to do 180 degree butt plant on Thunderbird (still trying to figure out how I managed that).
Somewhere near 3:00pm, knowing the day was coming to an end, I headed up to the upper boundary, for a long solo run down a couple of black runs. Near the top, looking out across the Santa Fe National Forest, I had feelings of intense nostalgia. I used to love this: long days of solitary skiing alone in the mountains. I loved the wind pelting me in the face with snow. I loved the whistle of the wind in my ear as I rushed down a slope. I loved the grinding sound of the ski on the snow as I come to a hard stop. And I loved that crunching sound as the snow yields under the weight of a ski.
It has been many, many years since Laura and I have been skiing. Stopping on the Gay Way run and looking out at the mountains, I wondered why I’d waited. And I vowed I wouldn’t wait years to go skiing again. Skiing in Santa Fe reminded me of one of the best times in my life. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say, I got to relive my youth up on the mountain at Ski Santa Fe.
Ski Santa Fe Information
How to Get There: Take New Mexico State Highway 475 out of town until it dead-ends in the Santa Fe National Forest.
Cost: Full day tickets are $72 for adults, $58 for teens (age 13-20), $52 for kids (up to age 12, and $55 for seniors (62-71). Anyone over age 72 is free.
Times: The offices are open from 8:00-4:30 in the winter (season opening until mid-March) and 8:30-5:00 during the spring (mid-March to season close). The lifts are open 9:00-4:00 during the winter (until mid-March) and 9:30-4:30 in the spring (from mid-March onwards).
Rentals: The rental office is onsite. A ski, boot and poles rental package is $32 and the snowboard package is $38.
Laura and I were the guests of Ski Santa Fe, but we paid for our family to join us. As always, all opinions of cold and vigorous are our own.
Do you have a favorite place to ski?