Report from Thursday, February 24, 2022
New Mexico has mountains. Big mountains. Ski Sante Fe’s base area is at 10,350 feet, the highest in New Mexico and the ten highest in North America. The peak is at 12,075 feet, in the top ten in North America. And the view from up there is magnificent.
Or so we were told. Yesterday morning the mountain was sunk down, clouds shrouded the summit and blocked our view. The temperature at the top of the mountain was -15ºF. Wind was blowing. But none of that mattered as there was 5″ of fresh snow. It might not seem like a lot, but after the dry winter we’ve had so far, we’ll take it. Oh, and it was the best snow I’ve skied on all season, from Colorado to Alaska.
The ski resort is a 40-minute drive through the national forest. A family resort, Ski Santa Fe has seven lifts on 660 acres. It still has that independent ski-bum vibe; people are there to ski. They don’t care about the perfection of the corduroy or the quality of the food in the lodge, just take them to the top of the mountain and let them slide down.
Bill was our guide for the morning. Currently director of the ski school, he worked there for more than thirty years in almost every position available and even met his wife there. There was probably no one better equipped to show off the best of Ski Santa Fe. We started off slow, taking the Santa Fe Super Chief chair and descending the groomers. The snow was amazing. 5″ of light, fluffy snow covered the mountain, as well as anywhere else that advertises “Champagne Powder” or “the Greatest Snow on Earth”. Everything goes back down to the base area, it is impossible to get lost.
Back up the same chair, we took it up a notch, hitting a few bump tracks. The hard, gnarly bumps were filled with thick, windblown snow. Hard to find a rhythm. Sometimes it was awesome, sometimes you hit what you thought was powder but it was the backside of a bump, and sometimes you were in knee deep snow. We skied Muerte, which was apparently a longer, narrower run, hence the name.
As fun as it all was, the glades were where they were yesterday. We skied cool lines in the trees all day. From open glades to slightly tighter trees, the terrain was always perfect. Easy turns in lightly fluffy snow as pine trees rushed in a blur. Snow covered the sketchy dry winter base, so there was a strange obstacle to be aware of, but nothing dangerous. The clouds were still clinging to the mountain and the temperature wasn’t getting much warmer, but the skiing kept us going.
We skied from the Tesuque Peak lift and the resort’s newest chair lift, the Millenium lift, with Bill leading us into glades and fresh snow around every turn. Sunrise Glade, Tequila Sunrise Glade, an area known to locals as the Black Forest, we’ve touched them all. All trees between the groomed runs are fair game, offering unlimited lines.
It’s not all snow groomers and glades, the ski area has cliff areas and rock gardens visible from the chairlift, but unfortunately there isn’t enough snow cover this season for they are skiable.
The cold finally caught up with us and we stopped mid-mountain at Totemoff’s Bar and Grill. It was a cool, old-fashioned mountain bar with a real log fire, offering liquid refreshments as well as local dishes such as green chili and tamales at prices that didn’t require a bank loan. The building is steeped in history, as Bill told tales of Pete Totemoff, the owners of the ski area, and fatal hot air balloon crashes. People were inside to warm up, but on a sunny day there is live music on the deck and an old tram serves as a bar.
After a few more descents we hit some more bumps we headed back to the base area for lunch. The cafeteria style restaurant served what you would expect. Except alcohol. A licensing dispute means the station can only have one location selling alcohol, so they opted to only sell alcohol at Totemoff and keep the family base area.
Refreshed and warmed up, we left. The sun was straining and the clouds were starting to part. We hit more of the same in the afternoon. Always find fresh lines in the trees, and even around the groomers. When the clouds finally left, the view from the top of the Millenium Chair was stunning and is apparently the only view in the world where you can see all three categories of mountains – volcanic, folded and blocky.
The day ended by skirting the left limit of the ski area to the bottom. We squeezed through the power lines down the ledge, kicking Desafio who brought us back to base.
Ski Santa Fe is one of those true independent resorts that will rekindle your passion for skiing. No glitz and glamour, no lifts, just downhill skiing and horseback riding that makes you smile and squeal and want more.