Story and photos by Peter Hines – I huffed and puffed as I carried myself and my skis to the base of the Road Runner lift that is at 10,350 feet above sea level. I was seeking the relief of sitting on a chairlift as I caught my breath high above the desert of New Mexico. I had prepared for this trip after skiing almost 20 days in the relatively low mountains of New York and New England. I was glad that I had been super hydrating for the past day.
After a 16 mile ride up a windy canyon road from the city of Santa Fe, we arrived at the Ski Santa Fe Resort. Run by the Abruzzo family for the past 36 years, this gem of the American southwest boasts several peaks over 12,000 feet, over 200 inches on annual snowfall and great skiing and riding most of which is in the Santa Fe National Forest.
Most of the trails face north and east avoiding the sun’s melting rays. During the winter, the sun shines four out of five days at Ski Santa Fe. It’s often a blizzard and dumping snow on that fifth day.
I never thought traveling diagonally to ski across the continental United States from my home in upstate New York and skiing in the high desert would be good, really good! I was pleasantly surprised.
The annual snowfall in addition to ample snowmaking make for a great combination that provides skiers and riders a variety of terrain. General Manager Ben Abruzzo said that snowmaking gets them started in a slow season and helps them continue. They aim to open by November 1st each year and continue operations into April. The combination of high elevation and dry air seems to mitigate snow making and hold the snow. When I was there in the end of January, they had over 6 million gallons of snowmaking water stored and would probably hold it until next season.
The variety of terrain for all ski levels makes for a full day of skiing and riding. Heading off the Run Runner lift at Tesuque Peak (12,053’) and down Gay Way offers a long and fun trail with stunning views of thousands of square miles on the New Mexican high desert. Advanced skiers and riders can engage the steeps of North and South Burn on the way to the bottom.
Long intermediate trails run from both the Ristra Lift (Aspen Peak) and the Roadrunner Lift (Tesuque Peaks). The groomed trails were in great shape with long wide flowing runs that burned my legs as I swung from side to side gasping for oxygen.
There are plenty of steeps and glades off these peaks to challenge the best of skiers and riders. Great trail like North Burn, Upper Parachute, Ripcord and Free Fall give the black diamond skiers and riders their money’s worth.
It’s not all downhill I was told. There is a strong uphill contingent daily with several people skinning up on weekends. Those are fit and hearty soles starting up from 10,000. Ski Santa Fe hosted a US Ski Mountaineering Association Uphill Race this year where athletes skin up and ski down for the best time. The event drew over 40 racers this year.
The mid mountain Totemoff’s Cafe Bar and Grill offers a throwback to a bygone era of mountain mystery. It’s named after Pete Totemoff who came to New Mexico from Alaska. He worked for the US Forest Service for years as a fire fighter in the summer and a snow ranger in the winter. He shaped many ski areas including Ski Santa Fe.
After retiring, Totomoff managed the Red Chair bar that was later renamed after him. According to Abruzzo, they hope to replace the current structure with a new one in a few years. “The maintenance on the current place to too much” he said. Trying to maintain the character of the current Totemoff’s might be a challenge.
Lessons for new skiers and riders are given at the Chipmunk Corner that is actually below the main base lodge. This protected and fenced location keeps the learners separate from the other areas while offering close access to base lodge and rental shops.
The base area La Casa Mall offers some great southwestern food at reasonable prices. The Frito Pie and the Azmataz that are made by locals from the Southwest were especially good.
Ski Santa Fe has no on-mountain lodging but the City of Santa Fe, that is half an hour away, does. Santa Fe is a destination in its own right with a variety of lodging, restaurants and shops. The art scene in Santa Fe is well known. It is actually a good idea to tour Santa Fe for a day or two before you ski to acclimate to the elevation. There is plenty to do. See: https://santafe.org/
For information on Ski Santa Fe check out https://skisantafe.com/