Ski Santa Fe : Balanced Skiing & Sightseeing Vacation

At Ski Santa Fe, snow-covered trails curl through towering Ponderosa pines in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, only 16 miles from the city of Santa Fe, the very heart of Southwestern style.

Take the bright sunlight of the high desert, fresh powder snow, and a skier-friendly mountain, then add pre-Columbian Indian Pueblos, Spanish architecture, art galleries and top it with a renowned regional cuisine—you have the savory mix that makes up a unique ski vacation.

Santa Fe (elevation 7,000 feet) offers interesting contradictions. It is old and new, high mountains and flat desert, with cool winters that surprise out-of-staters who think of New Mexico as hot and dry. Skiing in this state is unlike anywhere else on the continent. To get a more foreign-feeling ski vacation, you’d need a passport.

Some skiers think Taos Ski Valley is the only New Mexico ski area worth a long plane ride—not so. If your main interest is racking up vertical feet, then by all means head for Taos, but Santa Fe (just an hour north of Albuquerque) is a better destination for those who prefer a balanced ski-and-sightseeing vacation. Santa Fe is one of the most culturally fascinating cities in the United States. It is loaded with great restaurants, superior art galleries, a variety of activities, and the ski area is a lot bigger than most people imagine. Though the mountain is known as a day-area destination for Santa Fe and Albuquerque skiers, out-of-town visitors will find a surprising amount of terrain.

Santa Fe Skiing
Santa Fe in Winter

Founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1607, more than a dozen years before the pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Santa Fe is North America’s oldest capital city. It is rich in history and culture, but of a different kind from mining-town ski areas.

When the Spanish arrived, the area was already populated with 100,000 Native Americans who spoke nine languages and lived in some 70 multi-storied adobe pueblos, some still inhabited today. For the next 150 years, Santa Fe grew as a frontier military base and trading center, where Spanish soldiers and missionaries, Anglo mountain men and Native Americans mixed. In 1846, during the Mexican War, New Mexico was ceded to the United States. Santa Fe, at the end of the Santa Fe Trail, became a frontier town, hosting the likes of Billy the Kid and Kit Carson.

In the early part of this century, Santa Fe took on a new flavor. It became a magnet for men and women of the arts and literature. D.H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Willa Cather, Jack London, and H.L. Mencken either lived or vacationed here. Artists Edward Hopper and Marsden Hartley spent time here, and Santa Fe was home to Robert Henri, George Bellows, Randall Davey, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Aaron Copland. Today this city of 60,000 people is home to one of the world’s premier art colonies.

The Millennium Chair serves a higher summit on the mountain, opening six new trails (two intermediate and four advanced) and raising the vertical drop at the area to 1,735 feet.

Ski Santa Fe has one of the highest lift-served elevations in the nation—12,080 feet on top, 10,350 feet at the base. If you’re susceptible to altitude problems, take note; however, all lodging is in Santa Fe, and some people are fine if they sleep at a lower elevation.

Ski Santa Fe Resort Quick Facts

  • Summit elevation: 12,080 feet
  • Vertical drop: 1,730 feet
  • Base elevation: 10,350 feet
  • Expert: ++
  • Advanced: +++
  • Intermediate: +++
  • Beginner: ++++
  • First-timer: +++
  • Address: 2209 Brothers Rd. #220, Santa Fe, NM 87505
  • Ski area phone: 505-982-4429
  • Snow report: 505-983-9155
  • Toll-free reservations: (877) 737-7366
  • Reservations within New Mexico: 505-747-5557
  • E-mail: [email protected]
  • Internet: www.skisantafe.com
  • Number of lifts: 7—1 quad, 2 triples, 2 doubles, 2 surface lifts
  • Skiable acreage: 660 acres
  • Snowmaking: 50 percent
  • Uphill capacity: 7,800 skiers per hour
  • Parks & pipes: None
  • Bed base: 5,500 in Santa Fe
  • Nearest lodging: About 15 miles away
  • Resort child care: Yes, 3 months to 3 years

Santa Fe Skiing – Mountain Layout

Ski Santa Fe sits 16 miles north of the city. Though the mountain is known as a day-area destination for Santa Fe and Albuquerque skiers, out-of-town visitors will find a surprising amount of terrain. All the mountain amenities such as restaurants, ski rentals, child care, ski school, and ticket sales are at the base of the mountain just a few steps from the parking lot.

ski santa fe map
ski santa fe map of slopes

Expert, Advanced

For the most part, the mountain’s expert terrain is to the left of the Tesuque Peak chair. With fresh snow, locals go first to Columbine, Big Rocks and Wizard. These run all check-in as very steep and are for advanced skiers only. Roadrunner is the expert bump run directly under the Tesuque chair. Tequila Sunrise and Easter Bowl have the best glade skiing.

On the far side of the mountain, reached by the Santa Fe Super Chief quad, Muerte and Desafio have isolated trail skiing for advanced skiers.

The Big Tesuque Bowl attracts the intrepid, who enter this area via Cornice. (Once skiers leave Cornice, they are outside the ski area’s permitted boundary.) Big Tesuque skiers find natural powder, bowl skiing, and trees. The bowls empty onto the area’s entrance road, three miles below the base area, leaving you to hitchhike back up. First-timers should go with a local who knows this area: It’s genuine backcountry, it’s big and people occasionally get lost.

Intermediate

On a fresh powder day (once a week on average), local intermediates and advanced skiers head straight for the Tesuque Peak triple chair, up to 12,000 feet and the top of the mountain. To the right of the lift (as the trail map reads) is Gayway, a glorious, groomed pitch with several spicy turns that gives new meaning to the term “spectacular scenery.” On a clear day, you almost get the feeling of flying, thanks to the 150-mile vista as the trail drops away. Parachute, which parallels Gayway, is a groomed black diamond with a somewhat steeper pitch.

On the far side of the mountain, reached by the Santa Fe Super Chief quad, Middle and Lower Broadway have isolated trail skiing for intermediate skiers.

Beginner, First-timer

Beginners will be happiest on the lower part of the mountain, on the wide boulevard of Easy Street. Advanced-beginners will find more challenges and a slightly steeper pitch on Open Slope and Upper and Lower Midland. If you’re feeling adventurous, try Lower Burro for an exhilarating, winding trip through the trees on a mild pitch.

First-timers will find good terrain at the mountain’s base served by the Pine Flats lift; it’s protected by snow fences. For children, the Chipmunk Corner lift provides a tucked-away learning area.

Santa Fe Snowboarding – Mountain Layout

Generally speaking, the mountain’s expert terrain is to the left of the Tesuque Peak chair. After a dump, locals go first to Columbine, Big Rocks and Wizard—all very steep and for advanced riders only. Tequila Sunrise and Easter Bowl have the best glades. Hike to the Big Tesuque Bowl via Cornice for freshies, bowl skiing and trees (once you leave Cornice, you’re outside the ski area’s permitted boundary). The bowls empty onto the area’s entrance road, three miles below the base area, and you have to hitchhike back up. Go with a local who knows this area: It’s genuine backcountry, it’s big and it’s easy to get lost.

On a fresh powder day (about once a week), local intermediates head straight for the Tesuque Peak triple chair and the top of the mountain. To the right of the lift (as the trail map reads) is Gayway, a glorious, groomed pitch with several spicy turns that gives new meaning to the term “spectacular scenery.” On a clear day, you almost get the feeling of flying, thanks to the 150-mile vista as the trail drops away.

Beginners will be happiest on the lower part of the mountain, on the wide boulevard of Easy Street. Advanced-beginners will find more challenges and a slightly steeper pitch on Open Slope and Upper and Lower Midland. If you’re feeling adventurous, try Lower Burro for an exhilarating, winding trip through the trees on a mild pitch.

Parks and pipes: Ski Santa Fe does not have any formal parks or pipes.

Santa Fe Cross-country and snowshoeing

Santa Fe has no groomed or tracked trails. However, there are maintained backcountry trails in the Santa Fe National Forest. Aspen Vista Road, 2 miles below the ski area, is a popular and moderately difficult 7-mile trail. Black Canyon Campground, 8 miles up the ski road, is a popular area for beginners. Maps and information on conditions in the Santa Fe National Forest are available from the Santa Fe National Forest Service at 438-7840 (main supervisor’s office) or 753-7331 (Española Ranger District, which encompasses the Santa Fe area).

Apres-Ski / Nightlife

For elegant apres-ski (you can go in ski clothes), head for Inn of the Anasazi or La Posada, both close to the Plaza. Swig (135 West Palace Ave.; 955-0400; $$$) restaurant and lounge is the pick-up spot. Serving “global” cuisine and Asian tapas, this spot was designed to intoxicate the senses. In Santa Fe, a wonderful place to mix dinner with entertainment is at La Cantina (988-9232) in the historic Sena Plaza, a stately adobe built as a family home in the 1860s. The restaurant features New Mexican specialties and singing waiters and waitresses. For about $20, you can eat, drink and hear an exceptional dinner theater show, belted out between courses. Children are welcome, reservations a must.

The Catamount Bar & Grill (125 E. Water St.; 988-7222) is a sports bar teeming with locals and tourists featuring big-screen TV, pool tables and specials like “Jägermeister Night.”

Ski Santa Fe Getting there

By air: Albuquerque has the nearest major airport, 60 miles away. Private pilots can use the Santa Fe Regional Airport. For shuttles from the airport in Albuquerque to Santa Fe, call (505) 474-5696.

By car: Santa Fe is north of Albuquerque on I-25, an easy hour’s drive. The ski area is 16 miles from town on Hwy. 475.

Getting around: Getting around Santa Fe and to and from the ski area is difficult without a car, though a shuttle service is available from the airport to major hotels. The airport in Albuquerque has the leading rental car agencies.

Ski Santa Fe Lodging

Ski Santa Fe has no base lodging, but even if it did, you’d want to be in Santa Fe for dining, shopping and the museums. More than 70 hotels, motels, inns, condominiums and B&Bs serve Santa Fe visitors. Winter is low season in this region, but the increase of visitors trying to take advantage of this have actually caused prices to rise from bargain to a moderate level during the past few years. Expect to pay about $75–$110 a day, per person, for a ski-stay package at one of the many hotels on Cerrillos Road; and 25 to 50 percent more downtown. Basically, the closer to the Plaza you are, the more you’ll shell out for lodging.

Lift-and-lodging packages are the best deal; call All Santa Fe Reservations (877-737-7366) or the Santa Fe Visitors Bureau, (800) 777-2489. Downtown is where the best restaurants, shopping, and nightlife are concentrated, although we do recommend a few great dining options outside the Plaza area.

Leave a Comment