Winter is truly special in the Land of Enchantment—especially when snow blankets the earth, creating a serene and glorious panorama. Getting up close and personal with the winter wonderland around you is the best way to experience snow country. Like the adrenaline rush? Then opt for downhill skiing, snowmobiling, or even ski biking. Perhaps a meditative experience is more your style—then select from a wide variety of beautiful locations for snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Read on to discover a variety of outstanding winter activities, catering to every skill and energy level.
From the top areas like Taos Ski Valley, Ski Santa Fe, and Sandia Peak to the more mom-and-pop ski venues like Sipapu and Pajarito, New Mexico is a ski lover’s paradise. As of the writing of this article, the snow gods were being a bit stingy but sometimes all it takes is one good storm to make a ski season.
Taos Ski Valley – a destination ski area in New Mexico, with beginner to challenging ski terrain, and a full ski village environment. Thrill seekers seek the steep chutes, tree skiing, and powder stashes.
Ski Santa Fe – just a hop, skip, and jump from downtown Santa Fe, this mid-size ski area has a variety of ski terrain. For a ski area of its size, Ski Santa Fe has many surprises—from beginning to expert slopes.
Sandia Peak – a small-scale ski mountain that is quickly accessed from Albuquerque—with tremendous views from the top. Sandia Peak can be accessed via tramway or roadway.
Pajarito – a small, fun, and affordable ski area set in the Jemez Mountains. Fourth and fifth graders ski free every day (as well as kids 7 and under)!
Angel Fire – in addition to catering to families and beginners-to-intermediate skiers, Angel Fire has the state’s only night skiing. (Ski bikes available here.)
Red River – this favorite ski area by neighboring Texans features tame terrain and “western kitsch”. Check out Red River.
Ski Apache – this southern New Mexico ski area features the only gondola in the state and runs its scenic zip-line throughout the winter (weather permitting).
Ski Cloudcroft – another southern New Mexico ski area that is a great value.
Cross Country Skiing
For those who are more inclined to keep their perspective closer to the ground, cross-country skiing is a good workout amongst the beautiful outdoors. Although there are some groomed trails and ski areas that are terrific (see below) there are plenty of free spots. Some local favorites include the Nordic Trail close to Ski Santa Fe and Aspen Vista Trail. In the Jemez, there are lots of great spots such as Pajarito Nordic Ski Trail above the city of Los Alamos, which winds through a mixed conifer forest for 5 km one way. It is the only Nordic ski trail in New Mexico that is regularly groomed and free for all to use. Chama Valley has got 10 km of ungroomed trails that are for real adventurers who crave cutting their own path. Trails are located at Windy Point, 12 miles north of Old Town Chama on NM 17. Additionally, there are innumerable forest trailheads throughout the state that, given proper snowfall, are perfect for cross-country skiing.
Enchanted Forest Cross Country and Snowshoe Area—offers up to 33 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails, and 18 km for snowshoeing. Even 5 km where dogs are invited to join in the fun! (Fees are $9 – $15).
Angel Fire – 12 km of classic and skate cross-country ski trails.
Valles Caldera National Preserve – the site of an ancient volcano makes this a magical place to cross-country ski, with 37 miles of trails. And if you go now, fees are currently being waived.
Tubing – Jump on a tube and slide down a hill. Even the most athletically-challenged of us can do it! Red River offers one-hour tubing sessions $20, while Ruidoso Winter Park offers family tubes (up to 4 riders) and Giant Tubes (up to six riders), which can be linked to make a train. Tickets ($10-$25) are good for three hours, with discounts for night tubing. You also can score a discount on the Family Zip Line, with a tubing ticket purchase. Angel Fire has a five-lane tubing hill, with one-hour rides for $25. (Ski Taos’s tubing hill is closed this year due to construction.) Ski Cloudcroft has three lanes of tubing, two hour blocks for $20. Weather permitting there is also a tubing hill behind Cottam’s Ski Shop on Hyde Park Road in Santa Fe—this little hill can be quite exciting. You need to be lucky enough to score one of the limited parking spots for $5.
Snowshoeing – Basically anywhere you can hike, you can snowshoe. So pick a beautiful spot and get going. Snowshoes can be rented at most ski shops. Be sure to dress in layers and have proper footwear. As previously mentioned, Valles Caldera is great when snowy, Enchanted Forest has 18km for a fee, as does Angel Fire Nordic area. Other terrific free locations include the Santa Fe National Forest trail system and Sandia Crest Trail.
Skating – Although a year-round sport, many of us are more inclined to seek a cool glide experience in the winter months. There are a few indoor skating options available such as at Santa Fe’s Genoveva Chavez Community Center, Albuquerque’s Outpost Ice Arenas, and the McDermott Athletic Center in Rio Rancho. But for many there’s nothing better than a brisk wind on your face as you make your way around the rink. One unusual outdoor skating venue is Ice Qube Winter Skating on Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza. This synthetic surface supposedly skates like the real thing—and is free! (Skate rentals are $3.) A scenic skating experience is available in Los Alamos; with the only refrigerated, NHL regulation outdoor skating rink in New Mexico. The
Los Alamos County Ice Rink offers public skating, hockey, and skating lessons from November through February. And the James Sewell Ice Rink in Cloudcroft is the only natural ice rink in the Southwest.
Snowmobiling – there are many superb areas to enjoy New Mexico’s gorgeous scenery from a seated perspective. And Red River, Taos, Angel Fire, and Chama are well known for their endless trails. (For example, the Valle Vidal in the Carson National Forest is a 100,000-acre wildlife area with a 50-mile loop from Sawmill Canyon.) Remember snowmobile permits are required! For those new to the sport, it is a great idea to go out with experienced operators (see below) and sit back and enjoy the ride. Want a cool alternative to a snowmobile tour—how about a guided snow-cat UTV tour? They are available from Red River Offroad in Red River.
https://onlinesales.wildlife.state.nm.us/ (this is the link for snowmobile permits)
*Bobcat Pass Wilderness Adventures (Taos/Angel Fire/Red River)
*Red River Sled Shed (Carson National Forest/Red River)
*Cumbres Adventure Tours (Chama area)
On a final note, a wonderful way to enjoy New Mexico’s winter beauty without breaking a sweat is by riding the Sandia Peak Tramway. While this gondola ride offers outrageous views year-round, there is something truly magical about the vista during the winter. Travel 2.7 miles up and over deep canyons to an elevation of 10,378 feet at the peak. The tram runs every 20-30 minutes from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and costs $15-$25.