Most people know Santa Fe for its art galleries, eclectic shops, distinctive restaurants, adobe architecture and fascinating 400-year history. But few know about its other treasure. . . skiing. Yet just 16 miles from the historic plaza, some of the best skiing in the west is found in the snow-capped peak that dominates the skyline northeast of the city in northern New Mexico.
One of the oldest and highest ski areas in the country, Ski Santa Fe begins at 10,350 feet in the gorgeous Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. It tops out at 12,075 where views of the valley floor and surrounding mountain ranges are stunning. With that altitude combined with New Mexico’s dry air, the snow falls as fluffy as cotton candy and is just as pretty as it hugs the branches of old-growth spruce and pine trees.
Like most of New Mexico’s eight alpine areas, Ski Santa Fe is family-owned, which is why it retains that intimate, homey feel. Benny Abruzzo, his brother, Louis, and son, Ben, are carrying on the tradition started by his father Ben who co-founded Sandia Peak ski area in Albuquerque in the early 50s. He later bought Santa Fe Ski Basin in 1984 from Kingsbury Pitcher, who went on to buy Colorado’s Wolf Creek Ski Area. (Tragically, the senior Abruzzo and Benny’s mother were killed in a plane crash one year later. Then Benny’s brother Richard, a famous balloonist like his father, died when his balloon fell into the ocean off the coast of Italy in 2010. He was 47.)
The original ski area above Santa Fe began in the 1930s, and the U.S. army’s 10th Mountain Division, headquartered at Colorado’s Ski Cooper, trained there as well. Ernie Blake, founder of Taos Ski Valley, served as mountain manager in the early days. The area is steeped in ski history and legends.
The Abruzzos are striving to make the ski area where they literally grew up an ideal place for families. They work at it constantly with ski and snowboard lessons for all ages, a super friendly staff and mountain upgrades. This season they unveiled a huge addition to La Casa base lodge, doubling seating capacity in the sunny cafe (open for breakfast and lunch, serving better-than-average ski-cafeteria food) and tripling the size of the rental shop that operates a state-of-the-art paperless rental system. And sometime within the next decade, they will develop Raven’s Ridge on the north border, Benny says, into a “neat little family ski area.” The other borders are protected wilderness.
And then there are the signature glades—the area’s “piste” de rèsistance. Every summer Benny and Ben fell select trees with their own hands to make the glades even more skiable. “We are the fellers,” Benny says with a grin. “We’ll take about 25 percent out of the glades, leaving the natural environment as is.” How does he know where to cut? “I cut ‘em like I like to ski ‘em!” Another grin. They sell the timber for firewood and donate the proceeds to charity.
With some of the planet’s best hotels and inns down in the city, there’s no need for lodging at the ski area. Instead, visitors must drive 30 minutes up the winding road that starts at Otero and Artist Road, that, to be honest, can get dicey. Ski Santa Fe does not run a shuttle, but RoadRunner Shuttle will provide service with a reservation for four or more people.
Lodging recommendations in Santa Fe
Santa Fe turns into a beautiful painting in winter, with snow blanketing the adobes outside and Kiva fireplaces crackling inside. When the winter sun comes out, it’s pleasant enough to stroll the galleries, shops and museums. It’s a wonderful time to visit the City Different. Prices are usually lower during winter (low season), and Santa Fe Restaurant Week is in early March. Visit www.santafe.org for a complete list of things to do.
Both these iconic hotels reflect Santa Fe’s style and spirit. Staying at either is an extraordinary experience.
La Fonda on the Plaza—The art and architecture of this historic hotel, as well as its signature restaurant La Plazuela, are among Santa Fe’s treasures. The spa offers a full menu of treatments. Winter packages are offered from November through March.
100 E. San Francisco St.
Inn and Spa at Loretto—In the heart of Santa Fe, this luxury boutique hotel has a full-service spa and one of the city’s finest restaurants, Luminaria. Ask about the Loretto Santa Fe Ski Package, valid December, 2012 through April, 2013.
211 Old Santa Fe Trail