Contrary to popular belief, there’s more to New Mexico than alien sightings and nuclear weapons development in Los Alamos—we also have roadrunners (our state bird), scorpions, and great snowboarding. The impressive Rocky Mountains start in northern British Columbia and extend south into New Mexico. The southernmost stretch is called the Sangre de Cristo range. The combinations of southern latitudes and high altitudes result in sunny days and dry powder.
Words by Michael Johnstone
Photography by Chris Wellhausen
Where To Ride
New Mexico is the fifth largest state and basically requires a vehicle to visit the assortment of unique resorts. So let’s begin just south of the Colorado boarder and drive the Enchanted Circle, which surrounds the highest point in New Mexico—the 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak—and offers fantastic views and great snowboarding. Taos is a culturally vibrant town with rich diversity; and the town’s plaza is a good starting point for our roadtrip. Just north of town is Taos Ski Valley, which boasts some of the best snow and terrain in New Mexico, but since snowboarding is prohibited, we’ll quickly move on west on Highway 64 across Palo Flechado Pass to arrive at our first destination, Angel Fire.
Angel Fire Resort—Snowboarder’s Paradise
Clearly leading the state in its dedication to snowboarders, Angel Fire Resort has it all. Two high-speed quads offer quick access to both terrain parks: Liberation Park on the summit, and the beginner park, Lowrider. In addition to the state’s only halfpipe, Angel Fire Resort continues to host the bulk of New Mexico’s snowboarding competitions. It also boasts some steep and serene hiking-accessible terrain for the freerider in all of us.
At the end of the day, get your après shred on across from the base of the Chile Express chairlift at Sunset Grill … mmm margaritas.
Distance from Albuquerque: 150 miles (small regional airport)
Best for: Freestyle and sweet competitions
Web site: angelfireresort.com
Colleen Quigley gets after it on the mobile sliding unit.
Red River—Ride The Wild, Wild West
Arriving in historic Red River, you feel as if you’re stepping back in time to Billy The Kid’s Wild West. The chairlifts are older and slower, but the terrain and the relaxed pace of the town more than make up for it. Try to hit the Silver Chair for uncrowded steeps; and the terrain park under the Red Chair is a great place to start working on your freestyle moves. The excellent instructors and isolated teaching area also make this a safe and easy place to teach your friends to ride.
Hit up the Lift Haus at the end of the day and join the local entertainment of watching all levels of riders attempting to conquer The Face.
Distance from Albuquerque: 170 miles
Best for: Steeps and two-stepping
Web site: redriverskiarea.com
Ski Santa Fe—Sky High Riding
Just outside of New Mexico’s capital of Santa Fe, with a peak elevation of over 12,000 feet lies Ski Santa Fe. Get an early start on weekends because Santa Fe attracts a huge following on the notoriously slow route up to the mountain. The new Millennium Chair offers easy access to some the most diverse terrain in New Mexico—don’t miss the Big Rocks area. If you’re in the mood for backcountry, ask a local’s advice on current conditions at Big Tesuque Bowl—experts only, but it’s worth it.
Distance from Albuquerque: 60 miles (small regional airport)
Best for: Freeriding and tree riding
Web site: skisantafe.com
Ian Thorley busts a spicy tailgrab at Ski Santa Fe.
Sandia Peak Ski and Tramway—Cruise The Duke
Just an hour south of Santa Fe is New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque, which has the states only international airport. Sandia Peak is one of the closest resorts to this major urban area and a great lift ticket value. Although Sandia Peak’s runs cater mostly to beginners and intermediates, the long cruisers are surprisingly fun. The tram ride (the world’s longest tramway) is awesome and should not to be missed. If you’re a skater, be sure to check out Albuquerque’s legendary drainage ditches, technically called arroyos. Skating these is probably illegal, definitely dangerous, and unquestionably fun.
Distance from Albuquerque: 15 miles
Best for: Cruising and tram riding
Web site: sandiapeak.com
The world’s longest tramway (2.7 miles).
Ski Apache—Snowboard With The Gods
Load up the cooler, fill up the tank, and recharge the iPod, ’cause we’re going to the southernmost place to ride in the U.S.—Ski Apache. Ski Apache has the most snowboarding terrain in New Mexico. It’s owned by the Mescalaro Apaches and you’ll notice their colorful artistic influence everywhere. Located in the shadow of majestic Sierra Blanca Peak, the vistas here put the pan in panoramic. When you tire of busting out tricks on the boxes and rails at the Boneyard Terrain Park, head to Apache Bowl and ride The Fingers. Hey, don’t forget there’s also a gondola and gambling.
Distance from Albuquerque: 190 miles
Distance from San Antonio, Texas: 160 miles
Distance from Mexico: 120 miles
Best for: Bowls and glades
Web site: skiapache.com
As you enter New Mexico, you’ll start to see “FREE TAOS!” bumper stickers. The local snowboard shop in Angel Fire, Experience Snowboards, is continually trying to get the word out that Taos Ski Valley is still stuck in the past by prohibiting snowboarding. Experience Snowboards owner George Medina states, “I grew up learning to ski in Taos as a kid. And now that I snowboard, I can’t ride there. It’s ridiculous.” Support snowboarding and sport your sticker.
New Mexico’s snowboard scene is spread out like a Kansas yard sale, so it all depends on where you’re at, but here are some pointers: Try to learn a little Spanish for streets, food, folks, etc. “Ll” is the sound of the “y” in yellow—think tortilla and quesadilla. Second, “j” is more like the “w” in water—think Juan. And finally, following Spanish tradition, nearly every town has a plaza, which is the center where everything goes down, and it’s always worth a visit.
Red Or Green?
New Mexico may be the only state with an official question, “Red or Green?” When you order a nice smothered burrito or other regional delicacy, you need to decide what kind of chile sauce you want. Both are made from the same kind of green chiles, but the green sauce comes from fresh chiles, while the red is made from dried chiles. It’s a personal preference. If you can’t make up your mind, ask for “Christmas,” and get a serving of both.
After riding at Angel Fire, just walk downhill for fresh and authentic Chinese food—and their lunches are the best bargain in town.
52 North Angel Fire Road, Angel Fire.
If you want to treat yourself, next door is “casual gourmet” continental dining with impeccable service. Hungry carnivores must try the huge rib eye with horseradish.
48 North Angel Fire Road, Angel Fire.
Red River’s traditional breakfast joint is fast, filling, and cheap—and even better right on the way to the ski area.
403 West Main, Red River.
Dinner here is a refreshing fusion of good pub grub and upscale dinning—all the entrées are good, but be sure to try the mouthwatering salads and waffle fries.
402 West Main, Red River.
Santa Fe is a haven for eaters with tons of great options. This busy place is a local’s tradition and a great bargain specializing in New Mexican cuisine. Try the chile rellenos or stuffed sopapillas!
500 South Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe.
A uniquely Santa Fe-style location serving awesome Spanish tapas and more. A bit pricy, but features a variety of live music, and Wednesday is flamenco night.
808 Canyon Road, Santa Fe.
In Albuquerque, Sadie’s has been treating everyone right for years with their big portions, and yes … it is spicy! Expand your food horizons and order the carne adovada or guacamole salad. Otherwise check out the Nob Hill area for a variety of mid-priced options.
6230 4th Street Northwest, Albuquerque.
Lincoln Country Grill
In Ruidoso, near Ski Apache, you can get your fill of chicken, fried steak, and other American and New Mexican classics.
2717 Sudderth Drive, Ruidoso.
The Ruidoso casinos usually have good deals, or try Cafe Rio for excellent pizza.
2547 Sudderth Drive, Ruidoso.
This is the only place for the late-night crowd in Angel Fire—go there for the pool and drinks, stay there for the bartenders.
3431 Highway 434, Angel Fire.
Red River has a bunch of bars on Main Street. On the weekends most people head to the dueling watering holes (they are across the street from each other):
A favorite for bikers and country-music fans, specializing in Cajun Bloody Marys.
410 East Main, Red River.
Bull O’ The Woods Saloon
The locals choice and if you don’t know what “cowboy karaoke” is, here’s your chance to find out.
401 East Main, Red River.
The Pink Adobe Featuring The Dragon Room Lounge
This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is pure quirky Santa Fe and definitely worth a visit. You can eat at the Pink Adobe and the Dragon Room has … well, trees and monkeys and art and dragons!
406 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe.
Cowgirl Hall Of Fame
The Santa Fe scene changes like New Mexico’s weather, but the Cowgirl endures. It’s got a sassy cowgirl theme, heaps of western music, and great barbecue to boot.
319 South Guadalupe Street, Red River.
Burt’s Tiki Lounge
Albuquerque nightlife is enigmatic, but start with Burt’s. This funky hangout is rife with cheap beer, surfboards, and even some tikis. Additionally, see if local punk favorite The Gracchi are playing—loud and southwest punk proud.
313 Gold Avenue SW, Albuquerque.
Quarters Nightclub and Grill
Ruidoso offers plenty of casino-style entertainmen—be sure to check out the local’s hangout, famous for blues and barbecue on Sundays.
2535 Sudderth Drive, Ruidoso.
Angel Fire resort, Red River, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque all have inviting options near the hot shred spots.
Angel Fire Resort Hotel
In Angel Fire, the resort offers fantastically-located slopestyle lodging. Otherwise, ask the Chamber of Commerce for cheaper options.
North Angel Fire Road, Angel Fire. 1-800-633-7463
The Lodge at Red River
Red River is an awesome place by to roam around on foot, and there are tons of places to stay. The Lodge is very central and a bargain, but may get a bit noisy on the weekends.
400 East Main, Red River. 1-800-91-LODGE
Old Santa Fe Inn
Santa Fe has some incredible (but pricey) options near the plaza; the Old Santa Fe Inn is the most reasonable. Try the chains on Cerrillos Road for better value.
320 Galisteo Street, Santa Fe. 1-888-653-7346
Econo Lodge Old Town
Albuquerque’s historic downtown area is called Old Town and has some high-dollar joints. The best value is the Econo Lodge. The biggest selection of budget options though is near “The Big I,” the intersection of I-25 and I-40.
2321 Central Avenue NW, Albuquerque. (505) 243-8475
Inn Of The Mountain Gods
Ruidoso has the standard selection of value chains off I-70, or try Sudderth Drive. Even if you can’t afford to stay here, make the effort to go to see this impressive casino and hotel, just a few miles outside of town.
287 Carrizo Canyon Road, Mescalero. 1-800-545-9010
The only snowboard shop in the Enchanted Circle is in Angel Fire. Stop by and ask about its legendary “Beeribrary,” and try to scam some Free Taos stickers.
6 North Angel Fire Road, Angel Fire. (505) 377-8012
Experience Snowboards in Angel Fire.
In Santa Fe, the guys will always treat you right, and may even divulge the secrets of Tesuque backcountry.
1428 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe. (505) 988-2240
The Beach Zone
Albuquerque’s real snowboarders are here—either working or just hangin’ out.
1700 Juan Tabo NE, Albuquerque. (505) 294-9610
Angel Fire Resort hosts the snowboarding events in New Mexico. If you feel “the Force,” grab your lightsaber and go for it boardercross-style at the Jedi Challenge on March 1, 2008. For something truly mind-blowing in its intensity and absurdity, go to Red River for Mardi Gras in the Mountains, this January 30–February 4, 2008. Cajuns, snowboarders, madmen, pirates, and various night creatures congregate to celebrate crawfish, hedonism, parades, and hopefully fresh powder (… oh yeah, and the end of Lent) with fire, costumes, and Krewe prankery.