Too Steep? Skiing Bargains Abound for the Patient & Flexible
Dec 20, 2012 11:25AM
● By Scott Blackwell
A crew from New Zealand ensures that more than 80 percent of Red River Ski Area's slopes are covered with man made snow when temperatures permit.
Skiing in NM and Southern CO [4 Images] Click Any Image To Expand
Remember the good old days of skiing, when $100 would fill the car with gas, buy a
couple of lift tickets and even pay for a night’s lodging? Nowadays, a day of skiing at luxurious Telluride has topped triple digits. In today’s economy, can many of us afford to ski anymore?
Bargain hunters patient enough to look for the right deals before picking dates and places, can find great prices throughout the region.
Early season, late season; seniors for free? Certainly. But how about fourth-graders and 40-year-olds? Fifth-graders, too? Want the ultimate bulk rate? Try $50 per carload. A few ski areas in the region even chose not to raise their daily lift ticket prices this year, something that hasn’t happened in at least a decade.
So hunt for the deals and continue to hope those La Niña forecasters are wrong this winter. And even if they’re right, New Mexico and Southern Colorado know how to keep their customers on the slopes.
Most of the following resorts have snowmaking equipment, and almost half of those can cover 50% or more of their runs.
Here's some of our favorite areas, and at least one we wish we were good enough to try. Slopes are open 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Angel Fire (angelfireresort.com, 800-633-7463) might offer more ways to move across snow than any resort in the region with a tubing hill and two freestyle parks with a 400-foot half pipe. Now they offer more hours on the hill with night skiing until 9 p.m. Just 50 acres are lit up, but that’s still enough room for NASTAR racing and riding the rails of the terrain park.
Hit the road: From I-25 north, exit at St. Francis in Santa Fe (also Hwy. 84/285 north). Follow 84/285 into Española, then Hwy. 68 toward Taos. Turn right (east) on Hwy. 64 toward Eagle Nest, then south on Hwy. 434.
From Albuquerque: 151 miles, about 3 hours.
Stats: 2,077 feet of vertical drop; 74 trails (26% beginner, 50% intermediate, 24% advanced); two high-speed quad lifts, three doubles and two surface lifts.
Cost: Adult – $66, $49 half-day (from
1 p.m.); kids 6 and younger and seniors 70 and older ski free; ages 7-12 – $46, $36 half-day; teens 13-17 – $56, $42 half-day. Fifth-graders ski free if pre-registered online. Night skiing $24 or $12 additional with same-day pass.
What the locals know: Wait until after 10 a.m. to ski the Back Basin. It’s often icy first thing in the morning.
Durango Mountain Resort at Purgatory (durangomountainresort.com, 800-982-6103) is the corporate-owned mega-resort of the region. News equipment this season will allow for grooming expert runs. But mogul mashers need not worry – plenty of ungroomed black diamonds will remain.
Hit the road: Head to Bernalillo on I-25, then take Hwy. 550 north to Bloomfield. From there, take Hwy. 544 to Aztec and
finally U.S. Hwy. 550 through Durango and on into the resort.
From Albuquerque: 237 miles, almost 4 hours.
Stats: 2,029 feet of vertical drop; 1,360 acres; 88 trails (20% beginner, 45% intermediate, 35% advanced/expert); a high-speed six-person lift, a high-speed quad, four triples, three doubles, and surface lift.
Cost: Adult – $75; kids 6-12 – $45; teens 13-17 – $60; kids 5 and younger free; seniors 65+ – $49.
The scientists at Los Alamos were able to keep the first atomic bomb a secret decades ago. Today, the skiing community is almost as secretive about Pajarito (skipajarito.com, 662-5725), some 5 miles west of town. Open weekends, Fridays, federal holidays and three continuous weeks around Christmas/New Year, this not-for-profit ski club’s mountain feels bigger than its 300 skiable acres thanks to its sparse skier population. And a couple of lifts are set to reopen after forest fire damage.
Hit the road: Head north on I-25 and take the St. Francis exit in Santa Fe. Continue north on St. Francis, which turns into Hwy. 84/285. At Pojoaque, turn left on Hwy. 502 to Los Alamos. Stay on 502 into Los Alamos. Take Hwy. 501 west out of town and after passing Los Alamos National Lab, turn west onto Camp May Road for 3 miles.
From Albuquerque: 103 miles, 11/2 hours.
Stats: 1,200 feet of vertical drop; 40 trails (20% beginner, 50% intermediate, 30% expert); one quad lift, a triple, three doubles and a rope tow.
Cost: Adult – $59, $46 half-day; skiers 65 - 74 and teens 13-17 – $49, $35 half-day; kids 7 - 12 – $35, $30 half-day.
What the locals know: Some beginner runs are steeper than usual, and some intermediate runs have more bumps than you might see elsewhere. So why not go ahead and push yourself a little? Rare morning half-day tickets allow skiing till 12:30 p.m.
Red River (redriverskiarea.com, 575-754-2223) celebrated 50 years of skiing a few seasons ago with a new triple chair designed to increase uphill capacity by 50% and shave about four minutes off the ride to the top.
Trade your ski boots for cowboy boots after dark this old mining town turned year-round resort. A snowmaking crew from New Zealand strives to cover 87% of Red River’s slopes when temperatures permit, and often allows the ski area to stay open late into March.
Hit the road: From I-25 north, exit at St. Francis in Santa Fe (also Hwy. 84/285 north). Follow 84/285 into Española, then Hwy. 68 north through Taos and on to Questa. In Questa, turn right on Hwy. 38 into Red River.
From Albuquerque: 171 miles, 31/2 hours.
Stats: 1,600 feet of vertical drop; 57 trails (32% beginner, 38% intermediate, 30% expert); three triple lifts, three doubles and a rope tow.
Cost: Adult – $65, $50 half-day (a.m. or p.m.); teens 13 - 19 – $59, $45 half-day; kids 4 - 12 and seniors 65-69 – $49, $36 half-day.
What the locals know: Because there's no drive time to this in-town ski area, patrons can overcrowd the base area quickly. Beat the 10 a.m. rush. Morning half-day tickets valid until 1 p.m.
Sandia Peak (sandiapeak.com, 242-9052) is the closest ski area to Albuquerque. A motivated skier can be on a lift an hour after leaving home. Don't let the view from town fool you. While the west side of the mountain visible from Albuquerque often looks barren, most of the snow falls on the east side. Not an incredibly challenging mountain, but long cruising runs.
Hit the road: Take I-40 east to the Cedar Crest exit, north on Hwy. 14, then left at Hwy. 536 to the ski area.
From Albuquerque: 27 miles, 45 minutes.
Stats: 1,700 feet of vertical drop; 30 trails (35% beginner, 55% intermediate, 10% expert); four doubles and two surface tows.
Cost: Adult – $50, $35 half-day; children/teens 6-20 and seniors 62 - 71 – $40, $30 half-day; kids shorter than 46 inches in ski boots and seniors 72 and older ski free.
What the locals know: Half-day tickets are applicable for morning or afternoon. If you already have skis, skip the drive to the ski area and opt for the tram ride out of Albuquerque. Buy a lift ticket at the tram station and get a round-trip tram ticket for $12. A half-day lift/tram pass is $45 weekdays. A $59 Peak Plus card gets holders $25 off all-day passes and $20 off at Santa Fe. Sandia has been known to close Mondays and Tuesdays outside of holidays. Check ahead.
Albuquerque residents might find Santa Fe Ski Area (skisantafe.com, 982-4429) is a good compromise – ski runs like those found farther north without the longer drive. The Millen-nium Triple chair that takes skiers to 12,075 feet has
almost eliminated lift lines.
Hit the road: Take I-25 north to the St. Francis exit in Santa Fe. Continue north on St. Francis, then turn right on Paseo de
Peralta. Turn left after the pink Scottish Rite Temple, then a quick right at Artists Road (Hwy. 475) to the ski area.
From Albuquerque: 76 miles, 11/2 hours.
Stats: 1,725 feet of vertical drop; 660 acres; 72 trails (20%
beginner, 40% intermediate, 40% expert); a quad lift, two triples, two doubles and two surface lifts move 7,300 skiers an hour.
Cost: Adult – $66, $50 half-day; teens 13 - 20 – $50, no half-day; kids 12 and younger and seniors 62 - 71 – $46. Kids shorter than 46 inches in ski boots and seniors 72 and older ski free.
What the locals know: Santa Fe is one of those rare areas that grooms some of its expert runs. Those who like steep, but mogul-free cruiser runs can find a few on this mountain. A $199 Millennium Pass gives holders $20 off all-day passes ($25 off at Sandia) and unlimited January skiing at both resorts.
Silverton Mountain (970-387-5706, silvertonmountain.com) is
Colorado's newest and steepest ski area – with no groomed runs, no crowds, no snowmaking and no condos. All thrills, no frills is the motto here. Sound adventurous, if not downright primitive? So much so that skiers can only hit the slopes with mountain-approved guides for much of the ski season. Those dates are subject to change, so call or check the website first. This is as pristine as it gets, unless you hitch a ride with a helicopter pilot.
Not for the weak or budget-minded, advanced and expert skiers will find wide open bowls, tree runs and truly natural high-altitude skiing. The $49 unguided lift ticket is a bit misleading since avalanche beacons, shovels and probes are required (another $36-$41 unless you own this kind of stuff).
Hit the road: From Durango (see Durango Mountain Resort), take Hwy. 550 to Silverton. Drive through town and make a sharp left at the edge of town by the park and water tower. The ski area is 6 miles up and on the right.
From Albuquerque: 250 miles and almost 41/2 hours.
Stats: 1,900 feet of vertical drop from the top of one double lift, up to 2,900 feet with additional hike; 100% expert on 1,600 acres.
Cost: $139, guided mid-Jan. – March; generally unguided and $49 before and after those dates, but check website first.
What the locals know: Bring your own or order lunch in advance from Silverton Mountain because there’s no on-mountain restaurant ... or indoor toilets.
Sipapu (800-587-2240, sipapunm.com) was owned by a single family for nearly half a century. That began to change in 2003 with new investors and continues with a managing partner who’s added 17 runs and two lifts. The original owners still have a lot to do with the family atmosphere.
Hit the road: From I-25 north, exit at St. Francis in Santa Fe (also Hwy. 84/285 north). Follow 84/285 into Española, then Hwy. 68 north toward Taos. Turn right after Velarde on NM 75, which
becomes NM 518.
From Albuquerque: 21/2 hours; 128 miles.
Stats: 1,055 feet of vertical drop; 41 trails (20% beginner, 40% intermediate, 40% advanced/expert); two triple and two
Cost: Adult – $44, $33 half-day; children 7-12 – $29, $22 half-day; teens 13 - 20 – $37, $28 half-day; seniors 61-69 – $29, $22 half day. Fourth-graders, 40-year-olds (this is not a typo!), 60-year-olds, kids 6 and younger and those 70 and older ski free.
What the locals know: A dizzying array of specials, including free lodging with lift ticket purchase; and lift tickets for a
carload of up to six for $50 at least 11 days through the rest of the season. And two-for-one lift tickets on 10 Tuesdays. Check website for details.
Yes, Virginia, there is a ski area south of Albuquerque. In fact, it’s the southernmost ski area in the U.S. (skiapache.com, 575-464-1234). The Mescalero Apache Tribe is adding some $15 million in improvements this season, primarily in an 8-passenger gondola that will boost uphill capacity another 3,600 people an hour.
Hit the road: Take I-25 south. After Socorro, exit 139 to US-380; right on NM 37; right on NM 48 into Ruidoso. Take NM 48 5 miles north of Ruidoso to Ski Run Road (Hwy. 532). Turn left (west) 11 miles to Ski Apache.
From Albuquerque: 31/2 hours; 190 miles.
Stats: 1,900 feet of vertical drop on 750+ acres; 55 trails (20% beginner, 60% intermediate, 20% expert); gondola, two quads, five triples, one double and two surface lifts.
Cost: Adult – $55, $39 half-day; teens 13-17 – $46, $34 half-day; children 12 and younger – $35, $26 half-day; seniors 70 and older free.
What the locals know: Early birds, catch the lift at 8:45 a.m.
Approaching 60, Taos Ski Valley (800-347-7414, skitaos.org) is the grand-daddy of New Mexico ski mountains. The resort offers some of the most challenging runs in the country. Village renovations over the last few years, including the expansion from a convenience store to a true grocery are keeping a few more skiers at the mountain instead of in Taos, about 20 miles down the road. Steeped in tradition, critics were flabbergasted a few years ago when the ski area finally allowed snowboards.
Hit the road: From I-25 north, exit at St. Francis in Santa Fe (also Hwy. 84/285 north). Follow 84/285 into Española, then Hwy. 68 north through Taos. On the far side of Taos, turn right at the light onto Hwy. 150.
From Albuquerque: 150 miles, 3 hours.
Stats: 2,612 feet of vertical drop, 3,274 feet with hiking; 110 trails (24% beginner, 25% intermediate, 51% expert); four quad lifts, a triple, five doubles and three
Cost: Adult (ages 18-64) – $75, $62 half-day; teen (13-17) – $65, $47 half-day; children 7-12 – $45, $37 half-day. Seniors (65-69) – $65, $47 half-day. Seniors 80 and older ski free, as do those 6 and younger with a paying adult. A $30 Taos card saves $17 off daily lift tickets, and every seventh day is free.
What the locals know: At the base of every lift, signs show waiting times at
other lifts. Those who pay attention get in more skiing.
This mining town turned mountain playground of the rich and famous is a farther drive than any other, but many find Telluride (tellurideskiresort.com, 800-778-8581) worth it to ski in the lap of luxury.
Wide open and unhurried, only the day-trippers seem stressed from finding parking, or discovering they can’t buy single-day lift tickets.
Hit the road: I-25 to Bernalillo, then take Hwy. 550 north to Bloomfield. From there, take Hwy. 544 to Aztec and finally U.S. Hwy. 550 into Durango. Left on US 160 West, right on Hwy. 145.
From Albuquerque: 320 miles, five hours.
Stats: 3,845 feet of vertical drop, 4,425 feet with hiking; 120 trails (23% beginner, 36% intermediate, 41% advanced/expert); two high-speed gondolas; seven high-speed quads, 1 fixed quad, two triples, two doubles and two surface lifts.
Cost: (no daily rates, 2-day passes) adult (ages 13-64) – $202; children (6-12) – $126; seniors 65 and older – $180.
What the locals know: Park it and leave it; take advantage of the best resort public transit in the Rockies.
Wolf Creek (wolfcreekski.com, 970-264-5639) likes to boast it has “the most snow in Colorado.” Even during this especially dry early season, the area had received 2 feet of snow by presstime, and usually gets 465 inches before the season ends. Laid-back, family-run and grappling with development proposals, there’s no on-slope lodging. Stay in Pagosa Springs 23 miles down the road.
Hit the road: From I-25 north, exit at Bernalillo to Hwy. 550. After Cuba, take Hwy. 537 north to Dulce, then Hwy. 84 north to Pagosa Springs.
From Albuquerque: 212 miles to Pagosa Springs; almost 4 hours.
Stats: 1,604 feet of vertical drop on 1,600 acres (20% beginner, 35% intermediate, 45% advanced/expert); two quads, two triples, a double and two surface lifts.
Cost: Adult – $56, $43 half-day; child/senior (6-12 / 65-79) – $30, $23 half-day. Tots 5 and younger – $6.
What the locals know: The Alberta Lift area provides a variety of terrain, from above-timberline chutes to forest glades of all densities for intermediates and experts. The lifts open at 8:30 a.m., half an hour before the rest of the ski world.