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When Santa Fe Hands You Snow, Make a Sport Out of It

As snow begins to dress Santa Fe in her winter garb, we bless our good fortune at living where the sun makes the slopes sparkle with brilliance, under an arc of bright blue sky. When we see a snowcap stay put on Santa Fe Baldy (we take a direct approach to naming tall peaks above the tree line), we know it’s time to start waxing skis, airing out gaiters, and planning a trip into the high country to embrace the best of winter in the pristine natural setting of Santa Fe.

Aspen trees take on a new vertical look as they cast long shows on a mountainside. (Photo courtesy of Outspire)
Aspen trees take on a new vertical look as they cast long shows on a mountainside. (Photo courtesy of Outspire)

Take Out the Wax and Head to the Mountains

The 12,075-foot summit at Ski Santa Fe looks down over 1,725 feet of skiing and snowboarding, spread across 660 peaked acres of the Sangre de Cristo range, just 16 miles east of downtown Santa Fe. There are a whopping 77 trails to experience, with 20% earmarked for amateurs like me, and the other 80% ranked as difficult to very difficult (hint: expert). I admire Ski Santa Fe’s claim, “no lift lines,” and 7 lifts accommodating 9000-plus skiers per hour make it generally do-able. The ski hill always aims for a Thanksgiving Day opening, and with early snows turning the mountaintop frosty white, it seems like a distinct possibility to me. My eager snow buddies have their gear at the ready and are chomping at the bit for us to get out there!

Get up, up, and away at Ski Santa Fe! (Photo by Kevin Rouff, winner of 2008 Ski Santa Fe photo contest)
Get up, up, and away at Ski Santa Fe! (Photo by Kevin Rouff, winner of 2008 Ski Santa Fe photo contest)

Snowboarders hone their skills at the Freestyle Terrain Park, with 15 individual features to conquer, from numerous box designs to a tree-ride. I know my limits, but I’m in awe — and a little envious! — of the aerial artistry. Of course, safety first is the mantra here. Since the ski area maintains a professionally trained, EMS-certified ski patrol, ski and board traffic is monitored with an eye to making an afternoon at Ski Santa Fe enjoyable and safe for the whole gang.

The Ski School accommodates ages 10 to 100, and both group and private skiing and snowboarding lessons are available. Face it, who among us can’t use a tune-up now and then, yours truly included? And, Ski Santa Fe’s acclaimed Adaptive Ski Program shares the joys of winter with the mentally and physically challenged — precisely the reason I buy my holiday wreath from them!

Getting Down to It Without too Much Downhill

A whole subset of winter-lovers exists for whom the swift descent down a vertical pitch holds no appeal. Yes, cross-country skiers, I mean you. There is something about the rhythmical motion of arms and legs as one passes through the quiet white countryside that makes cross-country a distinctive seasonal pleasure. Several of the Sangre de Cristo hiking trails double as cross-country opportunities, but those in the know head for the Norski Trail, dedicated to X-C skiers once the magic of winter has arrived. It’s a rare gift to be one of the early birds blazing a trail, enjoying the solitude and the feel of new powder puffing up underfoot.

Take to the tracks on the Norski Trail. (Photo courtesy of Santa Fe Walkabouts)
Take to the tracks on the Norski Trail. (Photo courtesy of Santa Fe Walkabouts)

Located below the Ski Basin, the Norski Trail has enough up-and-down to satisfy experienced skiers, but is designed to be appropriate for beginners and the legs of the younger set. The total distance is 2.5 miles, with several loop short cuts if you’re tired.  When you enlist the entertaining Santa Fe Walkabouts guides, Georges and Fritz, no matter where you end your run, you’ll benefit from their expert tips and tricks as you glide along the looping trail. Norski Trail fanatics offer a gentle reminder to non-skiers that footsteps and paw prints compromise the quality of the X-C trail and degrade the cross-country experience, so if you’re hiking with your pooch, it’s much appreciated if you kindly pick another of the many trails available.

Put on the Snowshoes to Enjoy Snow a Little More Slowly

Being out on a winter hike as the sun shines above in the blue sky is a beautiful experience, but the thrill of going “where no man has gone before,” i.e. making your own trail on fresh snow, is extra-special. By bundling up and strapping on some snowshoes, even trails we’ve hiked before are transformed into a winter wonderland. The virginal white landscape is spread out ahead for discovery, with intriguing animal tracks and trails that give hints of winter activities.

Snowshoeing has enjoyed a growth in popularity as the equipment has improved.  I appreciate the modern design and ample cleats, so I can relax into the flow without worrying about slipping and sliding. And being more maneuverable than skis, snowshoes let me step off-trail to more closely examine a fallen Ponderosa or trace the doings of four-footed forest dwellers.

Just put one snowshoe in front of the other — that’s all it takes. (Photo courtesy of Outspire)
Just put one snowshoe in front of the other — that’s all it takes. (Photo courtesy of Outspire)

Unlike skiing, the average person develops a snowshoe rhythm with ease, particularly in the company of the experienced guides from Outspire. Owner/guide Karen Denison notes that when she and her guides “take folks out on guided snowshoe outings, we do a lot of coaching over the telephone ahead of time about what to expect and what clothing would be appropriate to bring.” Outspire makes sure that snowshoes are correctly fitted, provides poles, and waterproof gaiters, and gives sound suggestions on finer points of technique.” Sounds like a plan to me, since winter safety is always part of my equation.

Show Off Your Salchow

With the Winter Olympics just around the corner, I imagine it’s likely that someone in your family is as fascinated by the footwork on the ice as I am. When I see a skater soar in a double axle or lift off the back edge of a blade for a Salchow, I hold my breath. And while I will never — and I mean ever — be as sure-footed as the budding Stars On Ice I see whirling and twirling at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center Ice Skating Rink, I still like to lace up a pair of blades and hope to stay upright for an hour or so.

Brilliant blade work is on display at the Genoveva Chavez Center Ice Skating Rink.
Brilliant blade work is on display at the Genoveva Chavez Center Ice Skating Rink.

The Chavez Center has been a local hit since it opened, with a weight room, pool, indoor track, and basketball courts, but the addition of a skating rink to our sports-loving town really filled a void. Hockey games and practices, ice dancing, even a public skate hour at a jaw-dropping 5:30 am means that rink time is available for all manner of ice escapades.

And there are even some special holiday events: Chanukah on Ice takes place December 2, and I’m really psyched to see how skaters match their footwork to the Dreidl song. A little later in the month, we’ll enjoy a tribute to the Sochi Winter Olympics, as the Santa Fe Skating Club sharpens their blades for a holiday skate show on December 14–15.

Getting into Gear

Playing outdoors in comfort and safety means having the right stuff. As Karen Denison of Outspire wisely counsels, “One of your worst enemies in winter is moisture, whether it comes from the outside leaking in or the sweat that you might generate yourself.” Multiple thin layers roomy enough to trap air ensure you stay warm and allow for adjustments as you work up internal heat. Extra socks are fine, but remember your footgear needs to accommodate them, so loosen your laces or consider getting bigger shoes or boots for winter.

If you don’t want to pack the skis … or the board … or the snowshoes … or the skates, remember you can rent gear from both Ski Santa Fe and the Chavez Skating Rink. And our friendly and proficient local guides will definitely make sure you are outfitted properly before you embark on any winter adventure with them.

Don’t pack it — find it in Santa Fe at Alpine Sports!
Don’t pack it — find it in Santa Fe at Alpine Sports!

Our local ski shops thrive on rentals as well as sales throughout the winter months. Alpine Sports has been in the same location on Sandoval Street for as long as I can remember. Bindings and boots, parkas and packs, skis and boards, this family-owned and -operated store has it all. Another option is Ski Tech, located on St. Francis Drive just north of the Cerrillos Road intersection. You gotta love a retailer who has a Ski Butler — AND who’s open on holidays.

A Santa Fe Winter Wonderland Awaits

Days may have grown shorter with the recent time change, but a winter getaway to Santa Fe still packs a punch. Our friendly sun does a quick job of melting the snow from our roadways, and glorious sunsets make the snow-capped peaks glow. Special deals and great meals are available all over town, and burning some extra calories on snow or ice means you can dig into that platter of nachos without guilt. The City Different has earned its reputation as a one-of-a-kind destination, and a visit for a snowy sporting adventure shows you another side of Santa Fe, one that will be warmed by memories of a white winter paradise.

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