Last Waltz: Spring Skiing in Santa Fe

Spring Skinning and Skiing in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Source: Geo Davis)

Spring Skinning and Skiing in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Source: Geo Davis)

One month ago, on April 5, 2017, I skinned and skied Santa Fe’s local ski hill for the last time second to last time this season.

Long after winter had turned into spring and the snow had begun to melt, Santa Fe received several significant snowfalls. In the vernacular of my fellow powder hounds, a couple of “epic dumps”. Lift service had ended on April 2, so I lashed on my boards and skins and headed uphill to catch the fresh powder.

Here’s a glimpse of uphill portion of my most memorable ski of the year.

As you can see, the conditions were A+ immaculate!

I started out early enough that I barely saw a soul (even though a couple of headlamp-hardy skinners must have made it to the summit for sunrise.) On my ski-out, I must have passed 3-4 dozen people skinning up. Plenty of powder left for all of them…

Spring Skinning and Skiing in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Source: Geo Davis)

Spring Skinning and Skiing in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Source: Geo Davis)

Although I envisioned this as my last ski day, my bride decided that she wanted a final lick at the hill before the daffodils pushed their golden heads into the blue sky. So we headed up the following weekend.

Spring Skinning and Skiing in Santa Fe (Source: Geo Davis)

Spring Skinning and Skiing in Santa Fe (Source: Geo Davis)

The conditions were mushier at the bottom and icier up high, but this sun-soaked spring adventure with my bride and dog offered a glorious curtain call for an amazing ski season. Thanks, Ski Santa Fe!

Ski Santa Fe and Artistic Side Trips

A view from a ski lift at Ski Santa Fe in Santa Fe National Forest’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. (Photo Source: Jennifer Hiller /San Antonio Express-News)

A view from a ski lift at Ski Santa Fe in Santa Fe National Forest’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. (Photo Source: Jennifer Hiller /San Antonio Express-News)

Jennifer Hiller and her family visited Santa Fe and she wrote about her experiences in the San Antonio Express-News. The majority of the article describes their days skiing in Santa Fe, not Taos or another location, but a mountain right in Santa Fe!

“From Ski Santa Fe’s 10,350 base elevation to its peaks above 12,000 feet, there’s a family vibe, top-of-the-world views and nary a ski snob in sight. […] skiing in Santa Fe is really right there, just 16 miles from downtown. It took maybe 30 minutes to get from our hotel to the parking lot.” (Skiing with a side of art in Santa Fe)

While described as not a ski in-and-out/condo/spa resort-type of ski location, the accessibility and ease of Ski Santa Fe marks it as a great ski destination — Jennifer notes that she and her family did more actual skiing there than on other ski trips. She also notes that at Ski Santa Fe there is a ski school for kids.

When not skiing, Jennifer wrote about exploring the variety of offerings of downtown Santa Fe, but she spent the latter half of her article talking about her family’s visit to Meow Wolf (which we previously mentioned in this post “Santa Fe Culture: Past Meets Future“).

Meow Wolf is composed of different artistic components; one section is an arts-and-crafts studio that Jennifer and the kids took refuge in when another section of Meow Wolf, the “House of Eternal Return,” became a bit much for them. Here’s how she described it:

Meow Wolf’s “House of Eternal Return” is a mashup of a Victorian home, jungle gym, the Twilight Zone, Alice in Wonderland and some of the stranger nightclubs I went to back in the day. […] There is a lot going on – some sort of space-time, alternative dimension thing is happening. My friend and I tried to figure it out, but mostly we tried not to lose our children, who kept doing things like going into refrigerators that were actually doors to other rooms, or disappearing into fireplaces that led to other worlds.” (Skiing with a side of art in Santa Fe)

Jennifer concludes that “the entire trip to Santa Fe was […] filled with unexpected discoveries that made us feel a world away from the daily grind.” A perfect sentiment that many feel after visiting! If you want to read about her full experiences in Santa Fe here’s the full article “Skiing with a side of art in Santa Fe.”

Blake + Bacon = New Taos Ski Valley

Mix of New and Old Enlivens Taos Ski Valley (Source: The New York Times)

Mix of New and Old Enlivens Taos Ski Valley (Source: The New York Times)

I’d like to pass along a Technicolor Taos tease as featured yesterday in the The New York Times. Christopher Solomon’s “Mix of New and Old Enlivens Taos Ski Valley” is a stunning, well developed look at the current evolution of New Mexico’s prize cache for expert skiers. Solomon invites the reader on a virtual tour of some of the new (or, more accurately, now-more-accessible) adrenaline inducing terrain, and he seamlessly braids in the mountain’s unique history and culture.

The story of Taos’s founding, and the story of its visionary, Ernie Blake, are one of the most colorful strands in the fabric of America’s ski history: how a deft-skiing Swiss immigrant tried to join the 10th Mountain Division in World War II but was denied because of suspicions he was a spy; how the Army instead changed his surname from the Jewish “Bloch” to “Blake” and enlisted him as a translator, during which he interrogated some of the biggest names in the Third Reich; and how, after war’s end, he went looking for a place to start a ski resort. People said his choice, near the end of a lonesome valley in the shadow of 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, the state’s roof, was too steep, too remote and too challenging. But Blake pursued his vision. With the help of a young wife and a mule named Lightning he hacked Taos Ski Valley into existence. (Source: Mix of New and Old Enlivens Taos Ski Valley – The New York Times)

Mix of New and Old Enlivens Taos Ski Valley (Source: The New York Times)

Mix of New and Old Enlivens Taos Ski Valley (Source: The New York Times)

Ski Santa Fe: Uphill Skiers Responsibility Code

Skinning Santa Fe: Time to review the "Uphill Skiers Responsibility Code"?

Skinning Santa Fe: Time to review the “Uphill Skiers Responsibility Code”?

Too early to think about skiing? I think not! I’m heading into my third year as a telemark skier. And I can’t wait for the snow to fly! Early December will see me skinning Santa Fe Ski Basin 3-4 times a week, and in anticipation, I’ve decided to take a look at their “Uphill Skiers Responsibility Code“.

But first a little back story tracing my recent transition to telemark skiing…

Toward Telemark

I grew up downhill (alpine) and cross country (nordic) skiing. I enjoyed both. But a few days of downhill each winter was more than enough for me. And cross country dwindled by middle school. Not enough time. Too many competing interests like competitive swimming.

In my twenties I moved to Santa Fe and discovered “real” downhill skiing. Lots of dry, powdery snow. Lots of steep, underpopulated terrain. Lots of blue sky! I couldn’t get enough of it. And with Santa Fe as my “home mountain” and Taos just a short-ish ride away, I logged more days on the slopes each winter than I had in all my previous years combined. I became a competent skier. And I had a blast.

Victory: Skinning Santa Fe

Victory: Skinning Santa Fe

Then I moved to Paris and spent four years in the Alps rediscovering once again the thrill and beauty of prime skiing conditions.

Back in the United States I continued to chase challenging terrain and push my limits. My bride and I have season passes at Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, NY and we try to spend a good chunk of time in the Southwest. Although Santa Fe is our home mountain, I also spent a week at Taos. Some winters we squeeze in another ski destination like Jackson Hole or Whistler Blackcomb. In short, we love to ski.

But a few years ago I got curious about telemark skiing. I’d been enjoying the elegant tele turns from chairlifts for years, growing gradually more intrigued. And then I skied with a friend who’s the most powerful, beautiful telemark skier I’ve ever witnessed. And I decided to look into it.

I read a little. I watched some videos. But mostly I started talking to tele skiers about their experience. And the more I learned, the more I realized that I wanted to make the leap. In my mind, the change represented a transition from skiing that banged me up to skiing that made me stronger and healthier. It also flip-flopped the dynamics with my bride, turning me into a remedial telemark skier trying to keep up with her. This meant better exercise and more skiing together. Win-win.

From Telemark to Skinning

From telemark skiing downhill to skinning uphill was the next big change. We still enjoy lift service, but there’s no better way to whip the legs and lungs into shape than earning the slopes in December. (Not to mention that uphill skinning opens up a whole world of skiing beyond the pistes!)

Last year was my first season of skinning, and my willing bride made the transition to AT primarily so that she could join in the fun. Earn it. Enjoy it.

While I’ll revisit the joys of uphill skiing later, it’s time I get around to the objective for this post: drawing attention to Santa Fe’s uphill skiing rules, (aka “Uphill Skiers Responsibility Code”).

Uphill Skiers Responsibility Code

All of the following was copied verbatim from and it’s worth rereading each season.

Ski Santa Fe Welcomes Uphill Skiers and Boarders. To ensure the safety of uphill and downhill skiers and boarders, please adhere to the Uphill Skiers Responsibility Code:

The following code is in place to promote everyone’s safety on the mountain. There are numerous hazards to be aware of. This is only a partial list.

Stay to the side of trails to minimize conflict with downhill traffic.

Avoid headwalls and blind corners.

Keep dogs on a leash at all times while in the ski area boundaries.

When traveling in groups, move uphill in single file.

Off to Skin Santa Fe

Off to Skin Santa Fe

STAY OFF OF TRAILS THAT HAVE SNOWMAKING IN PROGRESS. These trails will have 480 volt electrical cords and high pressure water hoses, and at times they may be just beneath the surface. They may also have very icy conditions, particularly near the snow guns. SEEK AN ALTERNATE ROUTE IF YOU SEE ANY INDICATION OF SNOW MACHINES, ELECTRICAL CORDS, OR HOSES.

Some trails are groomed with a winch cat which uses cables under extremely high tension. STAY OFF THESE TRAILS! These cables can move suddenly and change height. THEY CAN CAUSE DISMEMBERMENT OR DEATH. The following trails are the ones most often winched: Muerte, Upper Parachute, Wizard, Sunrise, and Burro Alley. This list is not comprehensive and other trails may be winched. ALWAYS GIVE SNOWCATS, SNOWMOBILES, AND ANY OTHER MACHINERY A WIDE BERTH. SEEK ALTERNATE ROUTES TO AVOID THEM.

Avalanche danger and other hazards exist both inside and outside ski area boundaries. KEEP OUT OF AREA NORTH OF THE TESUQUE PEAK TRIPLE CHAIRLIFT WHEN THERE IS NEW SNOW, as these areas may have Ski Patrol in them engaged in avalanche mitigation. Entering these areas puts you and the Ski Patrol at risk.

Skiing outside the ski area boundary is in a wild area where no avalanche mitigation measures have been taken. AVALANCHE DANGER, CLIFFS, AND OTHER NATURAL HAZARDS EXIST. THESE AREAS ARE NOT PATROLLED. You are responsible for your own safety both inside and outside the ski area boundary. Ski Patrol service is not available outside normal operating hours (9:00am to 4:00pm), or outside the ski area boundaries at any time. (

See you at the Santa Fe Ski Basin!