Like Aspen, Breckenridge, and Telluride in Colorado, Red River is a mining town that, through a few parallel quirks of geology, geography, luck, and timing, happened to evolve into a ski town. But that old mining town, unique to New Mexico as it might be, isn’t what lends Red River its honky-tonk cowboy flavor so much as its status as the Rockies ski area that’s most like Texas: that warm, safe place in the Sangre de Cristos with just the right mix of solid snowpack and familiar accents. In contrast to Taos’ Euro-ambiance, Red River is Port Aransas with mountains. It’s where I learned to stem christie, parallel, and schuss—that special memorymaker where I first experienced snowbunny lust (at the Black Mountain Playhouse while being serenaded by a rock band from Amarillo), and where a high school charter trip was cut short after a classmate was accused of spiking the Red River with LSD.
Red River (population: 375) and I have both grown up, thank goodness. The ski area, established in 1959, has effectively doubled in size over the past ten years, thanks mainly to the opening of the Backside, where you can get your history lesson by skiing through a replica of a mining camp. The town’s lodging capacity has grown to six thousand “commercial pillows,” as Drew Judycki, the ski area’s general manager, puts it. And these days Michael Martin Murphey, the noted Texas songwriter and Red River transplant, gives concerts at the Red River Inn’s Mineshaft Theatre on a regular basis.
In spite of the changes, the folksy family vibe persists, and both the ski area—with its 1,600-foot vertical and challenging runs like E Town Ditch, Downtown, and Broadway—and the town are pretty much the same as they ever were, except that the kids schussing down the lift line are doing it on boards. Teens still hang at the Black Mountain Playhouse. Frye’s Old Town still peddles kitschy T-shirts, piñon incense, and knickknacks. And if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that the grizzled mountain man recently enjoying a $3.99 all-you-can-eat breakfast plate at Shotgun Willie’s was the same one I saw there thirty years ago.— J.N.P.
Season November 26—March 28 (505-754-2223; http://taoswebb.com/).
Size 250 acres, 57 runs (25 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate, 25 percent expert).
Lifts/prices 6 lifts. Full-day lift ticket $39, half-day $29, three-day ticket $90.
2005 Note: Please check http://taoswebb.com/ for up-to-date fees and services information .