If you really want to get away from the crowds, scoot over to Los Alamos, thirty miles west of Santa Fe. The nearby Pajarito ski area is almost as top secret as the town was when the Manhattan Project begat the atomic bomb there in the forties. Four miles from Los Alamos, Paja-rito has five chairs and one rope tow along the base, each averaging a 1,000-foot vertical. But what vertical. “It’s all fall line,” says Red River’s Drew Judycki, who admits to sneaking away to Los Alamos a few times every season. “Nice bumps.” Open mid-December through April on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. A full-day lift ticket is $33 and a half-day ticket is $24 week-ends and holidays, $26 and $20 Wednesdays (505-662-5725, 888-662-SNOW; skipajarito.com).—J.N.P.
Sandia Peak Ski Area With 90 percent beginner-to-intermediate terrain and a 1,700-foot vertical, Santa Fe’s sister mountain in Albuquerque is for cruising only, but its main attraction—the tram, which takes you 10,000 feet up and provides spectacular views of the entire valley—doesn’t even require long underwear. Open December 18 through March 14. A full-day lift ticket is $34, half-day $25. Tram rides are $8 for skiers; $14 for non-skiers (505-856-6419; sandiapeak.com).—J.C.
“Welcome. Don’t just sit there, come on in” reads the sign between two totem poles at the entrance to Sipapu. The introduction sets the tone of this compact little roadside operation 22 miles southeast of Taos, which gets my vote for funkiest ski area in New Mexico. The Bolander family started Sipapu way back in the Stone Age—1952, to be exact—and scion Bruce Bolander carries on the tradition with an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. The place has a timeless feel, embodied in the rustic redwood of the ski lodge and gift shop and the triple chair and two Poma rope tows covering a humble 865-foot drop. You almost expect Sonja Henie to come schussing down, throwing caution to the wind.
So it isn’t flashy or trendy or glitzy: Some of us like it that way just fine. Besides, it’s cheaper, looser, and gentler, all the better to work on your turns or practice dive-bombing; it’s still dry, fluffy New Mexico powder, where sunscreen counts more than a forty below Gore-Tex double-insulated parka; and the fireplace in the lodge is always roaring. Big pluses: Sipapu brags that it has the shortest lift lines in northern New Mexico; what’s more, it’s the closest area to the incredibly scenic High Road to Taos. Open December 17 through late March. A full-day lift ticket is $29, half-day $21 (505-587-2240; sipapunm.com).—J.N.P.
Forty-five miles south of Ruidoso in Cloudcroft, this winter playground doubles as a golf course off-season. It’s open seven days a week, with night skiing from Thursday through Saturday. But with only 700 feet of vertical and unreliable weather (it was closed for the entire ’96—’97 season), let’s just say that as a ski area, it has great sledding. Open from mid-December through mid-March. A full-day lift ticket is $25, half-day $18 (505-682-2333; 800-333-7542).—J.C.
If Ski Rio, formally known as Rio Costilla Resort, wasn’t an hour’s drive from both Taos and Red River near the Colorado line, it might be one of the most popular destinations in northern New Mexico. As it is, the sixteen-year-old ski area and resort is considered somewhat off the beaten path, despite an impressive 2,150-foot vertical, 83 runs, and a snowboard park with a half-pipe. Open December 10 through April 4. A full-day lift ticket is $35, half-day $29 (505-758-7707, 800-227-5746.—J.N.P.