I’ve been told that Santa Fe is a pretty good town for food, art, and plush hotel bars with roaring fireplaces. I wouldn’t know. I’ve come here to sit on my rear—I’ve come here to snowboard.

I’ve been a skier for more than twenty years, and over the past five I’ve watched snowboarders evolve from reckless irritants to simple facts of life. No, I’m not about to sign a petition demanding that Taos start allowing it, but these days snowboarding helps keep the ski biz going. When you share the chair with a single-plank user, he could be a grungy youngster, but he could just as easily be a forty-year-old lawyer who used to carry poles. Many an expert skier turned die-hard ’boarder has told me I’d never go back if I made the switch.

First, I have to deal with being a beginner again—I suspect it was a lot more fun not knowing how to stop when I was nine. I sign up for Ski Santa Fe’s “Never Ever” snowboard package: $73 for a full day of lifts, lessons, and equipment rental. As a new ’boarder, the first thing I must decide is whether my style will be “regular” or “goofy.” Well, I figure, I’ve never done this before—let’s leave “goofy” to the kids with the clothes and the music. Silly me: The terminology actually refers to which foot goes forward on the board. I seem to like left foot first—I’m goofy!

Our instructor, Mike McLoughlin, is expertly encouraging, even as my thumb begs me to stop breaking falls handfirst. Snowboarding turns out to be easy in theory and hard in practice. Once you master the stance (knees bent, upper body straight, weight on one foot or the other, arms extended in front) and figure out how to let gravity do most of the work, it’s just a matter of teaching your muscles to do it all at the same time. You’ll somersault coming off the chair lift more than a few times before you master it.

Me, I never do. The learning curve for snowboarding may not be steep, but winter vacation time is precious. Instead of spending a second day on my backside and a third day on the bunny hill, I choose to take fuller advantage of Santa Fe’s 1,650 feet of vertical. A sun-kissed February day—gloves are practically superfluous—proves a fine setting for slicing through glades and bouncing over bumps on shaped skis (which really do make things easier and are now standard rental equipment).

Ski Santa Fe may not be a world-class mountain, but the town’s two hundred restaurants and as many galleries more than make up for any shortcomings. Wintertime in Santa Fe is pure fantasy: brisk air, red clay, white snow . . . and, oh, yeah, there’s nobody here! You can stay at the Eldorado for $100 (with the right discount)! Spend as much time as you want looking at the paintings in the new Georgia O’Keeffe museum! Have a bath and massage at 10,000 Waves without booking days in advance! Dine at the Inn of the Anasazi with no reservation! Chances are you’ll find yourself wondering, “Is it true that people actually come here in the summer?”—J.C.

Season: November 26—April 4 (505-982-4429, 800-776-7666; www.skisantafe.com).

Size:  600 acres, 43 runs (20 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, 40 percent expert).

Lifts/prices: 6 lifts. All-day lift ticket $40, half-day $27, three-day ticket $112.

2005 Note: Please check www.skisantafe.com/lifttickets for up-to-date fees and services information.