While winter alpine sports hold a special place in the hearts of most New Mexicans, the cost of playing at name-brand resorts can be somewhat stifling for outdoors enthusiasts operating on a budget. In an era marred by fiscal irresponsibility, it seems prudent to pinch pennies whenever and wherever possible. Fortunately, New Mexico comes jam-packed with cost-conscious options for all alpinists, from easy, half-day outings to full-day winter mountaineering not recommended for the novices.
Here’s a quick collection of three spots the state has to offer that shouldn’t cause too much budgetary damage.
This is a relatively easy hike that should get you in place for some great turns in a matter of hours. The short, half-hour drive offers some great views of the east mountains, and is ample time to consume some pre-hike caffeine and chocolate. From Albuquerque, head east on I-40, taking the Tijeras exit toward Cedar Crest. Take the Crest Highway (NM 536) towards the top of the mountain. Approximately 1-1/2 miles from the crest there is an easily noticeable sign marking the entrance to the Ellis Trailhead; use this parking lot, as the traverse to the slopes sits adjacent to the lot. Follow the main traverse 1/2 to 3/4 miles until the ski lifts become visible. From there, choose your line and enjoy. There are also a few pieces of freestyle equipment set up along the traverse for all the tricked-out jibbsters (snowboarders) craving park action.
Note: Multiple vehicles make this trip much easier, as one car can be left at the base of the ski resort, while the other can be used to shuttle up to the trailhead.
The Tesuque Bowl on the back-side of the Santa Fe ski resort is a great introductory backcountry experience for anyone looking to get away from the weekend crowds, or even civilization in general. While it is possible to actually hike from the base of the ski area to the summit, where the bowl’s main access is located, it is much easier and time-friendly to take advantage of Santa Fe’s chairlifts — buy a half-day ticket, ski the morning on the slopes, then access Tesuque as the morning half-day expires (half-day Santa Fe $38, skisantafe.com).
Though there’s a clear sign indicating the bowl’s access point, technically you’ll be out of bounds, for better or for worse. Riding the Big-T is an excellent first-taste of the many backcountry hits the state has to offer, but remember, this area is not patrolled, so don’t forget your ski-buddy. Save time by parking a car at the Tesuque access road about five miles below the ski area basin and hitchhike the rest of the way up. Then, at the end of the day, just ski out.
This happens to be a personal favorite in terms of hardcore alpine work. Again, if you really hate yourself you can hike the more than 3,000 feet of vertical from the base of the ski area to the top of the peak, but this is not something I would recommend. If you insist on pushing yourself to physical and mental limits, then by all means, follow the beginner trail from the base to the Kachina Basin, where it’s almost a straight shot to the peak … kind of.
Rather, I’d suggest the morning half-day lift ticket route: skiing the actual resort until 11:45 when the morning half-day expires before beginning the hike (half-day Taos $60, skitaos.org). From the top of Lift 7, the access to Kachina Ridge is clearly marked. There are a number of chutes and bowls immediately available off the ridge after not much more than a 20 minute hike. However, these lines are regularly accessed and skied-out. Instead, continue hiking beyond the patroller’s booth located at the far-end of the ridge. There will be a clear-cut boot trail leading up to the summit of the peak. The actual hike itself takes between 60 to 90 minutes from the access point at the top of Lift 7. In ski or snowboard boots, hauling gear and fighting the elements, this hike is a hearty way of ending an action-packed morning of lift-serviced mayhem.
If you hike from the base, remember, this is a long, full-day ordeal: You must get an early start and bring lots of water and food. A picnic at the top of the peak is an ideal way to reward yourself after the grueling hike that will, no doubt, have you asking yourself, “What good did financial responsibility ever do for anyone, anyway?”