Skiing New Mexico
The access road to Ski Apache—owned and operated by the Mescalero Apache tribe—jettisoned me into a thrill-seeking state of mind. Over the course of 12 linear miles and a 3,000-plus-foot vertical rise, my vertigo had a field day while I tried to remain calmly in awe of the views revealed at each white knuckle switchback. But, we hadn't seen nothin' yet. A couple of chairlift rides later, at the top of Apache Bowl (and still 500 feet beneath the watchful eye of sacred Sierra Blanca Peak), the views surpassed awe. A vast and varied panorama spread on all sides, southwest to the soft, gleaming, dunes of White Sands National Monument, north to the green, jagged Jicarilla Mountains, west to the eerily wrinkled, red-brown lava fields of Malpais National Monument and east to the sun dried tan desert expanses. Ski Apache may be the only ski area in America where the view's compass points are color-coded. And, finally, I got to enjoy a mountaintop panorama.
Set in the middle of the state just outside the town of Ruidoso, Ski Apache can easily be overlooked. But, it has just as many lifts as Taos (11), tops out at a very respectable 11,500 feet and boasts New Mexico's only gondola. (Okay, it's an old one, but it's still a gondola!) Steep cruising on immaculately groomed snow seemed to be the local forte, especially off the top of the gondola and #1 triple chair. The resort's showcase, Apache Bowl, while rated intermediate, proved as delightful as any bowl I've skied. Somehow, it's simultaneously intimate and grand; it roused an ethereal sensation as I crisscrossed the unseen border of the Apache reservation with the sacred peak gazing beneficently over my shoulder until I disappeared into the tight trees along the bowl's east edge.
And, thank goodness for those trees. Ruidoso is but a few hours' high-speed driving from El Paso, and the resort crawls with Texans. Not one to cast aspersions lightly, I have to say that denizens of the Lone Star State do not seem to understand turning as a means of speed control. As a group, they do not ski; they schuss. Straight down. And, that's why I took to the trees at Apache. To ski in the trees, one must turn. Or die. So, the Texans didn't go there. It's safe to say, too, that they didn't know what they were missing. While Ski Apache's tree skiing can't be described as plentiful, what there is can be described as terrific.
Ski Apache has also gained a well-deserved reputation as a learning hill. They teach a lot of beginners here, and they do it very well. Perhaps someday they'll teach those others to turn.
As with Santa Fe, you don't lodge slopeside here. But, the town of Ruidoso has been rated among the Top 10 ski towns in the U.S. by Ski Magazine and, although it has a bit of a touristy sensibility, it offers lodging of every sort and, within reasonable driving distances, some unusual sightseeing attractions like the Museum of the Horse, the Smokey the Bear Memorial burial site and gift shop, and the Tunstall Museum of western artifacts.
Phone Number: 505-336-4356
Web Site: www.skiapache.com
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication