From Mild to Wild
Photo: Doug MacLennan, Southwest Nordic Center
A mining town right out of the old west, a railroad village still resonating from the 1800s, and an ancient volcanic basin-turned national preserve. What do they have in common? The answer is easy... they are three of New Mexico’s finest cross-country ski destinations, located in some of the most pristine, magnificent settings in the U.S.A.
Valles Caldera National Preserve, located near Los Alamos, is a great wilderness destination for cross-country skiers. This vast 89,000-acre park was designated a National Preserve in 2000. Situated in a collapsed volcanic crater in the Jemez Mountain Range, it’s a natural choice for XC skiers and snowshoers with its beautiful vistas and native wintering wildlife like elk, coyote and the bald eagle.
Valles Caldera offers special activities during the season, such as Moon Light Skiing, Dark Night Skiing, and an annual Fire & Ice New Year’s Eve celebration. For the not-so-athletic visitor, Valles Caldera offers a delightful wintertime experience—horse-drawn sleigh rides. When the winter snows blanket the valley, draft horses are hitched to a sleigh and whisk riders over sparkling, snowy meadows while the driver spins tales from the
area’s past about the “old Baca Ranch.”
The Land of Enchantment delights the cross-country skier with spectacular offerings...all pristine mountain settings where the sun shines more than 310 days annually, and where the clarity of the azure sky and the sparkling snow create a vision and experience unmatched.
Located just three miles east of Red River, Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area is New Mexico’s largest full-service cross-country ski resort. Here the beginner to the advanced cross-country skier can hit the 40 kilometers of trails, groomed for both classic and freestyle skiing. One side of the trail is tracked for classic (diagonal stride) skiing and the other is smoothed for snowshoeing and freestyle (or skate) skiing. All trails are groomed with state-of-the-art grooming machines designed specifically for cross-country skiing. A warming hut and two “Sangre de Cristo” windbreaks provide welcome shelter.
Enchanted Forest ranges from 9,700 feet to 10,040 feet in elevation. Forty different trails provide options to explore. The trails’ names say it all: From Powderpuff (the flattest and easiest trail), to the Northwest Passage (the longest and most difficult loop with fantastic views) to even a trail named Face Flop Drop (an accurate description), snow enthusiasts are bound to fall in love with the great white outdoors here.
Enchanted Forest offers ski lessons, equipment rentals and a rental yurt, with more coming in future seasons. There’s always someone around to offer helpful advice and make sure their motto is fulfilled: “At Enchanted Forest we make it easy to have fun!” Their Learn-to-Ski package includes rental equipment (boots, skis and poles), trail pass and lesson. There are also nine miles of snowshoeing trails for a relaxing experience in this winter wonderland.
To ensure the whole family takes part in the snow action, Enchanted Forest also offers kids equipment as well as “pulks” (sleds) for infants and five kilometers of dog-friendly trails.
Operating daily during the season, opening day is scheduled for November 20, 2010, providing months of fun in the snow on their 600-acre winter playland.
Tucked at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this 1880s railroad town is known for its narrow-gauge train, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. But as the snowflakes fall, the Sargent Wildlife Refuge, a 20,000-acre elk refuge, turns into a winter playground for cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
Each year, Chama hosts the Chama Chile Ski Classic (www.chamaski.com
) over the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. This three-day extravaganza includes races, yurt and ski tours, clinics, activities for the kids, a chile/chili contest, live music and much more.
For the overnighter, there are yurt rentals in the San Juan Wilderness. The yurts are accessible along well-marked trails. Both telemark and extended touring terrain connect the yurts. Southwest Nordic Center operates this winter backcountry yurt system.
Photo Courtesy of Enchanted Forest
John Miller was no stranger to the Red River valley. As a young man, he would cross country ski into the valley to keep an eye on the vacation homes that were inaccessible to their owners during the winter months.
John and wife Judy later owned downhill ski area Powder Puff Mountain, opened back in 1965 just outside of Red River. The area was a beginner ski hill that specialized in teaching first-time
skiers. The Millers sold Powder Puff in 1980 to the Red River Ski Area, where John became the mountain manager. John and daughter Ellen opened Enchanted Forest in 1985, after purchasing land they were familiar with from their family horseback riding excursions.
Now, the next generation is poised to take over Enchanted Forest, even though the Millers remain involved in many activities, from greeting guests to daily maintenance. Although daughter Ellen moved away in the late 1980s, she met her soul mate while working at Mt. Rainier National Park. Geoff Goins (above) and Ellen, now married, moved back to Red River in 1990. They officially take over Enchanted Forest this season.
“We’ve been running it for years, grooming the trails and teaching and managing it,” says Geoff. “Now we’ll be completely in charge. But we’ll still live next door to the in-laws.”