Together on the Mountain
By Amy Engle. Photo by Cold Smoke Photography.
From reunions and retreats to nuptials or respites, relationships of all kinds are celebrated at New Mexico’s ski areas.
As anyone who’s ever set skis on a New Mexico slope knows, resorts here are extraordinary. The bluest skies on the continent, the driest powder, and some of the most breathtaking terrain in the world make us special, sure. But beyond above-average snow sporting options, what really sets New Mexico resorts apart is the atmosphere.
While visitors at other skiing locales go in search of hot-dogging adrenaline highs or hedonistic après-ski adventures, guests at New Mexico resorts are busy reconnecting with friends and loved ones and enjoying the natural high found only while skiing or riding the slopes in the Land of Enchantment.
Thanks to an unmatched collection of family-owned and -operated resorts, skiing in New Mexico is a full-fledged family tradition for both day pass junkies and those with homes near the mountain. Multi-generational groups of skiers and riders cruise the slopes, dine at the base of the mountain, and carpool to and from the day’s fun at every one of our resorts.
Keith Bouland tied the knot with Melanie at Red River in January of 2009.
“I’ve been skiing in New Mexico for 16 years now, mainly Taos and Red River, and I consider The Enchanted Circle my home away from home,” explains Keith. “When I met Melanie, I took her to Red River as soon as possible. Not surprisingly, she immediately fell in love with it. So when we got engaged she suggested that we tie the knot in Red River. Needless to say, I loved the idea. And on January 13, 2009, Red River Justice of the Peace Jack Griffin was kind enough to perform the ceremony and two wonderful ladies from the chamber of commerce volunteered to be our witnesses. It was a very simple, no-frills wedding on the footbridge that crosses Red River.”
“And yes, I still ski Red River just about every season and we come back in the summer for great hiking with our two dogs, Lily and Bear, and fantastic 4-wheeling in the mountains.”
Photo courtesy of Keith Bouland
Family-Focused for All
The Balsamos of northern New Mexico don’t head for Taos’ snowy hills without the whole family in tow. For Sam and Nora, along with their five children, Juliet, Julie, Marion, Sammy and even their newborn baby, Tallee, skiing together at Sipapu is simply part of the family routine. “We moved to Peñasco about 10 years ago and immediately started skiing a lot,” recalls Nora. “We fell in love with Sipapu because of the variety of the terrain, the atmosphere, and the fact that it is simply one of the best spots to ski with children. We’ve skied all over New Mexico and Colorado, and we have yet to find a place where the people are so supportive, interested and friendly.”
“We see them nearly every single weekend and holiday,” says John Paul Bradley, general manager at Sipapu and the employee responsible for nominating the Balsamos for the 2011 Ski New Mexico “Best of the Best” competition. “The Balsamo family is a perfect example of a family that truly skis together,” Bradley explains. “They literally take every single run together. When someone wants to ski a black diamond, they do it together. When another family member wants to play in the terrain park, they do it together. When the youngest asks to do a tree run, they do it together. They ride every lift, take every run and eat every meal at the base area, as a family. They are a tight-knit group, and it’s truly rewarding to see them enjoying their family time together.”
Like the Balsamos, the Ronchetti family spent plenty of time at other world-class ski resorts across North America before settling on New Mexico, and Angel Fire in particular, as the ideal spot for their skiing adventures. Sal and Joan Ronchetti previously owned homes at other resorts but they were looking for someplace quieter and more family-oriented where they could build a home that could hold several generations of family and friends. Their son Mark, the meteorologist for CBS affiliate KRQE in Albuquerque, was in Angel Fire reporting on a story when the sight of the sun rising over the Sangre de Cristos made him realize he’d found the right spot for the family ski home.
In 2003, the Ronchettis began construction, and a year later the entire family – including Sal and Joan’s five children and their 11 grandchildren – reunited for a holiday celebration at the new ski chalet in Angel Fire. “Most mountains are too big and crowded for little kids, but Angel Fire is manageable and safe, not to mention that it has a world-class ski school and great weather with plenty of sunshine,” says Mark’s wife Krysty, who married into the Ronchetti family in 2004.
The Tatums of Dallas are just beginning to make skiing New Mexico a family tradition. “My family has been coming to Santa Fe for our reunion during the last week in December for the last three years, and we come during spring break sometimes too,” explains Perry Tatum. “We all live in the Dallas area and had not slept under the same roof since we were kids. So eating breakfast together, playing together, taking turns cooking dinner and playing games or watching movies together has been very rewarding.”
Along with the great snow and and cultural attractions of the city of Santa Fe, the Tatums love the fact that the mountain is such an easy drive from Dallas. “We all drive our family vehicles and meet at the same wonderful rental house on Artisan Lane,” says Perry. And once the trip is over, there are no more obstacles to getting out and getting on the slopes. “We come on one of the busiest weeks of the year and there are still short lines at the lifts and the slopes are never really overcrowded.”
For some families, like the Hartleys of Oklahoma, the joy of skiing together as a family is equal only to the pleasure of getting a chance to reconnect on the slopes as empty nesters. Explains Tim Hartley: “We have made it up there probably 12 times in the last 21 years since our son was born and 18 years since our daughter was born; we couldn’t always make it with such an active family.”
This year, for the first time since the 1980s, Tim and Diana made the trek to Santa Fe without any children in tow. “We went as a couple, just the two of us, and as always it was awesome.”
There’s no doubt about it: bonds of friendship forged on the mountain are uncommonly strong. Just ask Jeri Phillips, the Youth Ministry Coordinator for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Plano, Texas. Fifteen years ago, Jeri inherited the responsibility for leading youth ministry trips to Ski Santa Fe from her mentor Msgr. Leon Duesman. Msgr. Duesman led group ski trips to the high New Mexico Mountains for nearly 40 years prior to 1997. In her 15 years as the trip’s coordinator, Jeri’s witnessed some surprising examples of just how much a few days on New Mexico slopes can bring people together. “When the kids get on the bus they are all strangers, but by the end of the trip, they’re all good friends and have formed some really strong bonds,” she explains. Jeri’s trips usually consist of 80 or 90 people, many of whom are first-time skiers and snowboarders. With a caravan of four charter buses, Jeri and her fellow coordinators bring their eager group all the way from Plano to Santa Fe every season.
Photo by Sarah Dorrance
Love on the Slopes
Sometimes, friendships formed on the slopes have a way of blossoming into love. Red River regulars Nick and Jenny met when they were just kids on the Red River Ski Team. “My family lived in Texas, but we had a vacation house in Red River which we visited almost every weekend and school holiday,” Jenny recalls. “We would leave right after school on a Friday, fly from Dallas Love Field Airport to Albuquerque, drive the three hours to Red River, ski the whole weekend and fly back on Sunday night before school.” Although Jenny had been friends with Nick for almost 20 years, it wasn’t until two years ago when Jenny moved back to Texas to finish college at UNT that they discovered that the friendship formed on the mountain had grown into something more.
To make a long story short, after a few changed flights and unexpectedly extended visits, Nick and Jenny dated long distance for about eight months until Jenny finished school this past December. She moved back to Red River, where Nick was already living. “Nick and I moved in together and we’ve been going strong and having fun skiing and partying in Red River ever since!”