From The Sunport to The Slopes

December 12, 2016 | By: Martin H. Jones, PhD, aka “The Professor”
You won’t find many people who rave about airports when they go skiing.  New Mexico is a little different.  The journey from the terminal to your destination is a lot more interesting, fun, and scenic than your average ski trip.

Expect Something a Little Different

The first thing you will notice is the sound. Your shoes don’t clamor over industrial grade carpet, but gently tap against a tan tile floor stretching throughout the terminal. You will see stuffed leather chairs instead of hard blue plastic molds. The windows frame azure skies and mountain peaks reaching two miles above sea level, not an industrial skyline and gray clouds. As your legs stretch out, the elevation will make you breathe a little harder, but the air is already a little clearer. The walk lasts just a few minutes – you get through faster than expected – and you open onto a large hall with a ceiling made of timbers decorated with tribal etchings. This is more than an airport, or the Sunport as it is officially called. This is your initial gateway into the skiing experience of New Mexico. A land where even the airport, or rather the Sunport, is a little different.

The Sunport is the primary airport for New Mexico, located in Albuquerque, and near the state’s geographical center. It has international flights, but this isn’t the big city airport. The Sunport often feels more like a museum with its glass encased pottery from the state’s native tribes, silver and turquoise jewelry on display, and painted New Mexico landscapes adorning the walls. The color scheme is turquoise and the brown of well-worn leather. The feeling is welcoming you to slow down and relax. You have nothing to do but enjoy the view and ride the snow.

We Have Options!

Leaving the Sunport presents a couple of options. The rental car may be the easiest way to get around the state, but not the only choice. There are shuttles from the Sunport to Taos, Taos Ski Valley, and Santa Fe. You can also take a local bus ride to the Rail Runner Express, which is a regional rail line going from just south of Albuquerque to Santa Fe. And, yes, the Rail Runner train doors go “beep-beep” like the Looney Tunes cartoon before closing. The Rail Runner is a more scenic way to get to the slopes as you see the New Mexico mountains and mesas pass by while heading north to Santa Fe. You can then take a public Santa Fe shuttle for $5 to Ski Santa Fe, which will reward you with taking $5 off a lift ticket for taking public transportation.

Santa Fe Area

If you take the highway, be prepared for a quick interstate drive north through Albuquerque (about 25 minutes) with the Sandia Mountains on your right and three dormant volcano tops to your distant left. If you arrive in the morning, you will probably see multiple hot air balloons hovering over the city too, with a possibility that you will drive under them. Continuing past the city limits begins the sprawling open landscape. Within an hour, the car turns a corner to see the mountain range beyond Santa Fe, which holds Ski Santa Fe. 90 minutes from leaving the Sunport and a quick ski lift ride, you are now 12,000 feet above sea level having a panoramic view of three mountain ranges. If you choose to skirt left around Santa Fe, an additional 30 minutes takes you Pajarito, which is a hidden gem of a ski resort next to Los Alamos.

The Enchanted Circle

The drive continues through the town of Espanola toward Taos. One portion of the road between Espanola and Taos includes a parallel drive to the Rio Grande River. The road dips into a canyon with a rock wall to one side and the Rio Grande on the other. The canyon opens to a road dotted with artists’ galleries, antique shops, and stands selling roasted pinions. The final push takes you to the Enchanted Circle, which is home to most of the state’s ski resorts. The Enchanted Circle sits like a clock face with Taos at 6 o’clock, Angel Fire at 4 o’clock, and Red River at 11 o’clock. Between the ski resorts are mountain passes and wide pastures, which are perfect for sled rides and snow mobiles.

Enjoy the Experience

In just over three hours, you begin a journey through culture, art, and landscapes that inspired Georgia O’Keefe to pick up a paintbrush. But, what you’ve really come for is the snow. The powder snow of the Rocky Mountains. The snowcapped Rocky Mountain peaks stretching from just outside the Sunport to the northern slopes of Red River. Welcome to New Mexico where getting from the Sunport to the slopes isn’t a task to finish quickly, but a pathway of auditory, visual, and cultural experiences.

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