Powder & Light - Skiing NM

January 9, 2017 | By: Martin H. Jones, PhD, aka “The Professor”

New Mexico skiing means hitting the slopes with the same snow hitting other Rocky Mountain States, but with bright sunshine and less crowds.

It Starts with a Rumor

It starts with a rumor. The rumor grows to probability. Probability becomes hope. Calendars are checked. Schedules cleared. Meetings cancelled. Friends whisper through social media and across text messages. The approaching winter storm begins bearing down on New Mexico. The weather reports come in as meteorologist predictions pass from weatherperson to the masses. The rumor appears to be true that a storm will come Thursday night. The predictions are snow totals of greater than 12 inches at Taos and Red River, over six inches in Santa Fe, and four inches at Sandia Peak. These predictions come with the possibility that schools and offices will close on Friday, which makes for multiple days of powder skiing. Then the rumor becomes true. The rumor does not disappoint.

Friday morning begins with fresh snow all over New Mexico. The list of closed schools and business begins expanding. I grab two friends for the 30 minute to drive to the lifts of Sandia Peak Ski. We drive up the mountain only to find a half empty parking lot. I know that this day has potential to show why New Mexico is so very special to me – untracked powder runs through flowy trails and blue skies overhead with nearly empty runs. How do we get so lucky? New Mexico weather is a little unique.

Why New Mexico Weather is Better

Yes, parts of New Mexico are desert, but New Mexico is a desert with mountains reaching over two miles above sea level. That means the New Mexico mountains are cool with low humidity. New Mexico is also just south of Colorado. This places New Mexico’s ski resorts in a prime position. As a storm tracks from the Pacific Ocean eastward, New Mexico can get the same precipitation from the same storms hitting other Rocky Mountain states like Utah or Colorado. There is a big difference between New Mexico and other states like Utah and Colorado: New Mexico’s 300 days of sunshine. We get the snow from the big storms, but then we get bright sunny days. Skiing in New Mexico means that a storm brings powder and light.

A Nighttime Gift

New Mexico’s weather allows for the coexistence of two seemingly incongruent weather occurrences: sunshine and storms. When I tell my friends across the country about what happens in the New Mexico atmosphere, they are unable to comprehend what is one of my favorite parts of skiing in the Land of Enchantment. The New Mexico ski resorts usually get hit with winter storms during the night that can dump nearly a foot of snow or more while you sleep. We can get snow during the day, but that is less common. This means that we awaken to blue skies and fresh snow. This bewilders my Midwestern friends who experience a week of grey clouds when the winter storms arrive. In New Mexico, we may go for maybe one day of clouds. Then, we are back to skiing in sunshine. We receive a gift of snow at night, then open our bluebird skiing presents the next day.

Powder Day

On Friday morning, the snow reports are strong across the state. At Sandia Peak Ski, my friends and I ski across the soft snow. I float from one patch of powder to the next. My snowboarding friend smiles as he glides across the trails. We encounter more people hiking up the mountain than skiing down. The trails are so empty that we can stop in the middle of a run so that we decide who wants to lead and hit fresh powder first. We repeat this process for four hours with blue skies overhead. The powder and light of skiing in New Mexico.

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