Snow Trax #3, 2002

The Ridge, Taos Sky Valley
The Ridge, Taos Sky Valley

by Daniel Gibson

This column on snow sports and related travel is posted bi-weekly. In addition to New Mexico, it covers the Southern Rockies of Colorado and occasionally roams further afield in the Western United States.

Regional Overview: Part 1

This column begins our occasional raven's eye overview of the region's snow sport resorts. This week we swoop in on Crested Butte and Monarch in southern Colorado, and Red River in northern New Mexico.

Crested Butte is one of Colorado's wonderful former mining towns. Located at the head of a huge valley, gnarly mountain ranges encircle it on three sides, capped by the prominent snaggle tooth of the Butte itself. The town fell asleep for 40 or 50 years after a decline in mining activity, then was shaken awake by the rush to the white gold of the 1980s, and a yearning by new residents to live in a place of great beauty, quiet, and character. Today its downtown streets are framed by lovingly restored Victorian-era fanciful wooden homes, small shops, and surprisingly good restaurants.

The ski area, a 10-minute or so free bus ride away, has gone through even a faster metamorphosis. In a handful of years, it's morphed from a mostly locals-only hill to a world_class ski resort, complete with excellent on-the-slope hotels (including a Marriott and Club Med), high-speed quad chairs, and a terrific range of skiing terrain.

Though there is an abundance of beginner and intermediate slopes (including by far and away the region's best long-range cruising runs with nice rolls and great width), the Butte is most renowned for its hair_raising steeps. Home to both the Saab U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championship and the Sector U.S. Extreme Boardfest, Created Butte has double black diamond runs by the spades. One entire section of the mountain, the Upper Limits, is nothing but double diamonds. It also has extreme skiing clinics for both men and women, and typically the snow to make it all go.

Monarch, on the other hand, is still a local's mountain. Though not far as the raven flies from the Butte, it seems a world away. Perched atop the Continental Divide, west of Salida, far from any major city, it feels as if it's caught in a time warp. A laid back atmosphere, powder that rests untracked a day after a dump, a nice layout of small bowls, groomed slopes, glades, and some tough bump runs offer up an outstanding all_around ski experience.

And for the adventurous, there is the resort's guided backcountry snowcat tours, said to be Colorado's steepest cat skiing or boarding. I spent one happy, happy morning here three winters ago; it was the best skiing of my life up until then__like heli_skiing with the chopper prices. Did I mention the 350 inches of annual snow and the awesome views? For accommodations, you can't beat the combo room and lift ticket prices at the nearby Monarch Mt. Lodge.

Red River is like your best friend's den__a place you plop down, kick off yer boots, and settle in for some fun. It's unpretentious, inexpensive for a resort town, and full of diversions.
If you want to ski or board, the mountain is a pretty darned nice area. It is a little slim on expert terrain but has enough steep pitches to entertain even advanced skiers for a few days, and some terrific powder following a storm__most folks here skedaddle from that ole powder stuff. If you're an intermediate or beginner, you'll be in hog heaven, and if ya want to let out a hoop 'n a holler, why let it rip--you'll have plenty of company. If you don't own a ski suit or even waterproof pants, just get yourself a can of Scotchguard, spray down a pair of old jeans and hit the slopes, pardner.

If the idea of skiing or boarding is like sticking needles in your eyes, you can take a guided or free_for_all outing on snowmobiles. Red River is one of New Mexico's centers for motorized snow sports, with hundreds of miles of forest roads and huge snow_drapped meadows just aching to be zoomed over. You can even get atop Greenie Peak, over 12,000 feet in elevation, where you look down on the ski area. Now that's unique. Or, if you have youngsters with you, send them over to the Playhouse for roller skating, miniature bowling, video games, and pin ball while you sleep in and have breakfast in bed. The town is small enough to walk around on foot, so the kids can maneuver around on their own, and parents will appreciate the many family ski/stay packages. At night, check out either of the two great honkey tonks for boot shuffling__the Motherload or Bull O the Woods. Yeeeeeehaaaaaw!


Resort Contact Information & Seasonal Schedule

Angel Fire: 800/633-7463 or www.angelfireresort.com, open Dec. 14 through March 24; Crested Butte: 888/463-6714 or www.CrestedButteResort.com, open Dec. 15 through April 15; Durango Mt. Resort: 800/982-6103 or www.durangomountainresort.com, open through April 7; Enchanted Forest (XC): 800/966-9381 or www.enchantedforestxc.com, open; Monarch: 800/228-7943 or www.skimonarch.com, open; Pajarito Mountain:505/662-5725 or www.skipajarito.com, opening as soon as possible; Red River: 505/754-2223 or www.redriverskiarea.com, open fulltime Dec. 14 through March 24; Sandia Peak: 505/242-9133 or www.sandiapeak.com, scheduled season Dec. 14 through March 17; Ski Rio: 505/758-7707 or www.skirio.com; Ski Santa Fe: 505/982-4429 or www.skisantafe.com, scheduled season Dec. 8 through April 7; Sipapu: 505/587-2240 or www.sipapunm.com, scheduled season Dec. 13 through early April; Ski Apache: 505/336-4356 or www.skiapache.com, open through March 31; Taos Ski Valley: 505/776-2291 or www.skitaos.org, scheduled season Dec. 14 through April 7; Telluride: 866/287-5016 or www.Tellurideskiresort.com, open through April 7; Wolf Creek: 800/754-9653 or www.wolfcreekski.com open through April 7.


SNOW REPORTS
Contact Ski N.M. at 505/984-0606 or www.skinewmexico.com for reports on New Mexico ski areas and to order a free winter trip guide; Colorado Ski Country at 303/825-SNOW or www.coloradoski.com for Colorado reports; or individual areas: Angel Fire--800/633-7463 x 3; Crested Butte--888/TO POWDER; Durango Mt. Resort: 800/525-0892, ext. 6; Enchanted Forest (XC)-800/966-9381; Monarch--800/228-7943; Pajarito--888/662-7669; Red River--505/754-2220; Sandia Peak--505/857-8977; Ski Santa Fe--505/983-9155; Sipapu--505/587-2240; Ski Apache--505/257-9001; Taos Ski Valley--505/776-2916; Telluride--970/728-7425; Wolf Creek--800/754-9653.

Daniel Gibson of Santa Fe (dbgibson@newmexico.com) is the author of four books, most recently Pueblos of the Rio Grande: A Visitors Guide (Rio Nuevo Publishers). His first day on "sliders" was 40 years ago.

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