Over a Century of Skiing in New Mexico | Adventure


Images of America: Skiing in New Mexico

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from a recently published book, Images of America: Skiing in New Mexico.

Skiing history in New Mexico is one of the oldest in the American West, with prospectors in the late 1800s and early 1900s trying out their “long boards” on the famous heavy powder snow. light of the region, often on soil that would later become beloved ski areas.

No photographs of these early ski miners could be found, but there are rare written references to them, and era images from Colorado, California, and other western states show people on skis for convenience and for fun. New Mexico is unique in that it is home to perhaps the earliest known image of a Native American on ski, a man from Taos Pueblo circa 1900, included in this book.

The first developed ski areas in the state appeared in the 1930s, with the establishment of the Albuquerque and La Madera Ski Club near Duke City in the Sandia Mountains, and Hyde Park (now Hyde Memorial State Park) above Santa Fe. Students at Los Alamos Ranch School in present-day Los Alamos also hiked and skiing in the Jemez Mountains in the 1930s, and in the 1940s scientists of the Los Alamos National Laboratory – busy developing the world’s first atomic weapons – took to skiing in their few hours of rest.


This image of a Taos Pueblo man on skis is believed to have been taken around 1900 in the Hondo Valley, a few miles from present-day Taos Ski Valley. He is believed to be a postman who delivered letters in a pocket on his back to the mining community of Twining. Its unique long pole was the preferred first way to control speed and turn. The effort both uphill and downhill generated a lot of body heat; as well as his well-groomed figure and his relatively light clothes. This is the oldest known image identified by authors of an American Indian on skis.

Major developments flourished across the state in the 1950s and 1960s, with the launch of Taos Ski Valley by the remarkable Blake family, Sipapu by the Bolander clan and Sierra Blanca under the leadership of the ambitious Kingsbury “Pitch” Pitcher. . The Santa Fe Ski Basin took shape around this time, first under the Blakes and then under the Pitchers. Red River, “Ski Town of the Southwest,” took shape, as did Pajarito Mountain above Los Alamos and Angel Fire. Some have changed their names, like La Madera turning into Sandia Peak with the construction of its world-class aerial tram. Development continued in the 1970s and 1980s at all of these resorts, such as Ski Santa Fe with the skilled Abruzzo family at the helm.

Many ski areas were born and died in these early years, among which Agua Piedra, which is well represented in this book. Powder Puff, which appeared and then vanished just down the valley from today’s Red River ski area, was most notable, with two chair lifts and fairly long runs. Valverde was a small business near Eagle’s Nest in the charming Moreno Valley, while Sugarite was just east of Raton in Sugarite State Park. Near Ruidoso was Cedar Creek, and in the Sandias, Tree Springs. A ski area was nearly built in the Gila region of southwest New Mexico, and an abortive effort was made near Chama in the Brazos Mountains. Most importantly, Ski Rio was created and closed near the Colorado border. But still today, one of the first micro-domains lives, in the good years of snow: Ski Cloudcroft. Located east of the town of Cloudcroft in south-central New Mexico, it is among the country’s southernmost ski destinations.


Just eight miles from Santa Fe Plaza, Hyde Park boasted a two-story stone and timber pavilion built in 1938-39 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, complete with fireplaces, a dining room, rental store, and a paved patio. The skiers climbed the slopes by several cables and descended on wide slopes cleared by the US Forest Service, which then enthusiastically supported the development of ski areas in the national forests. Hyde Park opened in the winter of 1937, with a concession tent, bus service, and an instructional program.

Cross-country skiing has long been popular here, with routes through all of the high elevation mountain ranges – from popular areas above Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos, and in the Jemez Range near Los Alamos, to exits. obscure on Mount Taylor near Grants, the Sacramentos near Ruidoso and the Brazos Range. In the 1970s, and even into the 1930s, as the images in this book reveal, other skiers were beginning to explore far beyond the boundaries of ski areas. Today, cross-country skiing is the fastest growing part of the state’s ski and snowboard community. What was old is new again.

Today, skiing remains an integral aspect of winter life in the state. A significant percentage of its population ski or snowboard, and tens of thousands of foreign and even international travelers come to experience skiing, as well as the renowned arts, culture, food and history of the region. ‘State.

Many people are surprised there is skiing in the state, but the southernmost Rocky Mountain range, the Sangre de Cristos, cuts northern New Mexico in two, with several peaks reaching over 13 000 feet above sea level. Taos Ski Valley’s Kachina Peak chair climbs to 12,450 feet and the Ski Santa Fe parking lot is 10,350 feet. The high altitude traps storms and then traps the snow in a deep frost, which accumulates deeper and deeper throughout the winter. From the peaks, one can often see a hundred kilometers or more in all directions, in some cases over the pale brown, red and yellow desert plains below. It is a fascinating environment, a place of raw beauty.


Charlotte Ellis, born in 1875, was a member of the Ellis family who owned 160 acres in the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque in 1905, in the well-watered canyon of Las Huertas. She is seen here on skis on the property in 1896, making this the earliest known photo to anyone in New Mexico on skis. Skis were used by many pioneers as a means of getting around snow-covered landscapes, rather than as a form of recreation. She was surely embarrassed by her long dress but we can tell that she enjoyed going out and not at work. His only wooden stick could have served as a brake or a balance.

The founders of the state ski community were a fascinating cross section of America and the world. Most were Americans, but Ernie Blake was Swiss German, and he brought in many Europeans to help him establish the Taos Ski Valley, which had French hoteliers and Austrian ski instructors. Many people from other parts of the country arrived during World War II, when New Mexico was home to many US military bases, while others were originally from. This includes lawyer Robert Nordhaus, founder of the Sandia Peak ski area and the tram company. Born and raised in Las Vegas, NM, he attended Yale. Robert O. Anderson, founder of Atlantic Richfield Oil Co., also funded the 1961 opening of the current Ski Apache in south-central New Mexico, near Ruidoso, on the side of Sierra Blanca Peak from 11,981 feet. . Other areas were managed and kept in business by veterans of the American 10th Mountain Division of World War II and affable and savage skier Pete Totemoff, an Aleut Indian from Alaska.

Fortunately, the early days of skiing in New Mexico were well documented. Thousands of photographs of people and places exist, and there are incredible scenic images, action shots and portraits. They reveal a close-knit group of like-minded people, men and women of immense vision, courage, strength and daring to believe they could create a viable ski resort. in an area so remote from the rest of the country, located in the nation’s most foreign state, in the midst of the high deserts of New Mexico.


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