Sandia ski area overlooking Estancia Valley — Photo courtesy of Sandia Peak Ski & Tramway
Sandia Peak Ski area, just 30 minutes east of the Albuquerque metro area, is located in the Cibola Forest near Cedar Crest, NM and is a popular spot for families. Sporting mostly beginner and intermediate runs, and attracting lots of snowboarders, the Sandia Mountains get their name from the Spanish word for watermelon, which is what the mountains appear to look like at sunset with their beautiful pinkish tones. The ski area is easily accessible from I-40, north on Highway 14 known as the Turquoise Trail, or by riding the ski area's Tram, touted as the world's longest. Spectacular views abound on the way up to the 10,378 foot peak.
Note that there are no ski or board rentals at the top where the Tram drops you off, only at the base. Open mid-December thru mid-March, the ski area offers a certified snow sports school, ski patrol, rentals, a cafe and even a Ski Museum, at the base of the Tram, detailing the history of skiing in New Mexico. The oldest ski area in New Mexico, its first trails date back to 1936. Discounts are available for combination Tram and lift tickets.
The Sandia Peak Tram — Photo courtesy of Sandia Peak Ski & Tramway
The snow at Sandi Peak in recent years has been a bit of a disappointment, but 2012's predictions are calling for El Nino to return, which means wetter weather for the southwest and more snow on the mountain.
Snowboarding at Mount Lemmon — Photo courtesy of Walter Dawgie Ski Corp. (Mount Lemmon, Ski Valley)
Named in honor of botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon (who, with the help of Native American guides and a few mules, hiked to the 9,157 foot crest in 1881), Mount Lemmon is the highest peak in the Catalina Mountains, located in the Coronado National Forest just north of Tuscon. Even though Mount Lemmon is the southernmost ski area in the continental United States, the summit still receives about 180 inches of snow annually - hard to believe, for a town known for its saguaro cacti. Their ski season lasts from mid-December until April, making it a popular place to hit the slopes in mild "sweater and jeans" 50-degree weather. Check the weather reports as snow is not always consistent.
Snowboarding the Lemmon — Photo courtesy of bill85704
With 22 runs, including 8 black diamond expert runs, Mount Lemmon is mostly for intermediate and advanced skiers, and offers two chair lifts and a surface tow. Other facilities include a retail shop, two restaurants and a ski school. Snowboarders will be happy to know that they have a terrain park complete with pipes, rails and jumps.
Head to the Southwestern desert towns of Albuquerque and Tucson this winter for some unexpected fun in the snow.