Santa Fe's reputation as the birthplace of Southwest style and home of excellent restaurants and art galleries makes it one of the West's most popular vacation spots. Far less well-known, though, is the gem of a ski resort that sits 16 miles into the Sangre de Cristo mountains overlooking the city. Ski Santa Fe isn't a familiar name outside the region, yet the terrain gives many similar-sized Western resorts some healthy competition. And this little hill— just 660 acres—packs in a surprising variety of terrain, with broad groomers interlacing bump runs and glades that range from gentle to steep. There's more than enough here to fill a busy weekend.
After an hour-long drive from the Albuquerque airport through a high-desert plateau dotted with piñons and junipers, check into the Hotel Santa Fe. It's a beautifully designed hotel, and reasonably priced for its downtown location, a five-minute drive to the Plaza, the city's main district. The hotel is a highlight in itself, the only Native American-owned hotel in the city, with an adobe-style exterior and Native American sculptures on the grounds (from $130; hotelsantafe.com; 800-825-9876).
Unwind after arrival with a Santa Fe Pale Ale by the kiva fireplace, or check out the Native American wall hangings and pottery that adorn the lobby before heading to dinner at Maria's (marias-santafe.com; 505-983-7929). The Mexican restaurant, a 10-minute walk from the hotel, is renowned for its list of 100-plus specialty margaritas. The food is the real thing too, with dishes such as New Mexico's quintessential blue-corn enchiladas.
The next morning, stop for breakfast at the hotel's restaurant, Amaya, which offers burritos stuffed with eggs, chorizo, bacon, beans and potatoes. After the half-hour drive to the hill, park in the dirt lot and climb the stairs to the ticket window. Lift tickets are $51, or $97 for two days (skisantafe.com; 505-982-4429).
The resort skis larger than its size due to its ample gladed terrain—every route through the trees presents a slightly different challenge. Start by riding the Santa Fe Super Chief quad for a warm-up down smooth, wide Broadway. Take it easy while you get acclimated to the resort's lofty altitude—12,075 feet at the summit—and glide down another wide groomer, Midland. Round out the morning navigating intermediate bump run Thunderbird and a couple of easier blacks, Muerte and Desafio, near the quad, before breaking for lunch at Totemoff's. If it's sunny, sit on the deck and try the Frito pie or a green-chile-smothered chicken burger.
In the afternoon, head up the Tesuque Peak triple to Gayway, a wide-open, often ungroomed trail close to the resort summit, popular for its spectacular views of the Rio Grande Valley and the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains. (None of the resort's chairs are high-speed, including the new Millennium triple added last year, so be prepared for slower rides.) Spend the afternoon taking a few more runs down Gayway for its scenery, or try some of the more challenging central runs, such as long black-diamonds Parachute and Fall Line, and the sparsely treed Tequila Sunrise glade.
After heading back down to the city, a perfect place for an après drink is the Cowgirl Hall of Fame (505-982-2565), a lively bar and restaurant with a happy hour from 3—6 p.m. Then go back to the hotel for a quick soak in the hot tub, but leave time to wander the Plaza before dinner. Art galleries are interspersed with stylish jewelry stores, clothing boutiques and restaurants. One of them is El Farol (elfarolsf.com; 505-983-9912), a Spanish restaurant with a tapas menu and entrées including a delicious seafood paella. Stick arround for the live blues, jazz or Latin band, or the occasional flamenco show.
Stop in town for breakfast on your way up the hill. Tia Sophia's (505-983-9880) is a local favorite. If you'd rather spend those extra minutes on the mountain, opt for Tecolote Cafe (tecolotecafe.com; 505-988-1362), not far from the hotel. It serves hearty fare like huevos yucatecos—tortillas topped with eggs, beans, green chiles, Swiss, feta and salsa—without a wait.
Day two on the mountain, and it's time to tackle some of the tougher terrain at the south end of the resort. Ski the Sunset Trail catwalk from the Tesuque chair over to Sunset Glade, which feeds into Camp Robber, a meandering groomer. Several of the glades in this section, accessed via the new Millennium chair, are blacks or tricky double-blacks, including Big Rocks and Chile's. You can push yourself on steep adjacent bump runs such as the narrow Pipeline and Burro Alley, but you can always bail out onto the Sunset Trail, Lower Burro or Camp Robber. After a workout in the bumps and glades, ski Muerte down to the base for a fitting finale.
After checking out of the hotel, stop at Canyon Road, the city's art district with its dozens of eclectic galleries. The gallery owners are friendly, and it's a good place to get one last helping of New Mexican culture before heading out of town.
Ski Santa Fe
660 skiable acres; 1,725 vertical feet; 12,075 summit elevation; 225 annual inches; 67 trails; 5 lifts
Getting There: From Albuquerque, take I-25 to the St. Francis Drive Santa Fe exit, turn right onto Paseo de Peralta, then left on Bishop Lodge Road and right on Artist Road, which turns into Hyde Park Road and runs to the ski area.
Info: skisantafe.com, 505-982-4429; snow phone: 505-983-9155