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8 spots for family-friendly winter activities in New Mexico

Ski Apache ZipTour Ski Apache's adrenaline-pumping, 3-part ZipTour reaches over 8,900 feet in length. | Photo courtesy Ski Apache

Thanks to New Mexico’s mountain ranges and alpine elevations, there’s plenty of powder to play in throughout the Land of Enchantment during the winter.

Skiers and snowboarders eagerly await opening day at New Mexico’s ski areas and resorts, and families pull out tubes, sleds, and saucers for a day of fun in the state’s national forests. Here are a few great destinations for winter activities throughout New Mexico, on and off the slopes.

1. Ski Apache

Ski Apache Lifts

Ski Apache has 11 lifts and an annual snowfall of over 15 feet. | Photo by Jake Rogers with Discover Ruidoso

Ski Apache, on the slopes of 12,000-foot Sierra Blanca, sees some of the first snow in New Mexico, and its ski and snowboard group lessons for those 7 and older start at $65. Take a gondola to the top for turns, or sail above the slopes at more than 60 mph on the Apache Wind Rider zip line, which starts at 11,489 feet. The 8,890-foot-long tour takes about an hour and a half to complete and costs $150 per person; check online for specials throughout the season.

2. Cloudcroft

Cloudcroft

Cloudcroft is New Mexico’s southernmost ski area. | Photo by Rosemary Woller/stock.adobe.com

Cloudcroft is an alpine world come winter, with views of White Sands National Park below. The Lincoln National Forest has miles of snow-covered trails and sledding areas, such as the Upper Karr Recreation Area.

In the Village of Cloudcroft, families can enjoy open-air ice skating at the covered James Sewell Ice Rink (Cloudcroft Ice Rink), New Mexico’s southernmost ice rink and its only natural one (no electric refrigeration). Ice skates are available for rent, and there are picnic tables, a snack bar, and a warming hut. Roast marshmallows on a bonfire and listen to live country and folk music, which is frequently performed on weekends. Cost is $15 for adults and includes skate rental. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

3. Sandia Mountains

Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway

Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway | Photo by Amanda/stock.adobe.com

In the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque, the Capulin Snow Play Area has 3 developed runs dedicated to sledding and tubing in the Cibola National Forest. A gentle-slope area is perfect for smaller kiddos, and facilities include a public fire ring and an open shelter.

The parking area accommodates plenty of vehicles, but beware of ice and snow piles that can trap lower-clearance vehicles. Only inner tubes or all-plastic sleds and saucers are permitted at this area; for safety reasons, no sleds with wood or metal are allowed. Sledders hike up the side of the hill and wait for their turn to launch down the wide slopes. This family-friendly area is unsupervised, and proper winter clothing and footwear are a necessity; helmets are also recommended. Snow is weather-dependent. The $3 USFS amenity fee can be paid by cash at the parking-area kiosk or purchased and printed online beforehand (January 18 and February 15 are free days).

Take the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway to the top of the Sandia Mountains from the Albuquerque foothills, and snowshoe, ski, or just play in the snow along Ellis and other trails at the top. (Round-trip tram tickets are $29 per adult and must be purchased online.) When conditions permit, the Sandia Ski Area, with plenty of mellow runs, is perfect for families. Warm up with hot chocolate at Ten3 restaurant near the top tram terminal.

4. Santa Fe

Ski Santa Fe

Ski Santa Fe | Photo courtesy New Mexico TRUE

Just miles from the Santa Fe Plaza is Hyde Memorial State Park. Its hill behind Cottam’s Ski Shop makes for great sledding, and Cottam’s sweetens the deal with hot chocolate and a fire pit. Cottam’s sells saucers as well, and sledders are welcome to warm up in this full-service ski and rental shop on the way to Ski Santa Fe.

North of Cottam’s, Aspen Vista Picnic Site has a wide path for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing through the aspens, and the surrounding slopes are perfect for family sledding.

Black Canyon Campground is another good spot for sledding, with its kid-friendly mellow grade.

At the top of NM 475, Ski Santa Fe is popular with skiers and boarders of all levels, and its Chipmunk Corner gets kiddos as young as 6 on the slopes. Afterward in town, head for Cowgirl BBQ, which offers a kids’ menu and play area as well as a full bar.

5. Red River

Red River Torchlight Parade

Red River Torchlight Parade | Photo courtesy New Mexico TRUE

Tubing at Red River Ski Area begins at 4:30 p.m. daily and lasts for an hour ($25 per session). Every Saturday night during ski season, the Red River Torchlight Parade wows spectators with flare-toting skiers and fireworks. From February 24 to March 1, the annual Red River Mardi Gras in the Mountains includes family-friendly events such as the Main Street Parade and the Children’s Ball.

6. Angel Fire

Angel Fire Resort

Angel Fire Resort | Photo courtesy Angel Fire Resort

At Angel Fire Resort, the Polar Coaster has 4 tubing lanes serviced by a Moving Carpet lift at the ski area, and the resort’s Nordic Center sledding hill is perfect for adventurous little ones. A Hot Chocolate and S’more Bar is new this season, as are midweek family specials in January and February—perfect for families with online school and work schedules.

7. The Enchanted Forest

Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area

Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area's yurt | Photo Courtesy Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area

At Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area, cross-country ski lessons are available for ages 6 and up. Guided snowshoeing tours through the woods are also available, as are winter yurt rentals, in which families can snuggle up for a night of camping in the forest with a wood-burning stove.

8. Ruidoso Winter Park

Southern New Mexico may have a desert reputation, but it offers plenty of places to play in the snow. At Ruidoso’s Winter Park, 3 Magic Carpet lifts lead to 11 tubing trails ranging from calm to bomb, with the more extreme runs featuring turns and banks. Snow-making capability means there’s guaranteed snow no matter what Mother Nature is doing. Daytime tubing tickets are $36.50 for 3 hours, and the $475 Igloo Package includes a heated canopy with tables and chairs, 6 zip-line tickets, unlimited tubing for 6, a pizza from the park’s café, hot chocolate, and s’mores. Penguin Park has 2 runs for little ones up to 42 inches in height. Ski bibs are available for rent for $12, and the on-site store sells gloves, snow pants, and other winter gear.

Tips for Safe Winter Fun

● Dress in layers so clothing can be added or removed to regulate temperature.

● Avoid cotton clothing, as it absorbs water and can quickly chill the wearer.

● Know when sunset is and make sure you have plenty of time to return to your vehicle.

● Always make sure you know how to get back to your vehicle.

● When parking, make sure you can get back out (avoid icy inclines, etc.).

● Consider using a helmet when sledding, especially for children.

● Avoid sleds with metal runners; for safety reasons, most sledding areas don’t allow them.

● Even though it’s cold out, stay hydrated; snacks will help everyone stay warm.

● Always let someone know where you’re going before venturing out into the snow.

● Make sure your cellphone is charged, and be aware of limited cell reception.

● As a rule, infants should wear the same number of layers as adults, plus a blanket or additional layer. Check infants occasionally to make sure they’re not too cold or too warm.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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