I’ve been a downhill skier all my life, starting at the age of four when my parents first put me on the bunny hill and I promptly plowed into a group of skiers, knocking them around like so many bowling pins. I wasn’t deterred, though, and not just because my grandfather owned the ski shop at Camelback, in the Pennsylvania Poconos, resulting in free ski passes every year. I simply fell head-over-heels in love early on with the thrill of the hill.
There’s something meditative about the act of skiing your way down a mountain, racing the wind, challenging yourself to ski harder, faster, better. Gliding through the glades in solitude, it’s easy to turn inward and discover more about who you are and where you’re headed. Out there alone, in nature, meeting the elements, you can let go of whatever might be bothering you. Out there, alone, with the trees, the snow, and the sky above, you may feel alone, but you are never lonely.
And yet, skiing can be a sport of camaraderie, of meeting new friends while riding the chairlift and gathering with old friends for an apes-ski hour when the lift lines close. The activity brings families together, too, for weekend togetherness, holiday getaways and winter and spring breaks.
For my family, skiing brought us together for a Saturday on the slopes as well as weekend and week-long getaways that took us to Vermont and Canada, where the mountains were more challenging and the resorts full of other fun things to do after the lifts closed—sledding, horse-back riding, family movies and more. These trips gave us a chance to really get away and enjoy skiing together. My brother had evolved into a “hot-dogger,” able to execute jumps, spins and flips in the air, and I tried to keep pace with him, but all I could manage was a 360-spin while airborne and some fancy footwork on the snow. My mother, meanwhile, often spent more time in the lodge with hot chocolate, watching the rest of us come flying down the hill. At the end of the day, we’d come piling in to join her, cheeks rosy red and fingers numb with cold. Falling asleep after a full day of skiing always felt really good, as if your body deserved the deep slumber you knew was coming and your legs still felt like they were in motion, carving out turns in your head as you dozed off.
I kept right on skiing through high school, at Camelback on weekends with family and friends, and at Vernon Valley in New Jersey during after-school ski trips. That’s when freshmen and seniors alike piled onto a bus for a rowdy one-hour drive, and when we got there we’d ski as much as we could—counting the number of runs we got in before the lifts closed. Because Vernon Valley offered night skiing, we could stay on the slopes through sunset, then face the challenge of finding our way down the mountain with nightlights, which made it hard to see the bumps, ice patches and other perils.
For college, I headed to the University of Vermont, known for its solid academics as much as its proximity to Sugarbush, Mad River Glen and other fabled ski resorts of the Northeast. I spent weekends with roommates and friends on the slopes, tackling mountains much more challenging than Camelback and Vernon Valley. By the time I moved to Santa Fe, I was a seasoned skier who felt comfortable on almost any slope, but I was unprepared for the joys of skiing the Southwest, with unbelievably soft, powdery snow and views at a staggering 12,000 feet.
People who’ve never visited the city are surprised to learn that Santa Fe is a ski town, primarily because it’s located in the high desert and has more than 300 days of sunshine a year. The fact is, though, that Santa Fe receives, on average, 31 inches of snow every year, so the season at Ski Santa Fe usually lasts from Thanksgiving to Easter. The mountain offers 79 trails covering some 660 acres of pristine terrain, and it’s just a short drive from town—16 minutes, and 16 miles away—but when you’re standing at the mountain’s 12,075-foot summit, it feels as if you’re light-years away from anywhere.
Ski Santa Fe is a great place for skiers of all levels, from beginners on short slopes to experts in search of steep runs studded with moguls. Snowboarders love the resort, too. It’s ideal for families, who can ski together on easy trails with stunning views, gliding down the hill through alpine trees glistening with sunlight on the pure white snow. When it’s time for lunch, you can grab a burger, sandwich or other fare from eateries located on the slopes, or enjoy a picnic lunch on a quiet trail, carried in your backpack. Ski Santa Fe also offers a ski school for all ages, introducing skiers to the time-honored traditions of snowplowing and parallel skiing and the joys of wedeling.
You learn early on as a downhill skier not to let the falls bring you down—the spills, tumbles and slides that take you straight down a hill and often leave you covered with snow. It’s all part of the challenge of getting up and finishing the run, even if you fall right beneath a crowded chairlift to the hoots and hollers from other skiers who’ve just witnessed your wipeout. It’s not humiliating—it’s just the way of the world on the slopes. It’s almost a badge of honor that shows you’re not afraid to take a risk and fail. If you are fearful, it makes it harder to be a skier.
You also learn that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to pay a small fortune for gear and fashion to ski—a parka and a pair of jeans will do and you can rent equipment to try out the sport before you invest in a pair of your own state-of-the-art skis, high-tech boots and collapsible poles. For centuries, people skied on wooden boards—archaeological evidence shows that people were getting around on skis as early as 600 B.C.—so a simple set of boards will do.
All these years later, I still love the thrill of the hill. And though I haven’t been eligible for free season passes for years, I still head up the mountain when ski season returns. There’s nothing like that bright, breathless moment when—poised at the peak, a sun-drenched slope before me—I take a deep breath of sharp, cold air, point my tips down the hill and…go!
Story by Lynn Cline