At the end of January, Harrison and I got to go skiing in Ruidoso, New Mexico.
Ruidoso is a gorgeous ski town set in the Sierra Blanca mountain range.
As a Maryland native, I grew up skiing in Pennsylvania, and that is pretty much all I’ve known of skiing.
My family would drive up to one of the ski resorts near Maryland where we’d rent our gear and hit the slopes.
But never had I gone skiing on mountains as high as the ones at Ski Apache. Ski Apache sits just underneath the Sierra Blanca where the highest peak is 12,000 ft high!
In fact, having never been to New Mexico, I didn’t know what to expect at all. But what I found in Ruidoso blew me away!
There are so many reasons why Ruidoso is the perfect ski destination. Here are 7 of them:
1. Great heights and views
Ski Apache, the ski resort in Ruidoso, is set in the Sacramento Mountain Range of the Lincoln National Forest and offers runs for all skill levels.
The main gondola brings you up over 11,000 ft high. It’s the only gondola of its kind in New Mexico!
People ski down from this high up, but Harrison and I just went for the views.
The gondola ride offers panoramic scenic views, and once you reach the top, you can see for miles!
You can book your gondola ride ahead of time here, it costs $25 per adult. Alternatively, you can book it once you arrive at Ski Apache.
The gondola is great for all ages; little ones are definitely welcome to come up to the top! Kids under the age of 5 actually ride free!
There are places for your skis and snowboards right next to the door of the gondola if you want to bring them with you and ski/snowboard down from the top.
Up to eight people fit in a gondola, and it takes about 15 minutes to ride up to the top (I didn’t time our ride, but it felt right around that long!).
2. Good for beginners
Another great thing about Ski Apache is their phenomenal ski school.
I may be sitting down in this photo, but it was by choice.
Believe it or not, Harrison and I didn’t fall down a single time the entire day.
And Harrison had never skied before- ever.
Our wonderful instructor, Ken, taught us the basics first, then stayed with us until we got the hang of it.
You actually start learning without skis on at all so that you can learn the technique you’re supposed to employ with your feet.
Then you put one ski on, learn a bit, and then the other.
So don’t worry if you’re a beginner skier – Ski Apache will welcome you!
After your lesson
After your lesson, you’ll be ready to hit the slopes!
Ski Apache has 11 lifts and 55 different trails (though not all are open all of the time.) With so many trails, you can expect a great mix of difficulty levels.
If you’re a beginner like Harrison and me, you can stick to the greens.
If you’re more advanced or an expert (like Ken who does extreme skiing!), you can tackle the many advanced trails at Ski Apache.
You can see all of their slopes on this trail map.
3. Temperate climate
Yet another reason why Ruidoso is a perfect ski destination is its climate.
Did you know that Ski Apache is the country’s southernmost continuously operating ski resort?
With that, you get great weather perks!
The town of Ruidoso isn’t too cold because you’re not too far north. But at the same time, it sits at a 7,000 foot elevation, which lends to its great proximity to the ski area.
You’ll find great ski weather at Ski Apache since you’re actually in the mountains at 9,600 feet with about fifteen feet of annual snowfall.
So, you can get the best of both worlds – you can easily hike and bike in the village below in a temperate climate while also catching a day on the slopes, all in the same trip.
One thing to keep in mind is that the snow reflects UV rays, and New Mexico is known for its brilliantly blue sunny skies.
So be sure to bring sunscreen with you when you hit the slopes! We forgot that important detail and it showed on Harrison’s face for the next week!
4. Small town charm
Besides the great heights, trails, and lessons at Ski Apache, you’ll also find great charm in the town of Ruidoso.
As cheesy as that may sound, it’s true.
On our recent trip, we got to know some of the locals.
Ken, our Ski School instructor was so kind in teaching us. Stan, who owns the A-Frame Ski Shop and the Escape Resort, made sure we had everything we could possibly need.
There were so many people we got to talk to, and the conclusion we came to is that this town is full of kind people.
That’s just part of Ruidoso’s small town charm.
And when I say small town, I mean small: it had a population of roughly 8,000 people in 2018.
With that small town charm, you’ll find great local stores and family owned businesses.
My small town favorites
My favorite local business that we visited was the Old Barrel Tea Company, which started in Ruidoso and has since grown to include other locations throughout New Mexico and Colorado.
The Old Barrel Tea Co is family-owned and female run.
If you’re in the area you simply must stop in to sample their teas and honey. Their Chocolate Orange Pu Erh tea is my favorite!
But be warned, once you sample their tea, you’ll most likely walk out with more tea than you need – it’s just that good!
And despite being a small town, Ruidoso boasts a fully equipped theater.
The Spencer Theater features world-class performances, including shows that are off Broadway.
A lot of shows actually use the Spencer Theater to finesse their tech details, which means you can catch a popular show at a great price.
It also is a masterpiece within itself – you can see plenty of Chihuly glass art installments throughout the theater.
5. Natural beauty and fun activities
There are so many things to do in the town of Ruidoso.
From beautiful lakes like this one to a much-needed massage after skiing, you’ll find it all here.
Want to go to a casino? The nearby Inn of the Mountain Gods is there for you!
Want to catch a performance? Like I mentioned earlier, you can check out the Spencer Theater.
Want some fresh pizza? Cafe Rio is calling your name!
6. Bosque del Apache
If you fly into Albuquerque and drive to Ruidoso, you’ll find this gorgeous nature sanctuary on the way.
Bosque del Apache is about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Ruidoso.
Over 300 bird species call this nature preserve home, and it’s no wonder why! Bosque del Apache is a wildlife refuge with over 7,000 acres of flood plains for the birds to call home.
It was established in the 1930’s after the Civilian Conservation Corps realized the extent of the damage that modernization had done to the habitat and its wildlife.
Now when you visit, you get to see the natural beauty teeming with life.
According to their website, you can see the most birds between early November to late January, though every season has plenty to offer!
In the winter months, it is commonplace to see cranes, waterfowl and snow geese, as well as the occasional bald eagle. There were 8 bald eagles spotted on the day we went!
When you arrive, stop at the visitor’s center to inquire about recent bird sightings, that way you know exactly what to look for!
The volunteers and staff at the center are incredibly helpful and kind. We got the feel that they really wanted us to make the most of our time there!
As you drive the main loop through the nature preserve, you’ll pass by so many birds and get to see mountains and ponds almost anywhere you go.
We went around 10am, but I’ve been told that if you go in the early morning hours, you can capture stunning photographs of the birds taking flight!
Just note that it’s $5 cash to get in- no credit cards accepted!
Additionally, there are hiking trails throughout the preserve if you’d like to explore the terrain.
7. Nearby Sand Dunes
White Sands National Monument is only an hour and fifteen minutes away from Ruidoso.
Nowhere else can you ski and ride down sand dunes on the same trip!
And you won’t want to miss this remarkable National Monument.
Fun fact: The dunes are classified as a National Monument because they are made up of rare white gypsum sand.
It’s the largest dune field of it’s kind in the whole world!
Picture this: over 200 square miles of stunning white sand, a landscape like nothing else.
There is plenty to do at the sand dunes!
You can see the unique wildlife, sled down the dunes, take pictures, enjoy a picnic, and even camp overnight!
It costs $20 per car to enter White Sands National Monument.
There is a main loop that navigates through the dunes. The road starts off paved but turns into a sand-covered road about four miles in. Don’t worry, you can still drive on the road!
If you’re skiing in Ruidoso, chances are the weather will be a lot warmer by the sand dunes.
When we went at the end of January, it was in the mid-50’s. With the sun out, it can seem even warmer than that.
We visited on a mostly cloudy day around 4:30pm and the sand was cold on my bare feet- I insisted on going barefoot, you don’t have to- but overall the weather was mild.
Definitely check out the dunes at sunset if you can! The sky is brilliant at these hours! But note that the dunes close at specific hours depending on the time of year. You can see the full hours here.
And if you don’t have a sled of your own to bring, you can purchase one at the monument gift shop!
Check it out!
Simply put, Ruidoso is a small town with deep roots and natural beauty, filled with and surrounded by fun things to do.
Its history is intertwined with that of the Mescalero Apache Native American tribe, whose lands border Ruidoso.
Ruidoso had always been a ski town: even before Ski Apache existed, in the 1930’s the town had its own little ski slope with a gasoline-powered tow rope (source).
But in the 1960’s, the Mescalero Apache tribe purchased what is now Ski Apache, bringing the skiing tradition to what it is today.
Come visit it for yourself – this town has so much to offer as a ski destination!
If you’ve been to Ruidoso and have things to add to my list, add them in the comments below!
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