New Mexico has always been the forgotten state in my mind, like an elusive barren desert, infrequently traveled. I had no idea what the state truly resembled but I started to hear about it during the summer from friends who liked the outdoors. My curiosity grew strong when I read that Taos was one of the best ski resorts in the United States.
We originally were planning Christmas with my family in the Pacific Northwest, but tickets were prohibitively expensive during the holiday weekend. Last winter we had spent a week in the Methow Valley of Washington and decided we wanted to be back in the snow. I knew this holiday would feel empty with the loss of my dad so I had to orient myself in a place where my heart would be happy - high in the mountains.
Justin and I had recently picked up uphill skiing, and there were only a handful of areas within driving distance that allowed the sport. Colorado has best adopted uphill skiing and some resorts in the state allow all-day uphill. Along with a few other ski towns we researched, everything was unfortunately expensive and crowded. Eventually, all signs pointed to Taos and we committed to spending Christmas in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in northern New Mexico.
Taos is an 8 hour drive from Phoenix, which may sound like a hefty trek to most people, but for Justin and I this was not intimidating in the slightest because we are regular weekend nomads. We also broke up the trip by spending the first night in Albuquerque with a good friend from Alaska. It was great to kick start our trip with an old friend and reminisce about our days living in a tent together in the last frontier.
In the morning we did a shakeout run before hitting the road to Taos. Our friend's place was in the foothills of the Sandia Mountain Wilderness, and as you can see in the pictures above, it was a stunning landscape.
We rented a small studio cabin in the heart of Taos, which supplied the right amount of amenities - big comfortable bed, sitting area, kitchenette, and full bath. There was even a small lighted Christmas tree in the room to keep things festive. The hot tub just outside was our savior to our sore shoulders and legs after being on the mountain all day.
Christmas Eve in Taos was not your average Christmas tree lighting. The Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, sits just outside of town and looks like a mystical movie set from a hundred years ago and has the uncanny resemblance of Ait Bendahou in Morocco. The Christmas yuletide festival unfolds by arriving to the Pueblo with a couple hundred other people and walking through the humble shops to see the local art while sipping hot cider. The Pueblo is scattered with towers of firewood, some of them 30 feet high, which are set ablaze when the sun goes down. Everyone huddles around the flames to keep warm and watch the parade of dancing natives who circle the pueblo while carrying the Virgin Mary.
Skiing on Christmas was the best day of the season to hit the slopes. We didn't wait in line once all day and there were plenty of empty runs, which we were grateful for as rookie downhill skiers. The snow was dumping all day which kept the runs nice and powdery.
Justin and I have been lifetime snowboarders. I started boarding when I was 10 years old and hit the mountain every winter on the local ski bus through college. I don't have much finesse on skis, which had me blurting out a couple times "We would be so much better on this run if we had our snowboards!" But it's a new era and we are committed to skiing; a more versatile sport that is better suited for going uphill. Thankfully El Niño will offer a long season to help us refine our downhill skills.
Justin led the way the whole day and was much more coordinated than I was. After a long day on the mountain we spent happy hour in the hot tub before going out for Christmas dinner tamales at El Meze.
Nordic skiing is my kinda jam. Weaving through the snow-shangled forest and touring the lowland is always a magical experience. Nordic skiing is one hell of a workout (especially at 9,000ft!), which is maybe a reason the masses don't flock to the sport. After all, we only saw one other skier the whole time on the trail system!
The Enchanted Forest Ski area is about 45 minutes from Taos and worth the beautiful drive. The bighorn sheep were a nice roadside greeting on our way to the trails.
I'll let the pictures do the talking. I'm still dreaming about gliding through the winter wonderland of northern New Mexico. There were yurts along the trail where we stopped to warm up by the fire and refill our water. What is there not to love about Nordic skiing?
One our way back to town we stopped at the Overland Sheepskin Company. This shop has got it all if you're looking for hand-crafted leather goods in New Mexico. Justin and I went straight to the slipper section to warm our toes.
Lets talk about burritos - the real reason Justin and I came to New Mexico. I continuously searched for the best burrito spots in town, and generally they were all good, until our friend told us about Orlando's. This local dig is seriously spilling with southwest charm. We got to the restaurant 15 minutes after they opened and there was already a wait (thankfully a short one). Everyone wants to eat at Orlando's so the restaurant has a small hut with a fire just outside to stay warm and gaze at the stars while you anxiously await your burrito. If you end up going here make sure to end your feast with the frozen avocado pie.
The last morning we set out to run on the trails closer to town. Talk about a slog through the snow! My lungs were burning from the altitude and my quads were banged up from skiing, but the run was still beautiful. You can see below that there practically wasn't a trail at times, so our run was more like rudimentary snow-shoeing.
Taos is a special place, and I hope it stays that way. It's on my list for the summer because I know the trails are well suited for running and mountain biking. New Mexico is a real gem, especially during the winter months.
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.