A skier looks back at his initiation on the mountain.
Skiing for the first time at the age of 8 at the Santa Fe Ski Basin, I remember being ill-equipped, both mentally and physically. Soggy gloves hung loosely from my frozen hands, and hand-me-down skis with rusted, dull blades made for little maneuverability in the thick-packed snow. Overly tight boots chafed my icy hot ankles, and
a neon green and yellow snowsuit made up the majority of my skiing ensemble.
Amid everything else, in the elementary school habitat, asserting oneself as the alpha male was a continuous battle. Pounding my chest was the only thing I didn't do to gain the respect of my friends, and footraces interlaced with swing set-jumping contests constituted most of my playground activities.
The hierarchical social life of the third-grade paralleled the complexity of a Rubik's Cube, and to me, girls were still frightful little creatures. At the time, snow was still plentiful and global warming was not highly debated. In certain contexts, "bad" meant good, and Nike pumps, cassette tapes and boom boxes were still cutting edge. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ranked higher on my priority list than showering, and Velcro shoes and MC Hammer parachute pants were all I wore.
Adding anxiety to the already harsh conditions on the mountain, my friends were all self-proclaimed expert skiers, and my snowplow stop was unanimously declared to be "totally uncool." Falling time and again like a freshly born gazelle-completely out of tune with my motor skills, shaking and stumbling, making sounds I never knew existed-the time had come to prove myself to my friends. With soggy knees and an aching tailbone, I gave into the coercion of my prepubescent comrades after mustering every excuse I could think of to avoid getting on the ski lift.
"Come on," they prodded, "we'll just go up a little ways from the bunny hill. You can do it!" they encouraged. "Of course I can do it," I tried to tell myself. I mean, come on. What was I, a novice? Sneaking away from the chaperones who were distracted by a snowball fight, my scrawny little arms struggled with my ski poles until at last I began to move.
Staggering to the lift-a feat for my ungainly, faltering self-I scrambled on and was whisked away from Chipmunk Corner. Post after post scrolled by as the metal wheels tugged the lift along, and clumpy, bruised clouds, fat with moisture, quilted the sky above. Below, people shrunk to the size of ants, and a man crashed in a plume of powder, his skis flying like shrapnel from a helicopter accident. The air got colder as wisps of snow rolled across the trails, and I took heavy, visible breaths with my hands aquiver. After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the end of the line, near Davey Lane. Stumbling awkwardly to the crest of the mountain with my tips crossed and my poles digging in for composure, I stopped just short of the point of no return and choked on my tongue.
As sheer as a treacherous, wind-beaten cliff to my terrified eyes, the slope melodramatically elongated to an unimaginable length. My wild, blonde, mulletlike hair (yes, I'm ashamed to admit, it looked like a mullet) swatted at my neck menacingly, thrashing in the strong winter gusts. To the left, a friend of mine screamed, "See ya at the bottom!" as his voice drifted away with the wind. From behind, another friend nudged me in the back, and within seconds I was moving like a runaway freight train.
Physics becoming my newfound enemy, as potential energy, momentum and gravity collided, I gained speed with powder exploding beneath my skis, an ineffective snowplow maneuver chiseling my path. Thank the snow gods for what happened next as, luckily, the same friend shot by, screaming, "You've got to cut, man!" With my knees shaking and my chest as pressurized as a pimple ripe for the popping-nearly bursting with adrenaline and terror-my friend's voice echoed in my skull before finally making any sense.
Still as ungainly as a newborn gazelle pitted against hungry lions on the Savannah, my instincts amazingly kicked in. Just as learning to walk immediately following birth is a requirement for the survival of a gazelle, so did carving become my only hope. Copying my friend's motion while turning my ankles and body, I slowed abruptly with a tsunamilike arc of powder erupting away from my skis. Relief washed over me as suddenly as cold water on a burning skillet as I realized I might live to see another day.
Having successfully thwarted physics' sinister plan to do me in, I made it down the mountain alive after all, with my miraculously acquired skill as my savior and only a few "biffs" to speak of. Safely down at the bottom once more, I punched my friend in the chest and cracked a little smile. I had evaded the "lions" of the mountain, and my love for skiing had begun. "No holds barred" would have emerged as my official skiing mantra on that day had I possessed the vocabulary to articulate the feeling. As it was, however, settling for "wicked-awesome" was just as sufficient for me.
Where to hit the slopes, in descending vertical drop order.
Taos Ski Valley
Rivaling the world's greatest ski resorts since its opening in 1956, this internationally known, family owned and operated facility scrapes the belly of the sky at 11,819 feet, featuring a 2,612-foot vertical drop. Adrenaline-pumping, tear-inducing and intimidating indeed, Taos accommodates the experienced and brave skier alike.
80 miles from Santa Fe on NM 150, 2,612-foot vertical drop, snow report 505-776–2291, general information 800-347-7414,
Angel Fire Resort
Tripled in size from last year, the Lowrider terrain park offered at Angel Fire Resort entices freestyle boarders, skiers and adrenaline junkies by the hoards. Assuming the role of the snowboarding capital of New Mexico, with jumps, rails, tabletops, fun boxes, two freestyle parks and the state's only halfpipe, this is one sick resort!
95 miles north of Santa Fe on NM 434, 2,077-foot vertical drop, snow report 505-377-4222, general information 800-633-7463,
Santa Fe Ski Basin
Rebounding from a whiteless Christmas last year, hopes for a prosperous ski season in Santa Fe this winter are high. With a 1,725-foot vertical drop featuring 67 trails-40 percent of which are most difficult-location is not all our ski basin has to offer. Brushing cobwebs off the new Millennium chairlift that went unused last year, one can expect shorter lines and longer runs this season as well.
16 miles northeast of Santa Fe on Artist Road/Hyde Park Road (NM 475), 1,725-foot vertical drop, snow report/off-season 505-983-9155, ski area 505-982-4429,
Sandia Peak Ski Area
Amidst awe-inspiring views offered by the world's longest tramway, Sandia Peak introduces something new for the kiddos and thrill-seekers this year. In the "freestyle fun park" just off the beginner trail, one will find fun-boxes, jumps and terrain galore, all designed to accommodate the novice, so don't you worry, Mom.
35 miles south of Santa Fe on NM 536, 1,700-foot vertical drop, snow report 505-857-8977, general information 505-242-9052,
With 90 percent of local homes within walking distance of the slopes, this charming little ski town warmly welcomes families and children with open arms. Expert, intermediate and beginner slopes are evenly allotted a third of the mountain each, providing something for every member of the family.
106 miles from Santa Fe on NM 38, 1,600-foot vertical drop, snow report 505-754-2220, general information 505-754-2223,
Pajarito Mountain Ski Area
Shhhh! It's New Mexico's "skiing secret," the diamond in the rough of Los Alamos. Long lines? Forget it. Cheap tickets? You bet. With half of the trails at an intermediate level, an at-home atmosphere and unimaginably short lines, this not-for-profit ski area is a great place to relax and chill out. Pun intended.
45 miles from Santa Fe, 7 miles from Los Alamos off NM 501, 1,410-foot vertical drop, snow report 505-662-5725, general information 505-662-5725,
Sipapu Ski Area
Stationed in the Pecos Wilderness and Carson National Forest, this family owned and operated resort caters to familial needs, hosting cheaply priced events for all seasons. From fishing to disc golfing, horseback riding and rafting, Sipapu accommodates every passion and seasonal need amidst beautiful scenery.
65 miles from Santa Fe, 22 miles southeast of Taos on NM 518, 1,055-foot vertical drop, general information 800-587-2240,