15 of New Mexico's Best Winter Activities! By
Winter in New Mexico brings with it a whole new way to experience the outdoors. From the Chihuahuan Desert, to the Sangre de Cristo Range, to deeply-forested mountains, the landscape changes from the golden colors of spring, summer and fall to winter’s cool palette of colors, dominated by the crisp, clean white of snow. It’s a time of enchanted festivals and magical nights.
Connect with two, three or four friends and ride the chair lifts to a variety of mixed-level skiing. First-timers can hit the very gentle bunny slopes at the base of the mountain. For the more advanced skier, the upper mountain trails are long and challenging, both in stamina and expertise. With 1,294 acres of terrain, wide open groomers and glades, moguls and bowls and powdery, pristine snow, the schussing factor at this mountain resort is out-of-bounds. Lifts are open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Weather is always a factor, so plan ahead!
Snowboarders flock to the three terrain parks here, the southernmost resort in the state, for the challenging jumps, rails and tubes and to practice tricks like grabs, grinds and stalls. Owned and operated by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, this second-largest ski area of New Mexico has 750 acres of skiable land with more than 55 trails served by 11 lifts. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Sunday. Snowmaking adds to the 180 plus inches of snowfall that comes every year, so snowboarders are guaranteed a fun, challenging day on the slopes.
The James Sewell Ice Rink is the only natural ice, ice rink in all the Southwest. James Sewell, for whom the rink is named, opening this popular winter spot in the 1960s by filling a low spot in town with water and letting it freeze overnight. Put your skates on a take a slide back in time for a day or evening of fun for the whole family. It’s open from mid-December through the beginning of March in this historic town, high in the Lincoln National Forest. Brave the cold with hot cocoa from the snack bar or roast some s’mores for warmth.
Bundle up if you’re planning on attending a feast day at one of the 19 pueblos just outside of Albuquerque. The all-day dancing takes place in the square in celebration of both the Native American culture and Catholic traditions and rituals brought by the Spanish in the 1500s. The rhythmic cadence of the drums and the aroma of pinon smoke permeate the air as the native dancers’ feet beat against the cold ground. This is not a performance, but a prayer, so reverence for what’s taking place is a must. No pictures allowed.
A river runs through the heart of Carlsbad and those who live on its shores create a Christmas light show extravaganza. This annual event showcases about 100 homeowners who decorate their boat docks and backyards with millions of lights. Visitors drift down the river through a magical world that only happens once a year in this desert town. Tours are 40 minutes long and take place through the end of December. It’s a sight you won’t soon forget.
The sight of 4,000 luminarias lighting the path along a beach in the New Mexican desert is certainly a bucket list event. Sponsored by the town’s Chamber of Commerce, the luminarias, a small paper bag with a votive candle in it, get lit at dusk as a kick-off to the floating parade of lights by local boat owners. Complimentary treats, caroling, hay rides, camp fires, hot cider and a visit with Santa Claus round out the evening’s activities.
These therapeutic geothermal springs, filled with minerals like lithium and sulfur, have been a gathering place for healing since the first peoples lived in this area. The three, open-air cement-lined springs, right along the side of the road, are accessible to anyone wanting to dip their toe in the water’s warmth. The old Montezuma Hotel is now the headquarters for United World College which maintains the pools. The soaks vary in temperature: The “Lobster Pot” is hot at 120 degrees, “Africa,” shaped like the continent, a mild 103 degrees. Access is free. Bathing suits are required. Relaxation essential.
You don’t have to be a skier or snowboarder to ride a gondola to the top of a mountain, you just can’t be afraid of heights! This gondola travels 2.7 miles up and over deep canyons to an elevation of 10,378 feet and the observation deck on Sandia Peak. The surrounding panoramic views of the Rio Grande Valley are breathtaking and sunrise or sunset at the peak are awe-inspiring. Winter above the snow-dusted Sandia Mountains brings new perspective to the desert scene below. The tram runs every 20 to 30 minutes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; the ride is about 15 minutes. This gives you plenty of time to wander the trails of Cibola National Forest.
Pack your auger and a fishing line for some crazy-cold winter fishing. As you slip-slide across the creaking ice, just ignore the moaning and groaning the ice makes—it’s all part of the experience. Fishermen have been fishing (and catching) at this lake for years. Trout, salmon and perch are the best of the lake, but the non-native pike is part of the pool, too. You need a license so check in with the Department of Game and Fish before you head out and make sure the lake is fully-frozen—the water is cold.
You don’t have to stop hiking the snow-covered trails in winter, you just have to strap on a pair of snowshoes. The modern, lightweight construction of these shoes makes tramping through the snow a walk in the park, and there’s no better place to try it than here, deep in the Jemez Mountains. The crater, remnants of an ancient volcano, has miles of pristine snow just waiting to be stepped on. Open Friday through Sunday in winter, from mid-November to mid-March. A highlight: moonlight snowshoeing with bonfires and hot chocolate!
With more than 50 miles of snowmobile-accessible trails, this is the place to open up the throttle. Whether you have your own, or hook up with a guided tour, this is just a straight-up fun activity. Beautiful landscapes and not-too-cold temps make this a great outing for families for a day, or weekend, of high-spirited fun. Before heading out, stop by the Visitors Center for a trail map and for the rules of the snow.
The lights of Santa Fe never shine so brightly as they do at this annual Christmas event on Canyon Road. Thousands of farolitos, small paper lanterns, illuminate the gardens and courtyards and adobe walls all along this road. With the addition of luminarias, small pinon bonfires, and twinkle lights, the glow is ever so heart-warming. What began as a neighborhood activity in the 1970s has grown into a celebration that brings carolers, street musicians, artists, friends and strangers out on to the streets to share hot chocolate and the joy of the season. This free activity only happens on one day of year: Christmas Eve. Don’t miss it.
At 10,000 feet, the panoramic mountain vistas merge with meandering forest trails for a high-elevation adventure. The state’s only full-service cross country ski area has 20 miles of well-marked and widely-groomed, patrolled trails. It has 20 miles of 16-foot wide groomed trails. Cross-country skiing, part of a trio of Nordic skiing activities is the original and, perhaps, the hardest way to ski. You use every muscle in your body, with swinging arms and gliding legs, propelling you across the powdery trails. Open seven days-a-week from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Looking for an exhilarating ride down a snow-covered slope that isn’t gear heavy? Tubing is the ticket. Tubing is like sledding only easier and more fun because you get to sit and slide on, basically, a pillow of air. This park has tubing areas with twists, turns, bump, jumps and bobsled curves. This is a fun-for-the-whole family activity. Tubes can carry as many as six riders. Build a train by linking tubes together and connect family and friends. Open November through March, most days 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Ask about the Giant Tube, you’ll be glad you did.
Sledding is a year-round sport here. It’s not quite the same experience as on snow, but the powdery white gypsum, the gentle slope of the dunes, the waxed plastic snow saucer that you slide on, the close to freezing winter temperatures and a little imagination can make it seem so. This exhilarating activity is a great family adventure. Winter hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Christmas Day.