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A Magical Tour of New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle

by Dan Giesin | February 4, 2020

Welcome to the Enchanted Circle in New Mexico.

Do you believe in magic?

If not, there’s a piece of real estate in northern New Mexico called the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that will point you in the right direction. In fact, it’s so magical it is encased within the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.

And along this 84-mile loop that traverses mountain valleys and high deserts, along rivers and lakes and through some historic mountain towns, you’ll find three ski resorts that will go a long way to bolster your belief in the magical essence of this place.

Taos Ski Valley

Less than 20 miles from the old Pueblo village of Taos — the usual starting point of the Enchanted Circle — and deep within the Sangre de Cristos you’ll come across the lovely European-style resort of Taos Ski Valley.

Built by Swiss emigrant Ernie Blake more than 50 years ago, Taos is a 1,294-acre playground that skis much bigger than that. Noted for its steep chutes and bowls, more than half of Taos’s 110 named trails are rated expert or better. And most newcomers are set slightly aback when they first see Lift 1, the only lift rising out of the base area and heading straight up the super-steep Al’s Run.

But fear not, as the sign says, Al’s Run represents just 1/30th of the terrain at Taos and you’ll find a plethora of blue and green runs — all groomed to perfection — that will suit less proficient skiers and boarders.

Once you’re up the hill and cruising around Taos’s 14-lift transit system, check out Porcupine and Shalako-Baby Bear combo for fun groomers, Wild West and Walkyries for glades, the aforementioned Al’s Run for bumps and the Kachina lift, which tops out at 12,481 feet and gives Taos 3,281 feet of vertical, for just about anything and everything Taos can throw at you.

For a great lunch on the hill, make your way to the Bavarian and it’s German-style cuisine and beers. And once the sun is down head to Orlando’s (Mexican), Lambert’s (upscale contemporary American) or Donabe (Asian fusion) in the town of Taos.

The Blake and St. Bernard at Taos Ski Valley and El Monte Segrado in town are more-than-comfy hotel options.

Angel Fire

About 40 minutes east of the town of Taos on the other side of the Sangre de Cristo range lies the beautiful Moreno Valley, which is anchored on its south end by Angel Fire resort.

This is a very mid-level and family-friendly ski hill whose 560 acres are traversed by five lifts, one of which, the 2.1-mile long, bottom-to-top Chile Express, is the second longest chair in the world. Fifty-six percent of Angel Fire’s 81 trails are rated intermediate, and most have snowmaking to supplement the resort’s 210 inches of natural snow.

Free Flight, which drops 2,077 vertical feet from Angel Fire’s 8,600-foot summit back to the base, and Hully Gully on the backside are fun cruisers; Eagle and Shane’s are where to head for glade skiing, and Fat City (blue) and Angel’s Plunge (black) are great places to practice your mogul hopping. There are also four terrain parks and night skiing and riding for those so inclined.

El Jefe, Margaritas Y Mas, is a tasty Mexican-style lunch option at the base of the Chile Express, and for after-skiing eats try Elements at the Country Club for fine dining, Pub ‘N’ Grub for pub fare and Pizza Stop for, well, pizza.

There are many lodging options, running the gamut from one-bedroom hotels and motels to suites and slope-side condos and cabins, and are booked online here. Get Angel Fire Lodging, Condos and Hotels here.

Red River

A little more than 30 miles north of Angel Fire lies the charming erstwhile mining town of Red River and its eponymous ski hill (pictured above).

With just a handful of lifts, 1,600 vertical and 209 skiable acres, Red River Ski Area is just the spot for a  laid-back day on the hill. There’s nothing really intimidating here, and with both main lifts rising straight out of town, you’ll have no fear of losing anybody in your party.

But though Red River is intimate, it skis surprisingly big, with its 64 trails, 85 percent of which are covered by snowmaking machines, giving a wide range of variety. Try Boomtown for an exhilarating top-to-bottom groomer. Or Sluice Box Glades and Wild Turkey for some fun tree skiing. Or the wonderfully named Pasture Ability for bumps. There’s even a 50-acre playground for kids with its own lift on the backside.

The summit house, with an outstanding view of the boundless wilderness to the south, is a good lunch option, while the award-winning Red River Brewery (pub fare) and Texas Red’s Steakhouse (what else?) are good dining options. Also check out the Motherlode and its wide variety of live music.

There are a variety of lodging options in town, but the Best Western and the Copper King offer the quickest access to the lifts.

And when you’re heading back to the town of Taos to close the loop, stop in Frank’s in Questa for killer breakfast burritos and cream puffs.

Simply magical.

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