An army of multi-colored turtlenecks, various dark-colored jeans, fur-lined boots, two snow hats and a ski jacket, pants and gloves; that was the “thoughtful” wardrobe I packed as a novice going on my first ever ski trip. The next time; I’m adding a pair of rocking cowgirl boots and some fab turquoise jewelry so I can step out in style like the rest of the natives in New Mexico; a paradise steeped in culture, arts and history.
I went on the ultimate “trifecta” of a weeklong New Mexican ski excursion – touring Red River Ski Area, Taos Ski Valley and Ski Santa Fe. Each place I visited had more than enough amenities to accommodate any traveler; from the lone adventurer to the family-packed travel group.
Upon arrival I checked into the Auslander Condominiums, a place perfect for the family traveling with kids. It was a cozy mountain retreat, but still had the “big-city” amenities with LCD flat screen televisions, satellite cable and Wi-Fi internet access. The condos ranged from one to four bedrooms, with full baths, living and dining areas, including fully-equipped kitchens, providing the option of saving money by cooking your own food. But for those who want to leave the cooking for when they have to return to their “normal routines,” a slew of dining halls and restaurants are right outside the door. Literally, just lace up and take a one- to five-minute walk.
Breakfast at Shotgun Willie’s is a must, relishing in down-home country cooking, with an equal amount of New Mexican flair. The menu has something for everyone from those craving biscuits and gravy to a spicy green chile breakfast burrito. The owner Steve Cherry is also known for being able to pound out and serve the perfect homemade hamburger. Shotgun Willie’s, which serves only breakfast and lunch, is very affordable and perfect for those traveling on a budget.
Being from Houston, I am always skeptical when I see a restaurant in another state boasting “Texas-style barbecue.” I have often found myself disappointed with “dinky little plates” with either bland or overly sweet barbecue sauce so I immediately gave the “side-eye” when I saw the same claim at Black Diamond Bar and Grill. Not only was I wrong, but I was more than satisfied after I received my “Texas-sized” plate of meat and potatoes, drizzled with some of the best darn barbecue sauce a Southerner could enjoy! In addition to the barbecue, the grill offered pizza, fish and burgers, and great cocktails to keep you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside; despite the cold weather.
And for anyone needing an “and for the drumroll please,” in their life, no visit to the Red River Ski Area would be complete without the Snow Coach Dinner Tour. My group first met for some “kick the party off” cocktails at The Lift House Bar and Grill, enjoying music, mixed chatter and “ShotSkis” (a truly inventive way to take a shot) then we piled into the big snowcat and hitched a ride 1600 vertical feet to have dinner at the Ski Tip Restaurant. After enjoying one of the juiciest steaks and sinfully delicious au gratin potatoes, prepared by Chef Kai Dunbar, we loosened our belts and climbed back into the heated snowcat to made our descent. The biggest shocker was the single headlight we saw whizzing past us. It turned out to be Chef Kai who hopped on his skis, put on a lit helmet and raced the slopes in the dark to beat the snowcat to the bottom, just so he could personally escort his guests off. Talk about a “Top Chef!”
For two days, I had the pleasure of receiving ski lessons from Bob “Bobcat” Koontz, whose mastery mixed with patience gave a sistah like me confidence to swoosh down the hills a few times, even AFTER I kissed the ice twice by falling on the “magic carpet” moving walkway. It was OK, thanks to Bob I got it together, one wobbly baby step at a time.
Just a couple of hours away from Red River Ski Area is Taos Ski Valley, the second leg of my tour. After enjoying scenes along the winding hills and highways – with spectacular wildlife sightings – I arrived and checked into Edelweiss Lodge and Spa, a luxury resort next to Strawberry Hill. My two bedroom condominium reeked of sophistication, with oversized garden tubs, separate showers, a modern kitchen with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, and had televisions in the living room and both bedrooms. The balcony outside my bedroom faced the Taos ski slopes, with lifts coasting by just feet away. This condo is ideal for families, couples traveling together or a girlfriends getaway! The Edelweiss Spa is also a perfect place to unwind and get a deep tissue massage after tackling the slopes. The massage therapy team is comprised of advanced body workers each with at least 10 years of experience. In addition to the spa treatments, the lodge offers yoga classes, which can also be customized for traveling groups.
After getting private lessons from instructor Teri Koss and doing my best to navigate the world-class tough terrain, I sat down for a hearty bowl of Green Chile Stew at Rhoda’s Restaurant, located slope side at the resort center. The restaurant, which is open for lunch and dinner, features great comfort food in a calming atmosphere, a full bar and wine list, with carefully selected micro-brews. I was able to rest and relax while voyeuristically enjoying the ongoing action right outside the window. When I was ready for a little more mixing and mingling, I walked upstairs to the Martini Tree Bar for some signature cocktails. It is more of a robust hangout, being the hot spot for après ski action where you can meet with friends, enjoy live entertainment and shoot a few games of pool.
Dinner at The Bavarian was quite an adventure, beginning from the winding ride up, leading to the festively dressed servers and unique cuisine. While enjoying the gentle warmth of the atmosphere, guests are served authentic German food by wait staff clad in lederhosen and dirndls. If menu selections (and pronunciations of items) such as Sauerbraten, Wienerschnitzel or Kasespatzle are a bit overwhelming; not to worry, the restaurant also offers salads, sandwiches and burgers.
Ahhh Santa Fe, where do I begin? The beautiful city, which was founded in the early 1600s, is the second oldest city as well as the highest and oldest capital in the U.S. Its unique offerings of art, culture and ancient traditions make it a world class destination, drawing in more than one million visitors each year – with a large amount from right here in Texas!
My soul was nourished while breathing the cleanest air in the country, enjoying 360-degree mountain views and perfect sunsets.
To kick off the trip, my group gathered for a #SkiNewMexico welcoming reception at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa. This posh hotel is just steps away from the historic Santa Fe Plaza.
Aside from being absolutely spellbound from the sheer beauty of the place, I was blown away by the unique food set up on our reception bar. Savory is an understatement. The chef prepared an eclectic spread of bite-sized delights featuring everything from crab cakes and sliders to -- dare I say it -- a Frito Pie bar, and chocolate was drizzling from the heavens on the dessert table!
But back to the hotel…memories of the food had me sidetracked.
Hotel guests are welcomed to dine at the Old House and enjoy contemporary global cuisine featuring the freshest seasonal and regional ingredients from nearby artisan farms, or simply unwind in the new AGAVE Lounge. Another way to really unwind is to get the full pampering treatment at the lavish Nidah Spa or bask in the brilliant sun by the cozy rooftop pool. The Eldorado Hotel & Spa is perfect for relaxing getaways, shopping and dining excursions, or city exploration. Needless to say, when you are looking for the best, look no further, the hotel has been awarded the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Rating 16 years in a row and is one of only two hotels in New Mexico to proudly hold the record.
My first night in town, I stayed at Hotel Santa Fe, The Hacienda and Spa, which is the city’s only Native American-owned hotel. The place offers a unique cultural experience, from the luxurious rooms and suites to the Native décor and culinary cuisine at the Amaya Restaurant on the first floor. Javier, the butler, goes above and beyond to ensure each guest is properly welcomed and pampered during their stay. Also located in downtown Santa Fe and in the heart of the Guadalupe Railyard District, the hotel is walking distance from the city's many treasures.
As I explored “The City Different,” I was in awe of the landscape, the earth-toned adobe buildings and glimpses of the snow-covered mountains. The sidewalks are lined at the downtown shopping plaza with artists and craftspeople selling handmade jewelry and other goods.
When it comes to food, there is just one factor – red or green—because if you can tell by some of my previous food choices, it is all about the chile, my dear!
After visiting the world renowned Georgia O’Keefe Museum and The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, I found myself needing to take a small break to allow the beauty of the afternoon to sink in. I stepped into a wonderfully colorful little eatery called The Shed and savored the best blue corn enchiladas—green chile of course – and margaritas made just right.
Another favorite for food and margaritas was the Blue Corn Café and Brewery. There, I had Luis’ Mac-n-Cheese, topped with grilled chicken and…dare I say it….green chile again! This place, too, is extremely affordable.
The real beauty about food is the fact that it has the power to bring people together. With that in mind the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe offers communal dining, brining groups of people – even strangers – closer together by sharing a collective meal; no separate orders. Executive Chef Andrew Cooper spoiled us at Terra Restaurant with roasted fennel and winter squash soup, and Arugula salad with fig and balsamic vinaigrette for starters, then went for the one-two punch with the main course selections. Dinner guests were bombarded with palate-pleasing entrees including Guajillo and Citrus Glazed Salmon with Israeli Couscous, Pinon Smoked Quail with Bourbon Bacon Maple Sauce, Duck and Fois Gras Ravioli and Pan Seared Scallops with a tart cherry and port wine reduction, House made Pappardelle Pasta with mushrooms and Madeira cream sauce, fresh Farmers Market vegetables, Smoked potatoes and New Mexico Lamb Osso Bucco with Old Windmill dairy goat cheese polenta. And if that wasn’t enough, Chef Andrew finished it all off with a Champagne Mimosa with a Pomegranate Gelee. Those who want to take an intimate escape from the ordinary can also stay at the enchanted, exclusive 65-casita room resort, overlooking the Rio Grande River Valley, the peaks of the Jemez Mountains and the wilds of New Mexico.
If something more budget-friendly is preferred, the Santa Fe Sage Inn is absolutely perfect. I stayed there on the last night of my trip. It is also centered in the heart of town, walking distance to restaurants and other activities. In fact, it is just a two-minute walk away from the Farmers Market, which is how I was able to check out the 2014 Winter Brew festival the evening before I left town. The annual event, held by the New Mexico Brewers Guild, brought together more than a dozen of the best craft breweries and about 10 local chefs providing samples of beer and food; a delicious combination.
Dinner at Il Piatto was a culinary delight! This spot was romantically chic, while giving an Italian farmhouse experience. Chef Matt Yohalem’s prides himself on using fresh Farm to Table ingredients for his menu selections and it shows. After biting into my Penne Rigate with spicy house made keyser pork sausage, I swear my eyes crossed for just a moment, but they straightened back up as I enjoyed every bite of my food and desert trio, with the perfect pairing of wines. This spot is also in the heart of the city, just one block north of the Santa Fe plaza. Il Piatto was named Top 20 Best New Restaurants by Esquire Magazine in 1996, voted Best Restaurant by Edible Magazine in 2013, as well as a 2013 Gayot “Top Spot -Top Romantic Spots.” As you can see, I enjoyed plenty of fine dining in Santa Fe, saving my “guilt” for when I returned home to the treadmill.
Rounding out my ski week, I had the pleasure of racing children (I told you I was a beginner) down the slopes of Ski Santa Fe. It was quite an experience because lots of kids were visiting that day as part of a school field trip. Sadly, those “little professionals” were much better than me, but they helped me further build my confidence with me thinking “if they can do it, then so can I!” My wonderful instructor for the day, Michael Pullen (whom I nicknamed Burt Reynolds), was also a joy. I was tough, he was tougher, I said ‘I can’t,’ he said I can –and he made sure I did everything I needed to do. I even conquered the ski lift, which I vowed I would NOT try this time around. So go figure. I left the resort cold and a bit sore – but feeling like a champ!
SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST
At every stop of my tour, I was asked “Have you tried a Green Chile Cheeseburger?”
Each restaurant offers their version, but I had the pleasure of dying and going to heaven after sinking my teeth into one at Brett’s Bistro in Red River Ski Area. The owner, Brett Lewis, is considered a “been there-done that” in the food industry. After having the burger, I am a “been there, tried that and can’t wait to eat it again!” Of course, the bistro offers more fine cuisine, including some of the best bread pudding and sweet, homemade lemonade I’ve ever had.
Art on every corner, a slope for every level of skier and a smile from every person you see; New Mexico is the perfect getaway just a hop, skip and a jump away from Texas. So saddle up cowboys and mosey on down the road, a lil’ slippin’ and slidin’ “never hurt nobody!”