‘Tis the season to play in the snow — from snowmen and snow angels to shussing fresh-fallen powder. Recreational standards define numerous winter sports activities as everything from downhill and cross-country skiing to sledding, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and tubing as well as ice skating and ice fishing. In other words, if it involves snow flakes and ice crystals, there are proponents of chilly-weather outdoor adventures.
And although there are uncounted acres of snow-covered scenery to be found throughout Indian Country, two tribes — both of them in the West — have carved out a reputation in this niche market, taking advantage of weather and altitude as revenue generators.
“The Mescalero Apache Tribe in southern New Mexico and the White Mountain Apache Tribe in northern Arizona operate the only two tribally-owned ski lodges in the country,” says Justin Rowland, Director of Operations at Ski Apache — billed as The Southwest’s Premier Mountain Ski Resort.
Currently celebrating its 50th season on the picturesque mountain slopes of the Sierra Blanca, Ski Apache draws between 150,000 and 185,000 winter fun seekers on an average year in which snowfall runs about 180 inches, a mind-boggling 15 feet deep.
On a typical recent morning, Rowland could be found dressed warmly to combat temperatures of 24 degrees at nearly 12,000 feet high, running a Snow Cat through an overnite snowfall of another seven inches, making new places for people to play.
“We have 55 ski runs served by 9 lifts with triple and quad chairs including New Mexico’s only gondola,” Rowland says. For the serious skier, Ski Apache offers three terrain parks that provide five standard boxes, a rainbow box, three flat rails, a battleship rail, a flat-down-flat rail, and an A-frame rail.
New this season is an option to include Global Positioning System tracking tags as real-time locators to pinpoint exact locations.
The season runs from Thanksgiving through the first week of April with man helping nature at the get-go. “We have snowmaking capabilities on about a third of the mountain and starting about Thanksgiving, we build up a snow base for early season arrivals.
“This is one of the most unique places to journey to,” says Rowland. “Our mountains, snow, and pine trees provide an oasis-in-the-desert just two hours from El Paso. Plus we have the only slopeside slot machines in the United States — 8 slots in one of our restaurants at the bottom of the mountain.”
A popular après ski resting spot is the AAA Four-Diamond Inn of the Mountain Gods — everything from 273 luxury rooms and suites to an indoor pool, a casino, and numerous dining options providing mouthwatering cuisine for every palate — all amidst a setting of breathtaking alpine scenery.
In the adjacent state of Arizona is Sunrise Ski Park, “Arizona’s Premier Ski Destination,” offering 3 mountains (Sunrise Peak, Apache Peak, and Cyclone Peak) and 65 runs for skiers, sledders, snowboarders, and tubers, many of whom close out their day at the 100-room Sunrise Park Resort, both owned and operated by the White Mountain Apache Tribe.
There are enough lifts (operating daily from 9am-4pm) to carry a capacity of 16,000 skiers uphill each hour to play in the packed powder. Sunrise also offers skiers and snowboarders a Terrain Park featuring implanted wood and metal rails, boxes, and a special event area with jumps ranging from beginner to advanced.
The resort is promoting a “40 Years of Fun” campaign and again this season is offering a Winter Fest/Winter Games celebration highlighted by sled dog races on January 28-29. The Arizona Mountain Mushers will be competing for a $2,000 purse in races ranging from a 1-mile three-dog contest to a six-dog 5-mile race. Add this to other plans for an ice-sculpting contest and the traditional chili/salsa cookoff and cornbread judging and a good time should be had by all.
Regardless of where you are or your preference of sporting options, get out and play in the snow.