Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area


Location: Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area, Red River, New Mexico
Access: From
Red River, NM, head east on Hwy 38 3 miles, turning south on a signed road leading to the ski area. Follow the signs to the end of the road.
Maps: Trail map
Ski Trail Info

Fees: $14/person/day (skis rent for $15/day)
Dogs: Allowed on designated trails
Webcam: Warming Hut
Weather: Local Forecast

December 24, 2008

Inexplicably, with little prior planning, Andra and I find ourselves in New Mexico on Christmas Eve, in a little town called Questa that lies on the northern edge of Taos’ famous cultural aura. You might be tempted, as I was, to say it in your head like “kesta”, much as you would pronounce, “Queso” in “Queso Cheese Dip”, but word on the street is that in this case, the gringo pronunciation is correct: say it like it looks. We have come to stay with the Versockis, Rick, Diane and Christina, who are friends of my friend Mike Mendez and his wife, Mandy (known in the common vernacular as the Mendi), in their wonderful Sante Fe-style ranchette on 10 acres nestled up against the Carson National Forest some 20 miles north of Taos. Today’s outing involves cross country skiing, an activity that neither Mike nor Mandy have ever participated in, and one in which I am only barely competent. We drive over ice-packed roads on a sunny, but windy Christmas Eve to the even smaller town of Red River, New Mexico. Years ago I came through Red River with Dave Burns, and we climbed Wheeler Peak on a fair July day. From my current vantage in front of the ski shop on Main Street, I can see no sign of Wheeler Peak or the long ridgeline that it rises from.  

We enter a ski shop and wait while an older gentleman with a green shirt assists a customer at the counter. We then get information from him about the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area, and leave with a trail map, directions to the area and free advice: “The white trees are softer.” 

Arriving at the ski area 3 miles east of town, we walk in to the warming hut and wait to talk to the single person behind the counter, a short, young guy with a quiet voice who is currently busy assisting a group of people who sound Russian, or at least eastern European. After a brief consultation, he begins to gather rental supplies for the Mendi, probing extra-deep in the store room, no doubt, for size 14 ski boots for Mike. I can’t imagine they get many requests for size 14 ski boots. Meanwhile I unhook our own skis from the top of the Subaru out front, and cart them over to the outdoor ski rack that reminds me of an old west hitching post. I take some time in the 10-degree shade of the warming hut to apply and smooth a fresh layer of green wax on our antique skis. I say that not only because they are old but because I literally bought my pair of red skis in an antique store in Colorado for $20. They have worked fantastically, despite the left ski missing the front 4 inches from a heinous downhill “incident” in southern Wyoming in 2007. Even Bondo could not put the ski together again. After smoothing the wax on the skis with a cork to the point of near-frostbite on my hands, I return to the warming hut, where Mike and Mandy are putting on their gear, and Andra is sprawled on the small couch chewing jerky to alleviate the sudden crash brought on by a carbfest breakfast of pancakes with Aunt Jemima syrup. I examine the skis they are renting to Mike and Mandy out of curiosity for what the last 2 decades have brought to ski design. They are Fischers, waxless, very narrow and much shorter than ours’. And the boots they have won’t fit our skis, ours’ being the old Nordic style with the three drillholes through the front of the boot sole. I told Mike he could make boots to fit these skis using a power drill and any old pair of shoes, Doc Martins probably working very well because of their prominent rubber sole, but he decided to go the boring rental route and get boots that work with skis without aid the of power tools. Conformist. 

We step out of the warming hut just as things get hopping. Somebody said something about a short training course, but just now the hut is way too busy to even approach the counter to ask about it. I teach Mike and Mandy all I know about cross country skiing in about 45 seconds and we’re off on the trail. I do enjoy the glide of the skis over powdery snow. It’s very nice, especially after the first few times you try it when you’re pretty sure you’re not going to fall on your ass the minute you kick off.
 We move along a flat portion to the green trail, which is of course the easy one, though perhaps a little condescending with a name like “Powderpuff”. Nevertheless, we feel this is the place to start, given the novices our group, as well as the people who have never tried this type of skiing before.

We slide on up the slight slope through a nice dense forest of spruce trees laden with moss. This is a groomed trail, whereby the entirety of it has been packed down for a width of about 10 feet by tiny elves who work at night, and two tiny reverse rails have been sunk in the snow for skis. The first time I went cross-country skiing was on a groomed trail, and I remember appreciating the tracks that kept me in line. The going isn’t fast as Mike and Mandy figure out how to best coordinate their legs and feet with the completely unnatural addition of 5-foot sticks strapped to their shoes. The day is bright, sunny, very cold and windy, but I am glad to be here. After lounging in the Versocki’s house all day yesterday, beautiful as it is, I’m happy to be out breathing fresh, cold, mountain air. It isn’t long before Mike and Mandy start to push the speed up a little, and it was inevitable that a crash would quickly follow. Mike is the first on the snow. I miss the actual fall, but I look up quickly enough to see Mike laying in the middle of the straightaway on his back. He gets up, shakes it off, reattaches his skis and keeps going. We pass by a few turnoffs with enticing names like Face Flop or March Hare, but keep on the green route. I demonstrate my rudimentary skate-ski technique, a successful demonstration if, for nothing else, I avoid falling on my ass throughout. Mandy attempts same, and does a pretty good job. Mike declines participation. During the myriad ups and downs of the trail, I am impressed at how well Andra is zipping along and cornering. It’s a big improvement over last year’s awkward runs. Apparently she has found her “ski legs”.

On uphill we go, judging that the way back ought to be all downhill. We are, after all, firm believers in Newtonian physics. We reach the terminus of the Powderpuff trail, and turn left onto the Sherwood Forest Trail, a blue trail, which defies expectations by heading back towards the hut, but continuing uphill. Mike voices his concern that the downhill section sure to come will be a lot of downhill in a very short distance. Turns out he’s right on this. Almost as soon as we start down the wonderfully-named “Jabberwocky” trail, the going gets steep enough to bring on the fun. I have never tried downhill skiing, mostly due to my fear of learning to like an expensive hobby, but based on my eager anticipation of the downhill sections of cross country trails, I predict I would like it. All the more reason to never try it. Kind of like why I don’t think I’ll try pot. From what I hear, I would probably like it, then want to do it all the time, then not be able to not do without it, and pretty soon, I’d be dropping C notes weekly to feed the habit. Not good. Best to stick with cheap addictions like Dr Pepper and Snickers bars.  

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
               Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
               All mimsy were the borogoves,
               And the mome raths outgrabe.

An excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s “The Jaberwocky”, the name shared by the trail I’m on now, and more importantly as apt a description as any of my wild flailings as I surge downhill on the steep, snow-packed run. I enjoy the downhill rush, the swish of sugary powder under the waxed skis, but the sharp 180-degree turns are pretty outlandish, and I flail my arms and pick up my skis to try to get myself moving in the right direction on the turns. Have you ever tried turning in old cross country skis? Almost impossible. I can turn a degree or two on a long stretch, but to flip a 180, there’s nothing to help but picking up your skis while moving and slapping them back down in another direction, hopefully without zipping off into the forest in the process. I make the first turn just fine, the second one comes up so quickly I’m still a little off-balance, and make this corner, just barely, on one ski with the other foot held high up in the air to the side to help hold my even keel. The third turn comes up pretty quickly too, and I can tell I’m accelerating to critical speeds. It’s not going to end well, I can tell. By the fourth turn, I’m convinced this run was constructed to ensure people fall, and so I don’t worry too much when I go down on the following turn, plowing my knee into the right snow bank and losing my arm to the shoulder in soft powder that sprays up in my face and instantly freezes to my facial hair like rime ice. I get up and dust off, pull icicles out of my beard and look around. Great! Nobody saw me, maybe I can deny the whole thing! Then I notice the snow isn’t brushing off of me as well as I’d like it to, and I have lost plausible deniability as the warming air makes the snow stick to my jeans and jacket. I wait by the side of the trail for my companions but after a minute or two, none show. Suspecting trouble, I head back up the sloping trail and meet Andra on the second turn. I continue up to find Mike recovering from another tumble in the snow. We all get going again, and I take the lead again. This is safest for all involved because I’ll be the first to admit that I know no technique for slowing down on skis, therefore it’s best if nobody is ahead of me. I zip down the same series of death-defying turns, anticipating curves before they appear, adroitly sidestepping my skis into correct directions, on the fly, with a surprisingly minimal outward show of panic. To paraphrase Mitch Hedburg: “I’m a great actor. For example, when I make a sharp turn on skis and don’t fall down, I act like I’m not surprised.” I am “in the zone”, but for me the “zone” is more like a “plot”, and I am quickly out of it. I near the end of the run, can hear, in fact, the laughter of skiers frolicking merrily about the warming hut, when I hit a very steep straightaway that cuts to the left sharply at the bottom of the hill just before the barbed wire fence. A very sturdy-looking barbed wire fence. Perhaps it’s the psychological effect of visualizing what would happen to me if I actually skied, fully-accelerated, into a barbed wire fence, that caused my apprehension, but without warning, my ass went for the ground behind me, hit the snow and plowed a crater in the run before bringing me to a stop. This “ass brake” is, in fact, the only way I know how to stop on skis. I must say it is extremely effective. I hop up and clear the trail, pulling out my camera to wait for the others to come down in what I know will be a great photo-op of all my friends falling on their asses as they near the bottom of the hill. Andra is first to appear, and I train my camera on her. She glides gracefully down and falls on her ass as if on cue, spraying powder everywhere and laughing wildly. I snap the photo too early, and miss the action sequence, but I manage to capture the aftermath wreckage. Somehow falling in snow causes uncontrollable laughter, every time. I wonder, if falling on hard objects didn’t hurt, would we also laugh then? Mandy appears next, and flummoxes me by skiing gracefully down, under control, with no falling. I suspect she hasn’t been as forthcoming on her skiing “inexperience” as she let on earlier. Mike appears at the top of the hill and sees the ass-craters in the slope below, the suspicious disturbances in the powdery drifts on either side of the trail that might…maybe… indicate that something has gone awry on previous attempts, and simply unclips his skis and walks down. I am disappointed but not surprised. After all, walking down this last slope is the only rational choice a novice skier could make. We reach the branch off to the warming hut and Mike puts his skis back on, only to promptly fall down. I know right then, in my heart, that Mike is done skiing for the day. He gets up, slides 30 feet on the flat trail, then takes off the skis and walks down the last slope to the hut. I give Mike only a 25% chance of attempting cross-country skiing again.

It’s been a fun day of skiing. All told, we swished our way down approximately 5 miles of groomed trail. I briefly entertain the idea of warming up and going out for another run on new trails, but I can see that nobody is up for it before I even mention the thought. So, Andra and I ski back to the car, rack our skis and poles, and wait for Mike and Mandy to join us before driving back through Red River towards Questa for lunch.  

Later that evening, we find ourselves back in Red River to enjoy the apparently-annual tradition of an evening torch run down the Red River ski area hill by instructors. The Versocki family is with us as after sunset, after dark has fallen in fact, as we watch about 30 skiiers swag back and forth down the slope, all of them doublefisting burning red road flares and swirling them madly around while fireworks are set off from the top of the slope. Kind of reminds me of the winter Olympics in
Park City. I didn’t watch them, but I imagine there was lots of this kind of thing going on, probably with more fire and some moguls involved. The show was over in about 60 seconds, was wonderful while it lasted, truthfully, but I cannot recommend any long-distance travel to witness this event. As one anonymous onlooker behind us commented, “They must’ve spent $15, $20 bucks on those fireworks”.

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