It’s Time to Get Enchanted by a Santa Fe Winter Trip

typical Santa Fe winter day A gate in Santa Fe framed by chile ristras presents a typical Santa Fe winter scene. - Image appears courtesy: Santa Fe Tourism

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Pinon smoke drifts from adobe fireplaces above the quiet town framed on the east by a massive mountain range draped in deep snow, gleaming under the sun in air with hundred-mile views. It is winter in Santa Fe, the nation’s oldest capitol city with its Spanish roots extending back to the early 1600s. Here, as the earth slumbers, the outdoors beckons, but it’s matched by a rich interior heritage that lulls you indoors. So, you can’t go wrong, indoors or out, during the Santa Fe winter season.


World Class Skiing in New Mexico?

snowboarder enjoying powder at Ski Santa Fe
A snowboarder crashes the woods at Ski Santa Fe. Image appears courtesy: Santa Fe Tourism

Many visitors are not aware how great the skiing can be in northern New Mexico. Here some of the world’s lightest powder falls in abundance, protected by the high altitude. Just 30 minutes from town is the superb Ski Santa Fe. Though not large, it has a terrific variety of terrain. This ranges from a dedicated beginners area and nice groomers, to tough bump runs, and excellent tree and glade skiing. It even has some technical cliffs and chutes. We delve into the terrain and the snow even further in our article: Snow and Spice Skiing Near Santa Fe – A Foodie’s Ski Vacation.

What’s It Like at Ski Santa Fe

A trickster pulls a nice move at Ski Santa Fe overlooking the distant Jemez Mountains. Image appears courtesy: Santa Fe Tourism

It skis much bigger than the 660 acres and 1,725 vertical feet would suggest. It also offers a complete child care program that gets the smallest tykes out for snow play and the older children out on the ski slopes. Facilities include a ski school, rentals, retail shop, lockers, and two dining options: the base area’s La Casa Lodge with cafeteria-style hot and cold options. If you want an adult beverage with your lunch, hit up mid-mountain Totemoff’s with full bar and a limited but good menu. Try the red-and green-chile tamales! The “Blue Bus” provides free rides daily between numerous locations in town to the ski area.

That’s Not All The Skiing

Summit Smokehouse view from the top of Angel Fire Resort
Looking from summit of Angel Fire Resort into the Moreno Valley below and the Sangre De Cristo Mountains in the background. Photo by: Local Freshies®

Other downhill skiing options from Santa Fe include Pajarito Mountain near Los Alamos, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, and about an hour from town. Taos Ski Valley is about 2.5 hours from Santa Fe. Angel Fire is about 2 hours away, as is Sipapu. If you’re wondering where has the soul of skiing gone? The answer is: Ski Taos. For a run-down of ALL the skiing to be had in the state and where it’s located check out our New Mexico Ski Resorts Map & Overview Of Each Ski Area page.

Sled Down The Original Santa Fe Ski Area

The Sangre de Cristo mountains above Santa Fe also make for great snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Gear can be rented from several vendors in town. Or head over to Cottam’s Ski Shop in Hyde Memorial State Park on the ski area access road (NM 475). Hyde Park itself is a fun winter destination for families. The original Santa Fe ski area has cleared slopes perfect for sledding, tubing, and more isolated trails for good snowshoeing. It is just 15 minutes or so from Santa Fe’s Plaza.

Noteworthy Destinations for Snowshoeing & Cross Country Skiing

Overall, both the snow-covered Sangre de Cristo and the more distant Jemez mountains (an hour or so west of town) offer miles of hiking trails and closed forest roads for snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Two notable spots for either activity are the Aspen Vista Trail and the Norski Trail network. The strikingly beautiful Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains is a great destination in this range. The ambitious can even combine a Nordic outing with natural hot springs bathing at the San Antonio Spring or Spence Spring in the Jemez. Outspire, a local company, also offers guided outings.

Bike & Hike

hiking in Santa Fe winter
Santa Fe’s winters allow skiing on high and easy, dry hiking at lower elevations. Image appears courtesy: Santa Fe Tourism

Due to the extreme differences in altitude, from 13,000-foot Sangre summits to desert-like lowlands at 5,000 feet, and orientation toward or away from the sun, Santa Fe is blessed with a plethora of microclimates. Here, on the same day, you can both ski on an eight-foot base and then mountain bike or hike on dry trails. Best winter options are the Dale Ball Trails in the foothills just above town (which will have snow after storms and in shaded areas), the lower elevation La Tierra system within the city limits, and the warmest and driest network within the Galisteo Basin Preserve. Each has a dedicated website to help you plan an excursion.

In Hot Water

What could be finer than ending a winter outing with a long soak in a Japanese-style outdoor hot tub in the hills above Santa Fe. One of the nation’s finest spas, Ten Thousand Waves, provides private tubes, each with its own patio and viewscape, and some with saunas and cold plunge pools. A wide variety of massage is also available, as is a Japanese tavern style restaurant on site, the tasty Izanami with a HUGE selection of sakes.


farolitos in Santa Fe during a winter night
One of the many enchanting scenes of candle-lit farolitos found along the annual Christmas Eve walk on Canyon Road. Image appears courtesy: Santa Fe Tourism

The Christmas holidays are a particularly special time in Santa Fe. There are holiday foods, like the official “state cookie,” the simple but delicious bizcochito flavored with anise seeds, handmade tamales, and delicious warming posoles. On Christmas Eve, locals and visitors head to the Canyon Road area to walk the car-closed streets and enjoy the thousands of farolitos lining roads, walls, and rooftops. Though simple in composition as just a short, small brown paper bag with a few inches of sand in the bottom and a votive candle, the effect is sublime and beautiful.

Additional Christmas Traditions

Another popular free Christmas tradition is the staging of Las Posadas on the Plaza, which recreates Mary and Joseph’s search for a haven. Actors make a procession about the Plaza seeking refuge, eventually finding it. Caroling, food trucks, and hot drinks accompany the event. This year’s free celebration will be held Dec. 10, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Pueblo Dances

Nothing is more quintessential of northern New Mexico than the ceremonial dances enacted by the region’s Pueblo Indians. From Christmas day through early January, almost all of the pueblos host dances open to the public. You will see age-old ceremonies, essentially prayers-in-motion, performed with male and female dancers both young and old dressed in their finest regalia to the beat of drums and a vocal chorus. Schedules of these dances can be found online: the Indian Pueblo Culture Center, based in Albuquerque, compiles a particularly good source. Dress warmly and wear wool socks, as you will largely be standing to observe the dances held outdoors in each village’s plaza. There is no admission charge.

When searching for dances, the following are all about an hour from town: Tesuque (closest at 15 minutes), Nambe, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Ohkay Owingeh, Cochiti, Santo Domingo and San Felipe.



Palace of the Governors. Image appears courtesy: Santa Fe Tourism

Santa Fe is a city of wonderful museums, singularly focused and perfect for getting out of the cold. The New Mexico History Museum, just off the historic Plaza, offers a fascinating overview of the state’s past, from the prehistoric Native cultures to the making of the Atom Bomb. It also allows access to the oldest seat of government in the nation, the Palace of the Governors, formally occupied in 1610. A great way to experience its historic core around the Plaza is to take a guided tour. Here’s one option: Santa Fe Architectural Tour

From Native Culture To Some of the Nation’s Premier Art Museums

Museum of Fine Arts on a sunny Santa Fe winter day
The handsome state Museum of Fine Arts is a great stop on a cold winter day! Image appears courtesy: Santa Fe Tourism

But that’s only one of a handful of notable museums. The New Mexico Museum of Art, adjoining the Plaza, is one of the premier museums in the country. It’s especially noted for works by the early artists of both Taos and Santa Fe as well as its photography collections. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, another state-run institution, focuses it attention on the Native cultures of New Mexico and the Southwest as a whole. Just steps away is the unique Museum of International Folk Art (its name explains its mission).

Just A Bit Further for Even More

A five-minute stroll in one direction brings you to the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. Here you’ll be enchanted with its immense Navajo silver and turquoise jewelry collection. A five-minute ramble the other direction turns up the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts with its rare insight into the global Spanish presence in the colonial era, as expressed in art and culture. And, there’s also two excellent museums dedicated to contemporary art: the brand-new state facility Vladem Contemporary and the well-established SITE Santa Fe.

See The Original Meow Wolf

Inside Meow Wolf Museum in Santa Fe New Mexico
Meow Wolf is sure to delight and amaze! Image appears courtesy: Santa Fe Tourism

But topping all the older museums in attendance these days is the upstart “experiential museum” named Meow Wolf. You must see it to get it. So popular, the founders now have spin-offs in Denver (Convergence Station), Las Vegas (Omega Mart), and in Grapevine, Texas (The Real Unreal).

Galleries & Events

Southwestern Native baskets are but one of the many fine indigenous arts found in Santa Fe’s excellent Shiprock Gallery. Image appears courtesy: Santa Fe Tourism

Another indoor getaway in Santa Fe’s long winter, stretching from November through mid-April, is gallery hopping. Santa Fe has the largest per capita art economy in the country with 220 art galleries and craft shops. A fun day can be had walking up Canyon Road and stopping into any gallery that appeals to you. If time or physical condition is an issue, take the free Santa Fe Pickup shuttle from the Plaza to the top of Canyon Road and walk down. There are a few restaurants to refresh you, and at the end, the popular watering hole, El Farol.

There’s also a concentration of galleries around the Plaza and side streets as well as another batch in the newest part of town, the Railyard District. The Railyard is home to the year-round Santa Fe Farmers Market, one of the oldest in the nation and full of unique fresh and non-perishable foods.

Game Of Thrones and More

Woman dancing Entre Flemenco
Entrefremenco heats up the chilly winter nights in Santa Fe. Image appears courtesy: Santa Fe Tourism

The city regularly hosts talks and lectures with leading writers and thinkers of our time, and the Lensic Performance Center hosts live opera broadcasts from the Met. Enjoy an intimate performance of rousing flamenco from Entre Flemenco nightly through Dec. 31. New Mexico is also a major film production center and many moving images creatives reside here. So, it has some excellent film centers and theaters, including the state-of-the art Violet Crown, and the artsy Jean Cocteau, owned by Game of Thrones author George RR Martin.


Tamales with red chile sauce are a winter staple in Santa Fe, as seen here in a cooking class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. Image appears courtesy: Santa Fe Tourism

What’s better on a snowy dark day than a plate of enchiladas smothered in red chile steaming away, served with a frio cerveza or perhaps a fresh margarita. Santa Fe is a FOODIE TOWN, capitals all, with a handful of James Beard award-winning chefs and food writers. There’s tons of dining options — from fine (if pricey!) restaurants like The Compound, Geronimo and Café Pascual’s to excellent food trucks parked all over town. Don’t know where to start? Take the Santa Fe Wine Pairing Dinner. You’ll enjoy a multi-course dinner at THREE of the city’s most popular restaurants as part of a local-led food tour. Or explore downtown Santa Fe’s food scene on a half-day walking tour. As part of this adventure, you’ll sample classic New Mexican flavors and visit many of its most prestigious landmarks.

Shop Til You Drop… And Then Shop Again

This is an activity that encompasses time spent both indoors and afoot. For as any serious shopper knows, you have to cover some ground to sleuth out the best kept secrets. Santa Fe is a city of one-of-a-kind, locally owned and operated shops and stores. We’ve already noted the abundance of arts and craft venues along Canyon Road. Another cluster is found in and around the Plaza on Palace Avenue, San Francisco and Water Streets, Lincoln and Grant.

The City’s Newest & Yet Historic Railyard District

Native-made turquoise jewelry comes in hundreds of forms and styles in Santa Fe’s many shops. Image appears courtesy: Santa Fe Tourism

Yet a third cluster is concentrated around the city’s newest development, the centuries-old and refurbished Railyard District off Guadalupe Street. There’s vintage cowboy gear at second hand shops, Navajo silver jewelry, hand-woven skirts and shawls, and small-batch soaps and lotions. Check out imported goods from Guatemala and Africa, $100,000 paintings and sculpture, and spicy Mexican-style chocolates. There’s pinon incense, stamped tin mirrors, sleek contemporary end tables, and unique fabric pillows.

Shop for antique Hispanic rugs, prehistoric pottery, or chile sauces. How about some dazzling minerals, folk art, books by local authors, or recordings by local musicians. Cruise for Taos couches, glassworks, embroidered Mexican blouses, or turquoise rings and bracelets. Go home with Hopi kachina dolls, sepia-toned photos by Edward S. Curtis, etchings and prints. Locals produce bedding and tableware, carved chess sets, and on and on. There’s even a shop dedicated just to Christmas decorations from near and far.

So, whatever your inclinations,  easy to strenuous outdoor activity or some indoor pursuits that gets you out of the weather, Santa Fe in winter has numerous options for you. Now, just get out there!

13 thoughts on “It’s Time to Get Enchanted by a Santa Fe Winter Trip

    1. Thanks Xander for the kind words! I’ve spent a lifetime getting to know Santa Fe and the region, having written a snow sports column for 30 years and two books about the scene here!

  1. Usually I do not read article on blogs however I would like to say that this writeup very compelled me to take a look at and do it Your writing style has been amazed me Thank you very nice article

  2. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog. A great read. I’ll certainly be back.

  3. I sure hope to retire to Santa Fe within the next 10 years. Everything about Santa Fe is magical to me, but especially the culture . Great post

    1. Laura: Many of the events I noted are held annually, so when you visit or move here, you’ll just need to check on specific dates for things you are interested in seeing and doing.

  4. Ive read several just right stuff here Certainly price bookmarking for revisiting I wonder how a lot effort you place to create this kind of great informative website

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