Ruidoso, New Mexico
Drive a couple of hours south of Albuquerque and you’ll find what I consider to be one of New Mexico’s best hidden treasures: Ski Apache. Tucked into the Sierra Blanca mountains at an impressive elevation of more than 10,000 feet, this unassuming family hill sees an average 15 feet of snow blanketing its 750-acres and 1,900 foot vertical drop.
It’s southerly location is only one aspect of Ski Apache that makes this place unique. Since 1993, the area has been owned and operated by the Mescalero Apache tribe. It also remains the only mountain in New Mexico with its own 8-passenger gondola. And it’s surrounded by compelling attractions, including the charming town of Ruidoso and White Sands National Park.
For a small town with a full-time population of about 8,000, Ruidoso offers some big amenities. From shopping local boutique and vintage shops in midtown, to the Ruidoso Winter Park, one of the largest tubing playgrounds in the Rockies, to dining and cultural events, you could spend an entire season exploring all the different activities and attractions in the area.
Naturally, you’ll need a good home base from which to launch all this exploration, and there are some great local options. The Inn of the Mountain Gods resort and casino, also owned by the Mescalero Apache, has deluxe rooms and numerous on-site extras, including several restaurants and its own golf course. Equally posh is the MCM Elegante Lodge and Resort, with in-room jetted tubs and kitchenettes. There are also dozens of quaint cabins, nicely furnished rental homes, and convenient condos around town—many of them pet-friendly.
Wherever you land, start your day at Cornerstone Bakery Cafe for full-service breakfast and an excellent selection of pastries. Tina’s whips up the most (deservedly!) popular breakfast burrito in town. Or try Apache Donuts for a quick morning sweet treat. Coffee aficionados will appreciate the quality brew at Zocca. Or try Sacred Grounds for anything from a quick cappuccino to a full sit-down meal.
When it comes to lunch, make your way to the Village Buttery, a cozy cafe near the heart of town for a bacon, avocado, lettuce, and tomato (BALT) sandwich, and chase it with a piece of their famous Buttermilk Pie. You’ll also find terrific burgers at Hall of Flame, along with irresistible green chile cheese fries. If you’re in the mood for pizza, Cafe Rio is the place.
For a more upscale experience, head to Wendell’s, at the Inn of the Mountain Gods, for steak and seafood. Or try D.H. Lescombe Winery and Bistro, a little down the road in Alamogordo, for fine food and beverage selection. The popular Noisy Water Winery, in Ruidoso, doesn’t have a restaurant, but you can enjoy a wonderful charcuterie board and specialty cheeses along with flights of their locally produced wine—including one made with green chile.
For some additional entertainment, check out the schedule for the Spencer Theater. A work of art itself, this 514-seat performing arts theater rivals similar spaces in much bigger cities. The Spencer attracts world-class acts year-round. Watch the Nutcracker over the holidays, or grab tickets for shows by touring musicians and dance troupes.
The area has some lively history. Billy the Kid is reported to have escaped from jail here, among his other exploits. You can take a drive along the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway for a rolling tour of the area’s Wild West days. The most fun fun-fact however, may be the origins of Smokey Bear, the beloved Forest Service mascot and wildfire crusader. The real-life cub was rescued from a raging fire in the Lincoln National Forest, in nearby Capitan before being relocated to Washington D.C. and taking on the role of America’s most recognizable bear.
Another great attraction in the area is White Sands National Park. About an hour drive from Ruidoso you’ll find the world’s largest gypsum dune field, one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. You can also pay a visit to the nearby Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was detonated.
While the renowned Ruidoso Downs Race Track only operates during the summer, horse lovers will find ample equestrian attractions around the area, even in the winter. Check out “Free Spirit,” a life-size installation at the Museum of the Horse. Or drop by the Kenneth Wyatt and Thunder Horse galleries.
If all the activity leaves you in need of a little self-care, you’re in luck. The Blue Lotus can help you unwind with massage and facials, along with yoga and Pilates, if that’s your speed. From skiing and riding at Apache, to the family-friendly amenities around town, escape the daily grind and unwind in this gem of the south.
Article by Nick Heil