If you’ve ever taken a break at Ski Santa Fe’s Totemoff Bar & Grill or had a lesson from the Ernie Blake Snowsports School at Taos, you might wonder about the people behind the legendary names. A great place to learn about the pioneers who made skiing in New Mexico possible and to marvel at how far ski equipment has evolved is the New Mexico Ski Museum.
Located at the base of the Sandia Peak Tramway, the charming museum is free and open year-round. It opened in 2008 and was created to document the history and development of skiing in New Mexico. It is dedicated to Robert Nordhaus who developed the Sandia Peak Ski Area in the 1940s, and who, along with Ben Abruzzo, co-founded the Sandia Peak Tramway in 1966.
Taking up one whole corner of the tiny museum is a full-size Ski Apache gondola from the 1960s, and on another wall is a pair of bamboo ski poles with baskets the size of dessert plates. If you’ve skied around the block a few times in your life, you may remember the lace-up ski boots at the beginning of the “From Leather to Plastic” evolution of ski boots collection lined up in a glass case. Other artifacts like handmade wooden nordic skis, fragments of a tow rope and a weathered t-bar are displayed in between historic photos, stories and timelines.
But the real stories lie in the 37 placards on the Ski Hall of Fame of individuals and couples whose passion and foresight in the last century created an annual economic impact of more than $140 million for New Mexico. You’ll meet Kingsbury (Pitch) Pitcher who led work crews to design what is now Ski Apache near Ruidoso and acquired and developed Ski Santa Fe into a successful business until he sold it to the Abruzzo family in 1984; John and Judy Miller, the patriarchs of Red River Ski Area and the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe area; and even the 2004 NCAA National Championship UNM ski team. If you’d like to read their stories in front of your own fire, you can find them all here.
If those stories whet your appetite for more New Mexico ski history, and you want to go back as far as the 19th century, check out the delightful book “Skiing in New Mexico” by Daniel Gibson and Jay Blackwood. Packed with vintage photos and anecdotes, this book may have you thinking a few things: “Wow, they had a lot of snow!”… “Wow, they did not dress very warmly.”… and, “They did all that skiing with no chair lifts?” For an additional short magazine article by Gibson, click here.
The ski industry in New Mexico has come a long way, thanks to passionate and tenacious people who channeled their love of the sport into entrepreneurial endeavors for the rest of us. There’s still time this season to write your own ski story!