Angel Fire Resort ziplining season: May 16– October 12. $129 per person. Reservations mandatory. Weight limits: 90–270 pounds. Short, steep hikes at high elevation are part of the drill. Not recommended for pregnant women or people with heart, back, hip, or knee problems. With its lift service and more than 50 miles of trails, Angel Fire Resort also offers world-class mountain biking; from May through October, it hosts what it calls “the longest mountain biking season in the West.” The resort has recently expanded to provide new trails for beginner and intermediate riders. 10 Miller Ln.; Angel Fire; (800) 633-7463, (575) 377-4320; angelfireresort.com
INN OF THE MOUNTAIN GODS RESORT AND CASINO (SKI APACHE)
Located in the mountains near Ruidoso in southern New Mexico, this challenging 18-hole championship golf course boasts an island fairway in the middle of Lake Mescalero. Designed by formidable golf course architect Ted Robinson, Sr., it’s consistently recognized on top U.S. golf course lists. You can also catch a gondola ride to Sierra Blanca Peak, which stands 12,000 feet above sea level. There are more than five miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Fishing, boating, hunting, and skeet shooting are also on the menu. 1286 Ski Run Rd., Mescalero; (800) 545-9011, (575) 464-3600; skiapache.com PAJARITO MOUNTAIN SKI AREA
Located on the north face of the Jémez Mountains above Los Alamos, this ski area is renowned for its mountain biking. It has plenty of downhill and cross-country trails, including its newest one, which leads the more ambitious (and fit) to the summit. Cross-country trails offer numerous switchbacks and challenging terrain, while downhill trails include ramps, dramatic embankments, wooden teetertotters, and steep descents. 397 Camp May Rd., Los Alamos; (505) 662-5725; skipajarito.com
RED RIVER SKI AREA
Imagine snow-tubing, minusbs the snow. Red River, 45 minutes north of Taos, claims to have the “longest summer tubing lanes in the country.” The two 800-foot lanes, accessed by chairlift, are made from a slippery synthetic material manufactured by an Italian company that specializes in artificial ski slopes. A kid-friendly hill, for ages 4 and up, features two 400-foot lanes. Scenic chairlift rides and disc golf are also available. 400 Pioneer Rd., Red River; (505) 754-2223; redriverskiarea.com
SANDIA PEAK SKI AND TRAMWAY
The base of the tram is located on the eastern edge of Albuquerque. Enjoy a 2.7-mile ascent to the crest of the Sandías, where you can take in the panoramic views overlooking New Mexico’s largest city and gaze at Mount Taylor on the horizon. Check out the many trails that wind through the Cíbola National Forest, and refuel at the restaurant before descending via the tram. Alternatively, you can drive to the crest and explore by foot or mountain bike. Feeling energetic? La Luz Trail offers a popular and rigorous hike that leads from near the base of the tram to the crest. A return via tram may be in order after that. Tramway 30 Tramway Rd. NE, Albuquerque; (505) 856-7325; sandiapeak.com. Ski Area Mile Marker 6, N.M. 536, Sandia Park; (505) 242-9052; sandiapeak.com
SIPAPU SKI & SUMMER RESORT
Many New Mexico resorts, including Angel Fire Resort and Red River Ski Area, cater to the increasingly popular sport of disc golf, in which players throw Frisbee-like discs toward baskets mounted on poles. Located about 20 miles southeast of Taos in the Carson National Forest in Vadito, Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort is home to a 20-basket disc-golf course, which was named one of the nation’s top five scenic courses by Disc Golf Digest. Here, disc jockeys can enjoy a leisurely round or two in a setting that includes dramatic elevation changes and crossings over the Río Pueblo. 5224 N.M. 518; (800) 587- 2240; Vadito; sipapunm.com
Just over an hour south of Ruidoso, Ski Cloudcroft is the southernmost ski resort in the United States. Along with hiking trails, the small, family-owned and -operated resort is also planning to open a downhill bike park this summer, with chairlift access to eight or nine trails for beginners, intermediates, and advanced bicyclists. 1920 ½ U.S. 82, Cloudcroft; (575) 682- 2333; skicloudcroft.net
TAOS SKI VALLEY
TSV’s new mountain bike park opens June 28, with trails geared toward beginner and intermediate riders. Per usual, enjoy its backcountry horseback riding, hot air balloon tours, rafting, and rock climbing, as well as music fests, concerts, and the annual high-altitude 10K run. 116 Sutton Pl., Taos Ski Valley; (866) 968-7386, (575) 776-2291; skitaos.org
Last year, I took a friend—and her abiding fear of heights—to Angel Fire Resort, where the two hour RockyMountain Zipline Adventure Tour awaited us.
For the uninitiated, a zipline is a thick steel cable set between two fixed points, one lower than the other. Riders dangle from the cable in harnesses and zoom through the air from one point to the other, with the greatest of ease. The rides are among the more popular attractions in the burgeoning off-season mountain-resort industry. Angel Fire’s begins at a 10,600-foot summit and features a series of lines, including one that spans a distance of more than five football fields. It whisks the brave from point A to point B at highway speeds—20 stories above the forest floor.
“Oh my God!” a terrified Lisa declared when she heard this detail.
Suspecting her acrophobia might make her less than keen on ziplining, I went ahead and made reservations, remembering the adage that it’s sometimes better to apologize afterward than to ask—and not receive—permission beforehand. Selflessly, I could argue that it would be liberating for her to confront her fears. (After all, I was prepared to confront mine in the form of an irate Lisa.) But selfishly, I knew at least one of us would have fun: The zipline tour had been on my to-do list since it opened the previous year.
Lisa was reluctantly willing to oblige me. “Look,” I told her, pointing at my phone on the drive up, “the website says: ‘Trained and certified zipline operators will be on site at all times to ensure the safety of riders.’” (Trained and certified! I reflexively conjured up late-night TV commercials advertising training for careers in the burgeoning zipline operator field. “Call now or register online at zipline-university.com.”)
If this wasn’t consoling enough for my skittish friend, at least the drive through northern New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains made a pleasant distraction. Located some 40 miles east of Taos, the resort is situated along the beautiful Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway. This 83-mile loop encircles 13,167-foot Wheeler Peak, the state’s highest point.
Not that the summit at Angel Fire isn’t, uh, dauntingly altitudinous. After checking in and signing liability waivers, Lisa and I boarded a chairlift that carried us painstakingly over a set of seemingly endless peaks. Below us, where skiers were just months prior tearing down snowy slopes, mountain bikers were blasting down the trails in apocalyptic-looking protective regalia. (See “Need to Know,” p. 47.)
Finally at the top, the stunning panoramic vistas did little to appease Lisa’s fraying nerves. Here we met the six others, who ranged from teens to seniors, in our tour group, and our zipline operators, Kevin and Jenny, twentysomethings who radiated the glow of contentment that comes from living the ski-bum dream, even off-season. Our guides attended to the sobering business of harnesses, helmets, heavy synthetic straps, buckles, carabiners—all the accoutrements associated with dangling above mountainous terrain from wire. They demonstrated the proper application of equipment with the sprightly reassurance of camp counselors prodding kids into life vests before their first time in a canoe.
“Have there been any serious injuries?” my companion asked.
“Not today,” replied Kevin, with a wink and a grin. The group laughed. Mostly. Lisa shot me a look that said, “If we live, I’m going to kill you.”
Fortunately, the first few ziplines were far from death-defying; they were warm-ups of sorts. After Kevin, who was hanging 35 feet above ground, nonchalantly flew from an upper platform to a lower one 700 feet away, he radioed his partner to give clearance. Jenny helped prepare the first rider for departure; Kevin would greet the arrivals.
One by one, we were instructed to grip a set of handlebars overhead, kick our feet forward, keep them extended for maximal speed, and let gravity do its thing. This is one of those anomalous activities in which a person’s heaviness positively relates to speed. Fortunately, Lisa is a diminutive woman. In turn, we sailed through tall stands of ponderosa, spruce, and bristlecone pines. Those on the landing platform were in markedly more animated spirits, bolted by the rush of flight, even if they’d flown at the relatively slow rate of 20 mph. Lisa’s face was no longer a mask of suppressed terror. I could easily imagine her conceding pleasure if she didn’t want to relish my guilt, which I now no longer harbored, for insisting on this escapade.
A short 10-minute hike helped to stanch the collective flow of adrenaline before we reached what might be dubbed the blackdiamond run—a 1,600-foot line that sweeps passengers 205 feet aboveground at around 50 mph.
“And this, folks, is where it gets real,” Kevin announced.
This was also where Lisa’s panic instantaneously returned. Except for her, the group was awestruck. The line stretched over earth that dropped abruptly away from it. The landing platform was so far away that it was difficult to see from our perch in the sky. I went first, eager to fly. Kicking my legs out and pulling my weight against the cable above, I yielded to the rapid acceleration of my body, topping out at perhaps 50 mph for a precious few eternities. I may not have resembled much of a falcon, my feet thrust before me and my tail facing ground, but I sure felt like I was flying.
Given the sustained rush that flushed through me during the swoop, it occurred to me that ziplining’s appeal is that it’s more accessible—and a whole lot safer—than extreme flightsimulating activities such as skydiving, BASE jumping, or that most recent and perilous craze involving winged suits. It sure got my heart racing.
Six others, all thrilled, joined me on the landing platform. Lisa put off the inevitable for as long as she could. But sooner or later, even when one’s immediate fate is not stretched visibly ahead like a cord of woven steel, we all must surrender our attachment to sure footing and … let go. Physical annihilation isn’t always the outcome. In fact, I now knew that the drive back to Albuquerque would be considerably less tense—an unmistakable grin lit up Lisa’s windblown face as she flew toward me.✜