Above: The Khaya Jabula Ranch Yurt, near Edgewood, marries glamour and camping—"glamping". Photography Courtesy Khaya Jabula Ranch.
BACKCOUNTRY TRAVELERS rejoice at the sight of a packed trail through the snow. Like a landing strip, it signals a great way to cross-country ski or snowshoe into and out of the woods. And for travelers heading to a yurt (sort of a cross between a tent and a hut), it marks a way to revel in the outdoors and still enjoy wood-burning stoves, warm beds, and a nice glass of wine.
Doug MacLennan, who has rented out yurts for 30 years, says his most loyal customers are often the ones who put a little sweat toward the destination. “Everybody has the vision that it’s going to be sunny and the trail’s going to be broken, and when they go, it can be anything—it’s winter,” he says. “But one of the things that gets me is that the people who have a challenging trip, who have a big snowstorm and have to break trail, they’re the ones who call me first for reservations the next year.”
The trail to Bull of the Woods Yurt, part of his Southwest Nordic Center collection, is no exception, even on a good day. From the trailhead in the Taos Ski Valley, the hike rises a steep 1,500 feet in 1.8 miles. The terrain then levels out and the view opens up at Bull of the Woods Meadow, where the yurt tucks in among the trees. Drifts can pile as high as the deck railing, but usually no digging is required to reach the door.
Inside the yurt, a canvas structure on a fixed wooden platform, visitors are met with beds and a wood-burning stove that quickly warms the space and supplies an ambient glow, aided by propane lanterns. For those hardy enough to haul in libations, wineglasses await amid a stock of kitchen supplies that include five-gallon stainless-steel pots for melting snow. Board games and cards add family-style entertainment options. “They’re set up pretty simply, but everything you need is there,” MacLennan says.
The yurt boasts access to some of the highest ridgelines in New Mexico. Ambitious skiers can head toward Wheeler Peak, the state’s tallest summit, and chutes that offer turns for thousands of feet from the stunning high-alpine starting line. Snowshoers can wander the snow-dressed woods and capture stellar views. More intermediate tree skiing lies to the northeast.
“That stuff is great,” MacLennan says. “It’s not 2,000 feet of continuous turns, but it’s shot after shot, and you can pick your steepness level.”
The hike to the yurt avoids avalanche terrain, but explorations could quickly lead to places where a beacon, shovel, probe, and some backcountry know-how would help. Plan and pack accordingly. MacLennan marks the trails and posts topographic maps to them but cautions that stopping to navigate can steal hours and lead to headlamp-lit arrivals.
The yurt sleeps up to 10, and goes for $100–$145 a night through southwestnordiccenter.com. Stays between late January and mid-March are the best bets for waking up to inches of fresh powder.
Whether the night sky is a carpet of stars or a jumble of snowflakes, hover outside in the silence, and the reason for your effort will be as clear as your drumming heartbeat and clouds of frozen breath.
New Mexico boasts several yurt options, not all of which require skis. For some, bring your own sleeping bag, food, winter clothing, and solid route-finding skills. Always pack a headlamp, plus warm shoes for inside the yurt; bonus points if those shoes are waterproof for trips to the outhouse.
Southwest Nordic Center
The Bull of the Woods Yurt, near Taos, is the newest in Doug MacLennan’s Southwest Nordic Center collection, which started after a dry year pushed the powderhound into hunting for cross-country turns near Chama. That area’s open bowls, broad vistas, low-angle glades, and drought-resistant snowpack still lure skiers. Four yurts there can be linked in a backcountry tour. His Neff Mountain Yurt, just north of the Colorado state line, makes a good entry point for first-timers. southwestnordiccenter.com
Cumbres Nordic Adventures
Based in Chama, Mary Ann DeBoer and Patrick Hogan offer a vigorous, 2-mile trail in the San Juan Mountains, just north of the state line, to their Spruce Hole Yurt, which is stocked with games, cooking gear, a telescope for stargazing, solar lights, and a USB charging station. (There’s no cell service, but you can still iTunes the night away.) DeBoer and Hogan can also set you up with a shuttle driver if you’d rather not leave your vehicles at the trailhead. yurtsogood.com
Khaya Jabula Ranch Yurt
A hiking trail wanders through this yurt’s 32-acre surroundings near Edgewood, and Sandía Mountain snow is just a 20-minute drive away. Only the star-filled skies and chilly air hint that this yurt is anywhere close to roughing it. Wood and light fill the interior space, which holds a micro-kitchen and bathroom. The wrought-iron bed frame dispels any doubts: This is glamping at its finest. “It’s always more than people expect,” owner Carol Clegg says. “They’re always surprised at the comfort.” hipcamp.com