Hiking the Santa Fe Ski Basin

Santafe.com | SantaFe.com - March 22, 2010

The Santa Fe ski basin has ample opportunities for a variety of snow shoe hikes from moderate to steep. The most popular is the Windsor trail with branches that can take you to various lakes, mountains over 12,000 feet, and tree lined valleys. The trails are popular, well marked and at this time of year they are nicely packed down.

For this hike Deception peak, at 12,400 feet, would offer panoramic views of snow capped mountains that grace the Pecos Wilderness. This hike is short and covers about two thousand feet of elevation in about 3 miles. At this gain and altitude, including the steep grade, it is easy to count on going about 1 mile an hour on the ascent. Fortunately this is the time of year that the trails are packed down, even though this one isn't very popular I can count on not having to be concerned with breaking trail.

The beginning of the trail from the ski basin goes uphill for about a mile. At this point there is a sign welcoming you to the Pecos Wilderness. From here you can take the Windsor trail, or head directly to the right or east and find yourself on the Ravens Ridge trail. The snow was deep but well packed and the trail smooth and easy to follow.
The pine branches were weighted down with fresh moist snow, enough to cause them to droop. This wasn't the fluffy dry type of snow but the type where you could feel the moisture when you scooped up a handful. It's a different sensation to snow shoe in moist snow as opposed to dry snow. You grip easier going up but need to be more cautious going down. Wet snow packs firmer and sections can be slippery and icy. Fortunately a fall will usually land you on a nice cushion of moist snow.

Seeing pristine fields of unadulterated white snow, untracked by man or animal, can't be ignored. The smooth surface glistened with sparkles that captured the sun and lit up your vision. Coupled with snow laden pines in the background this was winter wilderness at its finest. The deep blue skies added clarity that opened up the senses.

I always thought that going through the forest on the way up the mountain was more fun for Luna. When branches became too heavy with their load of snow and dropped it to the ground Luna would perk up and run over to see what the action was. If she sensed a chipmunk or squirrel she became even more excited. She would never stray far and shortly would end up back up on my heels. I was frequently amazed at how she could run up and down these mountains while my pace slowed as I adjusted to the altitude.

Similar to the rest of the country, New Mexico has seen more snow fall, blizzards, and low temperatures then are normally experienced for the winter. Although the snow was thick and deep, today was an exception. With clear skies and temps in the 30's hiking this wilderness trail was enjoyable and serene. Winter blizzards and heavy snow fall can make snow shoeing difficult. Snow fall is usually heavy in these mountains but today was more the norm then the exception. It's early March and the major thrust of winter is beginning to wind down. Snow will remain on parts of the mountains until June, on this day it's easy to imagine that spring is on the way.

As I paused to enjoy the massive peaks of the southernmost Rockies I heard voices approaching from up the trail. We were close to the top of Deception Peak and on the trail I spotted three hikers. As they passed I noticed that one of them had a plastic name tag with the letters SAR printed in bright red. This would be my first encounter with a search and rescue team. Luna wagged her tail and casually walked over to have a sniff. We stopped and exchanged a few words. There were three of them, two men and a woman. They were well equipped and each had a plastic SAR ID tag. We briefly admired each other's GPS units. They explained that they had been looking for a lost snow boarder from the previous day. Apparently he had been spotted and picked up by a helicopter earlier that day. I asked why the helicopter didn't give them a lift. They laughed and said it doesn't quite work that way. All of us agreed that it was a perfect day to be out hiking and their descent would lead them shortly to the trail head. I was very impressed with their dedication and determination. Their fitness and wilderness experience is invaluable and will continue to save lives. Unfortunately it's usually through hubris that someone gets lost. I never start a hike in the wilderness without a rescue device, I test it before I leave and use it to send a pre programmed message to my family telling them that I'm doing well. If disaster should occur the device has the ability to alert search and rescue and send my coordinates.

This hike was short but vigorous; although the grade was steep some sections were more level then others allowing me time to stop and enjoy the mountain scenery. The descent was a difficult one, and I had to watch my footing carefully because of the steepness and the packed, moist, and occasionally frozen sections. Snow shoes with strong crampons as well as hiking poles are a must for this type of grade.

I always enjoy seeing the difference between the views going down and those going up. We arrived safely back at the trail head with the idea in mind that I would love to be on this trail in the summer.