Ben Abruzzo and Bob Nordhaus loading onto Chairlift
#1, circa 1964
Sandia Peak’s Exhibition run looks about
the same today as it did here in 1964.
Highest, longest, oldest, closest—Sandia Peak
After a particularly disastrous Valentine’s Day, my dog vomited
all night in the hallway outside the guest room where I tried to
sleep. At 7:00 a.m., we got the word that a friend of ours had died.
But the storm clouds had cleared and, if anything, it was a perfect
morning to go snowboarding at Sandia Peak.
Actually V-Day wasn’t all that bad. I did manage to transport
our out-of-town visitors—who had occupied the guest room for
over a week—to the airport. That was during another storm
that had crippled traffic and dumped over two feet of snow on the
Sacred to most of us for one reason or another, the watermelon
mountain is best known for its red hues at sunset. It was spectacular,
too, in the morning sun after a stormy day, towering above Tramway
Boulevard as I left the commuters behind and headed for the Tram.
Albuquerque is not generally known as a ski town, but on a day
like February 15, there are plenty of people who will drop what
they are doing and head for the slopes. It’s right here, and
it can be fabulous in a good snow year. Unfortunately, snow has
been a rarity during some recent drought years.
The Tramway was inspired by Bob Nordhaus, one of the founders
of La Madeira Ski Area, which built a 1,500-foot rope tow in 1937
to become New Mexico’s first commercial ski area. Although
it was originally modeled after Swiss tramways to serve the ski
area, the Tram provides all riders an opportunity to get close to
the mountain. On this clear morning, the ride was especially awesome.
Skiers and snowboarders with their gear crammed aboard alongside
It looked like it would be a warm winter day in Albuquerque, but
at the Crest, it was eight degrees Fahrenheit with forty-mile-an-hour
gusts. Winds blew frantic swarms of snow snakes down the open slopes,
forming drifts along the tree lines. Sandia Peak is not known for
“the steeps,” like Taos, but offers a vast terrain of
moderately sloped intermediate runs. It’s a great place for
cruising and just enjoying the views of eleven thousand square miles
(as they tell you on the Tram ride). Expert skiers usually prefer
day trips to the Santa Fe Ski area, which is okay with the Abruzzos,
who own both resorts.
I had the long, narrow, expert-designated “Diablo”
run to myself several times. Snow was so deep in the woods that
I got stuck and had to paddle out on my belly like a surfer. For
a grieving, sleep-deprived, over-the-hill, solo boardhead, I had
a ridiculous amount of fun. Cruising too fast compensated for the
lack of steep challenges, and forty-mile-an-hour tailwinds made
going slowly nearly impossible. Tailwinds also made the wind chill
tolerable. Riders paid for it, though, on the mile-and-a-half chairlift
ride back up the hill into the wind. (The mid-mountain lift was
closed.) Time on a chairlift alone was a good opportunity to think
about my so-recently deceased friend and deal with my own mortality
By afternoon, clouds were exploding into the west face of the
mountain and then dispersing into an impossibly blue sky. The effect
was psychedelic. By three o’clock, the top of the mountain
was engulfed in clouds and it became brutally cold.
I took refuge in the High Finance Restaurant—the highest
year-round restaurant in the world at the top of the world’s
longest tramway. A tall microbrew drowned any thought of going out
for one last run. Next to me in the bar was a tourist from New Jersey
who admitted to a fear of heights. He was having a couple pints
of courage for the descent. The steep ride really gives a sense
of the great height of a mountain that thrusts up abruptly from
the high desert—from 5,000 to over 10,000 feet. That is thrill
enough for most people.
Highest, longest, and oldest (in some respects), Sandia Peak Ski
Area is best of all closest. It is not characterized by the superlatives
attributed to ski areas to the north, but Sandia offers a good time
without the bother of getting your affairs in order or going on
a ski vacation.
For more useful information, visit www.sandiapeak.com
or call 242-9052.
[The visionary Bob Nordhaus died on February 22,
2007, at age 97.]