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Southern hospitality

There’s no denying that the northern New Mexico ski areas have the glitz and the steep runs and fresh, champagne powder to thrill any downhill enthusiast.

But down south, there’s a little-known ski area just outside Cloudcroft.

Sitting at 9,100 feet, Ski Cloudcroft (skicloudcroft.net) offers an unhurried, simple skiing adventure.

“We cater to family and first-time skiers,” said Michael Adams, whose brother owns the ski area. “A lot of our people have never seen snow before. It’s a fun little mountain.”

The second-most southern ski area in the U.S., after Arizona’s Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, opened this week with its beginning slopes and tubing hill, where the snowmaking reaches. When fully open, it has 27 runs equally divided among beginning, intermediate and advanced/expert.

“We have some pretty steep stuff,” Adams said. “Even if you’re an advanced skier, you have some steep runs. And we rarely have any lift lines, so you’re not standing around in line all day.”

A big draw is the 600-foot tubing hill with tow lines to get back to the top.

“It’s crazy how popular tubing has gotten,” Adams said. “The tubes have a cover and liner in the hole so even little bitty kids can fit down in it.”

When the fun on the slopes is down, Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue (facebook.com/MadJacksBbqShack) is the place to go to refuel.

“I’m really amazed,” said Tabitha Davis, Cloudcroft Chamber of Commerce president. “It’s only been open for a few years, but every day they sell out. If you come here, the line is literally going to be out to the highway. So people come from all over to try Mad Jack’s.”

And when the sun goes down, the fun starts at the James Sewell Ice Rink (facebook.com/cloudcrofticerink). The outdoor covered rink is a nice place to get a feel for the ice and sip a little hot chocolate while resting on a hay bale.

The Runyan Ranch Petting Zoo allows folks to get up close and personal with numerous farm animals.

“A lot of people love to visit the petting zoo,” Davis said. “I have a 2-year-old daughter and it’s one of her personal favorites.”

The area also is loaded with hiking trails, many of which remain snow-free in the winter.

The Trestle Recreation Area Trail, just west of the village, is a short stroll of just over a mile leading to the historic Mexican Canyon Trestle Bridge built in 1900. Although the bridge is no longer in use (even hikers are prohibited from crossing it), its rugged, scenic setting makes it a destination for train lovers and photographers.

The Osha Trail, named for the plant that grows prevalently along its side, is a 2.5-mile loop that provides stunning views to the east of White Sands National Monument.

From great views down to great views above, the National Solar Observatory (nsosp.nso.edu) at Sacramento Peak is an educational experience. The site is open to visitors for both self-led and guided tours. The guided tour includes a visit to the largest telescope on the site, the Dunn Solar Telescope.

Back in town, the Sacramento Mountains Museum & Pioneer Village (cloudcroftmuseum.com) is an interesting way to learn the story of the resilient people who struggled against the elements and against one another to tame the environs and claim a portion of it as their own.

A stroll through the Pioneer Village is a walk back in time to see first-hand the ways of the early farming and ranching industry and life in a rugged log cabin.

“It’s a really beautiful facility,” Davis said. “You can walk in a lot of old buildings. They’ve been adding buildings. They just added a brand new schoolhouse.”

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