The candlelight experience is often reserved just for romantic dinner dates and power outages, but not at Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Area near Red River.
Candles provide the only light for the Christmas Luminaria Ski Tour held every year at the Northern New Mexico ski area.
Christmas night visitors get to ski or snowshoe around a 3-kilometer loop that is dotted by 400 to 600 of the traditional paper lanterns.
“People don’t think you’ll see real well by candlelight, but you really can,” said Enchanted Forest owner Geoff Goins. “It’s just a soft orange glow on the trails, but it’s amazing.”
The tradition dates back 18 years, Goins said, and the inspiration came from a bucket of frozen water. Someone at the ski area overturned the bucket, and a hollowed slab of ice slid out. Goins’ father-in-law — Enchanted Forest’s former owner — stuck a candle in the center of the frosty block.
“It looked really cool,” Goins recalled. “We tried to figure out how to freeze water and put candles in the middle, but it would’ve been so time consuming.
“My mother-in-law said ‘Why don’t we just do luminarias?’ It was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ ”
The tour is generally a low-key affair, Goins said, one attended by staff, their families and a core group of regulars who come every year. But the event always attracts newbies, including those who have never been on skis before.
“People who wouldn’t come out and ski during the day, they’ll rent skis and off they go, because it’s so pretty,” said Goins, adding that the luminaria-lit trail is flat and appropriate terrain for the whole family.
The tour also features a bonfire at the base area where people often gather to make s’mores and to drink hot chocolate and cider.
Enchanted Forest has maintained the tour as a Christmas night tradition since the mid-1990s, although weather forced cancellation twice during that run. Back in 2005, there simply wasn’t enough snow. A few years before that, a massive storm snuffed out the event.
But the luminarias are surprisingly hardy and can withstand lesser storms and even some wind. The snow on the ground presents no problems either, Goins said. In fact, the bags are stuffed with snow rather than sand. (It keeps the trails cleaner.)
It might sound counter-intuitive to fill a paper lunch bag with snow and expect a candle to stay lit inside of it, but Goins said the snow at Enchanted Forest — which is at nearly 10,000 feet of elevation — is unlike the heavy, wet snow that Albuquerque typically gets.
“As long as it stays cold, it’s not wet and it’s like sand. The bags don’t get wet, they don’t fall over,” he said. “It’s amazing how good they look.”
To combat the wind, staff have found that folding the bag over keeps the flames lit.
“Really, any given year we probably only have about 20 mistakes,” Goins said. “Everything else goes pretty well.”
No reservations are required to participate in the luminaria ski tour, but Goins recommends reserving equipment in advance for those who don’t have their own. Enchanted Forest has skis and a limited quantity of snowshoes available for rent for an extra charge. A gear reservation form is available on Enchanted Forest’s website at enchantedforestxc.com under the prices tab.