If the name conjures images of a winter wonderland in the deep woods, that’s by design. Enchanted Forest, a cross-country ski and snowshoe playground just east of Red River at 9,800 feet, is one of a kind in New Mexico.
“This is the best snow we’ve had in years,” says Ellen Goins, owner of the business with her husband, Geoff. “Some groomed cross-country ski trails can be found on Sandia Mountain and in Los Alamos at Pajarito Mountain, but Enchanted Forest is the only full-service facility with lessons, rental equipment, warming huts, and even yurts for rent overnight.”
Ellen Goins’ parents, John and Judy Miller, founded the Enchanted Forest ski area in the 1980s after running a small downhill resort in Red River called Powder Puff Mountain. “It was probably 400 feet top to bottom,” Goins says. In 1979, the Millers changed the focus to backcountry ski tours. “People enjoyed it,” Goins recalls, “but it was too hard.”
The answer turned out to be groomed and greatly expanded trails. “Groomed skiing made it possible for more people to get into the sport,” Goins says. In the 1980s, the Millers were granted U.S. Forest Service approval to use additional land for a Nordic area that’s grown to encompass a looping system with beginning, intermediate, and expert trails.
In 2010, the Millers sold the Enchanted Forest business to the Goinses. Although the Goinses are passionate about their love for the place, they are looking for new owners to bring the business closer to resort-quality status with some financial infusion.
Enchanted Forest’s 33 kilometers of rolling, tree-lined groomed trails provide an aerobic workout for skate or freestyle cross-country skiers with this fast-paced technique similar to running with skis practiced by Olympic racers. Enchanted Forest is the perfect venue with long laps at high speeds for the UNM Lobo Invitational Collegiate Nordic Ski Races on Feb. 20 and 21.
“Enchanted Forest is known as one of the best places to skate ski in New Mexico,” Goins says, “but we get a mix of snowshoers, classic Nordic skiers, and skate skiers.” Dogs are welcome on trails separate from the main system.
Groomed trails are just one aspect that makes Enchanted Forest unique in New Mexico. Advantages to grooming the snow – besides plenty of room to ski side-by-side with your companions or to skate ski – include the preservation of the durable base layer and a smooth, even surface on which to kick and glide. Additionally, people who may be intimidated by tromping through the forest in the snow are assured of their safety via extensive signage and patrols of the area. “People are hungry for adventure,” Goins says, “but maybe in a way that’s contained.”
Popular special events during the winter months include moonlight ski and snowshoe tours, a holiday luminaria ski, and a snowshoe tour showcasing the history, flora and fauna of the local wilderness.
The most popular happening, though, is Just Desserts Eat and Ski, on Feb. 27. “I heard about gourmet ski tours at a convention years ago, but we didn’t have an infrastructure to host a dinner,” Goins says. “So I came up with the idea to put dessert stations along the trail.”
Skiers and snowshoers travel a 5-kilometer course to indulge in various gourmet desserts provided by local restaurants and individuals. “One of our season pass holders from Albuquerque makes these fabulous gluten-free bars, and the guide who leads our snowshoe tours makes a wonderful rum cake,” Goins says. “The fellow who owns the Sundance Mexican Restaurant makes delicious wild blueberry pies, and Brett with Brett’s Bistro goes all-out.”
Red River is about a three-hour drive from Albuquerque, so consider staying in one of the two Enchanted Forest yurts, each of which includes a wood stove, kitchen, and five and eight bunks. An outhouse and a spectacular view are just outside, and the trails are open to renters at night.