22 November 2016 Posted By : Jeff McCann, Postmedia News

More Than Skiing in Santa Fe: Arts Community, Strong Food Scene Luring Tourists South to New Mexico

Chances are you aren’t going to Santa Fe, N.M., for the skiing alone. It’s good — more than 315 days of sunshine annually so every ski day is a bluebird, but when you are spoiled for choice ski resorts, like we are in Canada, skiing isn’t the main draw.

The sky might be. “Hey, come over here,” Bill, the head of the ski school, says to me with the tone of somebody eager to share a secret. We’re halfway down a ski run at Ski Santa Fe and Bill is standing near the tree line. From an altitude of 12,000 feet we can almost see Texas in one direction and Colorado in the other.

He looks at me and tilts his head implying I need to look up, then profoundly asks: “Isn’t that the bluest sky you’ve ever seen?” And yes, it really is.

Rumour has it that the reason Santa Fe has become one of the largest art scenes in the United States is because the sky is so blue and the light so pure, once an artist arrives they cannot resist sticking around.

True or not, generations of artists have come from all directions to The City Different, a nickname earned a century ago, to form the community of 140,000 residents in the highest altitude and oldest state capital in the U.S. Some sell their works at an outdoor market in the Palace of the Governors, others at the 250 local galleries.

Famous names such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Eliot Porter come to mind while wandering through galleries and dozens of pop-up shops selling turquoise and handmade jewelry.

Mayor Javier Gonzales explains that for 400 years Santa Fe has been a collision of cultures, evidenced in the food, drink, architecture and incredibly diverse people. They have preserved their history from the oldest house in the country, which dates back to 1646, to new downtown buildings obliged to be designed in adobe mud style tracing roots to the Pueblos Native Americans.

We visited longtime local favourite Tomasita’s restaurant, which opened in 1974. Passed from mother to son, they serve authentic New Mexican cuisine, including 9,000 pounds of chili annually.

Owner George Gundrey is challenged with preserving the classic traditions while innovating to stay current. They serve the chicken enchilada as it’s always been, but have their own new take on a delicious margarita. They take their margaritas so seriously that Tomasita’s even has a backup machine, and the famous Margarita Trail has emerged from a friendly competition between restaurants. Fifteen minutes outside of downtown, the family-owned community ski area is experimenting with its own recipe. They’ve spiced things up by hosting craft breweries and local bands in the beer garden, and launching a kids program for spring break.

Owner Benny Abruzzo and his son Ben are both out on the slopes saying hello to everybody, many by name, no small feat since they get 200,000 visitors annually. The result is the friendliest ski hill I have ever been to. It might be the owners, or maybe it’s because there is no cell or Internet on the mountain, so people talk to each other. Views from 5,000 feet above the City Different are, well, different. Instead of looking to the next mountain range or across vast forests like in the Canadian alpine, we look out from the southern tip of the Rockies onto desert savannah.

We skied on alternating days to rest our legs and in the meantime checked out hundreds of boutique shops and dozens of museums.

On our final day we finished with the spa and outdoor heated pools at Ten Thousands Waves, then an evening on the Margarita Trail. Santa Fe proved itself to be like nothing else and held its title as The City Different.

The writer was a guest of Tourism Santa Fe. No one from the tourism board read or approved of this article before publication.


Meow Wolf

I visited before the opening of Meow Wolf: The Art of Engaging the Next Generation of Tourist. Inspired by City Museum in St. Louis, Meow Wolf is now open at the heart of the newly coined Santa Fe Midtown Innovation District. What was once a bowling alley is now a 33,000-square-foot hub of innovation and immersive art. The main attraction is a gigantic installation that has a narrative. Think about reading a science-fiction book, with warped realities and dozens of secret passageways to new dimensions, but walking around and exploring the book in real 3D form. It begins by entering the front door of a house, but open the refrigerator and step through the wall to become lost in a psychedelic neon and laser light world. They anticipate more than 100,000 visitors per year with the millennial and family tourist in mind. The project is backed by George R.R. Martin and saw more than 100 artists collaborate with private and public partnerships for a new model of the success of art in the community.

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