When there’s snow, and there’s been plenty during my first year in New Mexico, the trees at Ski Santa Fe are where it’s at.
My favorite trees are about 2 miles high off the top of Millennium lift — to the left and all the way next to the boundary. Between the trees, the snow is untouched, which is exhilarating — a mix of fun and risk.
Risk because what’s beneath fresh snow is a mystery. Hidden stumps are waiting to catch the nose of a snowboard while momentum flips the rider over. Bruises are likely and injuries are possible, but in the words of Rodney Mullen, who invented the kickflip, “The best skaters are the best fallers, man.”
After accepting the presence of unmarked hazards, snowboarding through trees is all about making your own path despite them.
So avoid running into a tree, obviously, but don’t slow down. That’s how to sink and get stuck knee-deep.
Plan on reaching the bottom but be ready to react to different ways of getting there. No two runs are the same.
Beyond this adrenaline rush, the trees are worth it for that type of snow that feels like you’re floating through air. If you’re a skier or snowboarder and you don’t know what I mean, you’re doing it wrong.
Of course, when a storm dumps a foot of snow on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the whole mountain is bliss. And while you’ll still find me in the trees on a powder day, the real value of tree riding is when it’s been a few weeks since snowfall and the marked runs are packed with ice. The screech of an edge digging into manmade snow makes me cringe.
During these prolonged snowless stretches, proven paths carved by skis and snowboards will start to intersect in the trees, and untouched snow is harder to find.
But it’s still there.
In a season like this one when the mountain has an 80-inch base, you can always find fresh snow if, by default, you’re inspired to go where nobody else has left a track.
If you’re a tree rider, you get it. If you prefer caution in open spaces, well I hope I didn’t convince you. More snow for us.
Dillon Mullan is a reporter at The New Mexican.