Just a few miles, as the ravens fly, separate age-old Tesuque Pueblo and Tesuque Peak, the 12,051-foot-high Sangre de Cristo summit overlooking Santa Fe that is also home to our local ski area. The view from the pueblo up the cottonwood-lined Rio Tesuque frames Tesuque Peak, its face glistening white in the winter. It is the backdrop to the pueblo and the source of its irrigation water, and has a sacred place in its culture and religion.

So it seems only fitting that on a typical Friday in February and early March, 17 or so Tesuque Pueblo kids, in grades K-6, led by a few Tesuque adults, can be found on the slopes of Ski Santa Fe. They come every week, rent skis, snowboards, boots, poles and helmets for each kid, take a two-hour lesson in the morning and then ski free in the afternoon.

For the past two years, Marita Hinds has been leading a group of chargers up the mountain that looms so large in the life of the pueblo.

“We tell the parents that it’s a great winter activity, with lots of exercise,” she said. “Plus it’s a learning process and builds self-esteem. You learn not to give up. So, it’s more than just a fun day — there’s all kinds of benefits.”

Hinds began her own skiing in the fourth grade at St. Francis Cathedral School in Santa Fe, which used to offer a ski program to its students.

“It was a great thing,” she recalled last week when we met at Ski Santa Fe. “You got out of school and got to ski with your friends up here. It gave us a sense of accomplishment to get down the hill. I remember being intimidated at first, but after a while you are better and better, and you find you can do it.”

Veronica Martinez, principal of Tesuque Pueblo Day School, also got her start skiing through the now-defunct Santa Fe Public Schools program when she attended what is now Gonzales Community School.

“When I came on as principal, I said to Marita, ‘We have to get this back, because I remembered what fun we’d had in school when I was young,’ ” she said.

But the school, funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, can’t provide financial support for skiing, so she, Hinds and others held a fundraiser and approached the tribal government for assistance.

“Our governor, Robert Mora, and our director of education, Bruce Curliss, were both very supportive,” noted Martinez.

Added Hinds, “Yes, and a number of our tribal council members also said they remember learning how to ski as kids through the schools. It’s been ongoing for years.”

But Martinez says credit must really be given “to the whole pueblo community because when we had our fundraiser, everyone contributed.”

Parties donating to the event included Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino, the Poeh Center, the Tortilla Factory, and artists including Penny Singer and Zia pueblo jewelers.

Once on the mountain, the Tesuque kids have run into many other school groups, such as a crew from Estancia, and are busy making new friends.

Tesuque sixth-grader Lauren Vigil, 11, has been in the program since kindergarten.

“I like being with my friends here and showing them how to be confident to come up and try this,” she said me. “Probably the first day was the hardest: after falling, just getting up! I even skied backwards. Now, I don’t like waiting for people, but I do.”

She most enjoys the sense of speed, the fresh air.

“I just like being out here,” she said. “I love the forest and snow. My dad is a hunter and last year I got my first deer.”

The cold doesn’t faze her. “Winter is my favorite season, plus I get to be with my favorite friends, with trees.”

What’s not to like?

As we rode up the Super Chief Chair, Lauren noted that next year she’ll be attending Santa Fe Indian School, which does not have a ski program. Hinds suggested she look into launching a ski club there, as she did when she was a student at Pojoaque Valley High, and later at the Institute of American Indian Arts. They would organize trips to Durango and other destinations, she explained.

“That would be cool,” Lauren said.

Asked if she was going to be watching the Winter Olympics, she replied, “Sure! I want to be in the Winter Olympics, go off that big jump and see how they land.”

But for this season, her goal is to ski off the summit of the Tesuque Peak Chair.

u u u

The tides have turned and we’ve picked up some much-needed snow — including a whopping 61 inches over the previous week at Wolf Creek near Pagosa Springs, Colo. This brings its base to 104 inches.

Taos saw 25 inches fall, while Ski Santa Fe gained 15 inches (for a base of 39 inches), Angel Fire 11 and Ski Apache 14.

Crested Butte picked up 36 inches, Telluride 40 inches (for a 68-inch base), and Monarch 10 inches (for an 82-inch base). Pajarito only received 4 inches and remains closed, but more snow is on the way!

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