Winter wonderland awaits at 'Main Street in the Mountains'

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By Deborah Stone

The first thing you’ll probably notice when you visit Red River is the smiles. People seem genuinely happy living in this small Northern New Mexico hamlet surrounded by the Southern Rockies. They are warm and hospitable towards visitors and show a sincere interest in wanting others to experience the magic of their town so they, too, can be in a perpetual state of contentment during their stay.
Red River has a rich history as a mining town that was originally called River City. Back in the late 1800s, when prospectors discovered the area, hundreds of gold, silver and copper mines were carved into the mountain with names like Golden Treasure, Silver King and Black Copper. In its heyday, the population soared to several thousand residents.
There were two general mercantiles, a livery stable, two newspapers, a sawmill, blacksmith shop, barber shop, more than a dozen saloons, several hotels and boarding houses, a dance hall and a hospital. And of course, there was the proverbial red light district. The mines played out eventually, leaving Red River on the brink of becoming a ghost town. Thankfully, though, there were enough hardy homesteaders who remained and in the late 1920s, Red River was reborn as a vacation destination. The high mountain lakes, streams, hiking trails and picturesque scenery proved to be magnets for those seeking a natural escape.
Though a year-round hub for outdoor recreation, Red River is especially popular in winter when the area is transformed into a frosty wonderland.
The town’s Main Street looks like a stage set from a Western movie with snow-covered mountains as the backdrop.
Come late November, provided the weather cooperates, these majestic peaks serve as the setting for the famed Red River Ski Area, which attracts adrenaline-fueled powder-lovers of all ages. They know that the town averages 15.8 feet of snow and even when Mother Nature isn’t in her full-blown wintery mood, they still come in droves because they also know that the facility can make up to 87 percent of its snow if necessary.
Skiers have a choice of 57 runs that range from beginning to advanced, and snowboarders have three terrain parks with new features to strut their stuff. Lift lines are typically short, giving folks more time to spend on the slopes.
The ski school, which is headed up by Ski Hall of Famer Wally Dobbs, offers lessons for all levels. There’s also a youth ski and snowboard club, on-site childcare for young‘uns, discount programs, bargain days, Saturday night torchlight parades and plenty of fun special events and competitions throughout the season. And when the slopes close at the end of the day, everyone can exchange their skis for tubes and slide down the lower hill area. Getting back to the top of the run, which used to be a lot of work, is easy now with the addition of the new Little Blue surface lift.
Families, in particular, love Red River because it’s affordable, with plentiful accommodations from hotels and lodges to inns, condos and cabins. The condos and cabins with their own kitchens are especially popular with families and groups. Some, like the Auslander Condominiums, even offer ski-in, ski-out accessibility. But, it’s the town’s friendly and laid-back vibe that gets the highest marks. There’s no pressure to “be seen” here, which is a refreshing change from some other ski areas where glitz and glamour are the name of the game.
Visitors also comment on the convenience factor, as everything is in walking distance if you’re staying in town, including the ski area. But, if you don’t feel like walking, the Red River Miners’ Transit will pick you up at your door and deliver you most anywhere in town — for free!
Those who aren’t into Alpine skiing have a wonderful alternative at the Enchanted Forest Cross-Country and Snowshoe Area, located three miles from town. The facility has 33K of wide-groomed trails for both classic and freestyle skiing and 15K devoted to snowshoeing, as well as access to miles of backcountry trails.
There’s even a special separate groomed 5K network so you can ski with your dog.
The terrain, which meanders through the Kit Carson National Forest, is sublime with spectacular mountain vistas, large aspen groves, wide-open meadows and old-growth forests.
You’ll find everything you need as the place has a full-service rental shop and an experienced cadre of instructors to show you the ropes or help you improve your skills.
Guides are also available to take you on a snowshoe tour, where you might spot some of the wildlife that make their home around the area. Staff aims to please on all levels, with the intent to make your experience as enjoyable as possible. And if you’d like to stay the night out in the peaceful woods, you can now go “glamping” (winter camping) at one of the several yurts spread along the trail system.
They are each furnished with a woodstove, wood, gas lantern, kitchen supplies, dining table and chairs, and bunk beds. The all-important outhouse is nearby. You can use a sled and tow your gear or snowmobile delivery can be arranged.
Non-skiers can also fully enjoy Red River, as there are plenty of other activities available, including snowmobiling, sledding and ice fishing.
For indoor options, head to the Playhouse for billiards, putt-putt golf, ping pong, darts and more. Or, peruse the eclectic shops and boutiques on Main Street.
When your stomach begins to grumble, simply head to one of the many dining establishments in town. With a range of cafes and bistros, along with steakhouses, Italian restaurants and Southwestern style eateries, you’ll have no problem satisfying your hunger pangs.
For a very special treat, opt for the Red River Ski Area Snowcoach Dinner Tour. You’ll begin your experience at the base area lodge, where you’ll board a snowcoach to take you up 1,600 feet to the Ski Tip Restaurant.
Your sumptuous three-course meal, prepared by the talented and amiable Chef Kai, will include a choice of entrée, salad and dessert, served attentively within a cozy, intimate setting.
On your return trip down, you’ll be enchanted by the twinkling lights of the town, which compete with the stars above for your attention.
If your bed isn’t calling you yet, stroll down Main Street and check out Red River’s local music scene.
There are seven venues in town, including the fabled Motherlode Saloon and Texas Reds Lost Love Saloon, as well as the legendary Bull O’ The Woods, that offer an assortment of acts, playing everything from country and blues to pop, rock n’ roll, jazz and even reggae. The town’s known for its songwriters’ festival and colorful “Mardi Gras in the Mountains,” featuring Cajun and zydeco bands, complete with parades, costumes and more.
After visiting Red River, you, too, will understand why folks in this charming mountain hideaway smile all the time. It’s a natural response to living amid such a beautiful adventure playground.
For more information, visit redriver.org, redriverskiarea.com, or enchantedforestxc.com.