Ruidoso, New Mexico: Skiing in the Desert

Recently, I visited several quaint ski villages without encountering a single snowflake. Summer and fall are spectacular seasons to discover the charms of ski resorts. Of course the charms don’t disappear in the winter. I love to sit snug in front of a roaring fire with a steamy drink in hand watching the skiers bustle around me. But how much skiing am I going to find when I move to the Southwest?  Ski Apache, in the mountain village of Ruidoso, New Mexico, is one such opportunity.

Let’s Go Learn Things about skiing in the desert….

Ski Apache: Southernmost ski resort in the US?

Southernmost ski resort in the US
8 person gondolas at Ski Apache    photo credit to Discover Ruidoso

Ski Apache, the Southernmost ski resort in the US is known for favorable winter weather and great ski cruising terrain. It is the only ski resort in New Mexico run by a Native American Tribe, Mescalero Apache. With 55 runs, 11 lifts, a unique gondola system, and views of White Sands it is a perfect ski getaway.  Ski Apache is 15 miles west of Ruidoso straight up into the Sierra Blanca peaks. 

Learn more…Ski Apache calls itself the Southernmost Ski Resort in the U.S. However, this title is also claimed by Mt. Lemmon in Tucson, AZ. Sky Island Scenic Byway

Ruidoso, NM

southernmost ski resort in the US
Midtown Ruidoso  photo credit Discover Ruidoso

Ruidoso, NM is the largest community in Lincoln County New Mexico. It is 1 hour north of White Sands, NM, 3 hours south of Santa Fe, NM and 8 hours west of Dallas, TX. The small town is surrounded by the Mescalero reservation and the sacred Sierra Blanca mountains. 


Spring, summer, winter, fall; anytime of year, Ruidoso is a spot to kick back and relax. Neighboring Texans have kept this chill paradise their little secret. They come to escape the heat of a Texas summer and the flat drab landscape of their winters. Ruidoso,NM is packed with family friendly adventures, infamous history, boutique shopping and local artisans. 

Lodging in Ruidoso, NM

Rio Ruidoso flows through town and shares the name, Ruidoso, which means noisy river in Spanish. During my visit in late fall, they experienced significant rain and the river lived up to its moniker.  

Ruidoso offers traditional chain hotels such as Best Western Plus and Days Inn. You can find any size of rental cabin in the woods, along the river or clinging to the hills. The Inn of the Mountain Gods is a sprawling resort and casino owned by the Mescalero tribe. There are historic roadside motels such as the Sitzmark Chalet Inn. If you want to make new best friends, see my post about the Sitzmark Chalet experience here.

I was hosted one night by the Mountain Air Cabins at the very end of Upper Canyon road. The Upper Canyon is one of Ruidoso’s most scenic and historic areas. Located in the southwest corner, the area is replete with rental cabins located near the river. Wildlife is abundant in this area of Ruidoso, including bear, elk, and deer. The Upper Canyon has spectacular fall foliage with golden aspens, oaks and cottonwood trees.

southernmost ski resort in the US
Ruidoso Rio roaring through Upper Canyon

Dining and drinking in Ruidoso, NM

Dining in New Mexico is about beef and chiles. Of course drinking for me is about craft beer. I found a perfect pairing at the Rio Grande Grill and Tap. Hatch chile alfredo and a glass of Sierra Blanca’s Pecan Amber were just the ticket. 

southernmost ski resort in the US

As a caffeine-addicted blogger, I am always looking for a spot to park and write. Sacred Grounds was ideal. 

Shopping in Ruidoso, NM

I am not a shopper, but I do love to explore local artisan galleries. New Mexico is a haven for artists. As I wandered through the galleries of Ruidoso, I imagined so many things on my new walls in Tucson. Western art has truly captured my heart.

southernmost ski resort in the US
Ruidoso art galleries

Ruidoso Outdoor Adventures

We have talked about skiing at the Southernmost ski resort in the US, but what about the rest of the year? Although shoulder season can offer some great deals, you do have to be careful about some activities closing. For me in late October, I missed the adrenaline-junkie activities of mountain biking, trail rides and ziplining. But I will return for all of those in the spring!  Any season is great for hiking so I headed out to nearby Grindstone Lake. 

southernmost ski resort in the US
Grindstone Lake hiking and mountain biking trails

Lincoln County History

My trip this time was all about history, Ruidoso and surrounding Lincoln County is the place to find it. They call themselves Billy the Kid Country and proudly claim to be home of Smokey the Bear.  Historic Fort Stanton had unbelievable stories and the Hubbard Western Museum shared insight into the images and myths of the Wild West. 

Billy the Kid Scenic Byway in New Mexico

Billy the Kid Scenic Byway

This 84 mile loop will take you through amazing vistas on your way to visiting many of the historic sites and museums of Lincoln County and Billy the Kid country. 

traveling alone New Mexico
Capitan Mountains north on Billy the Kid Scenic Byway

Billy the Kid earned his reputation in the Lincoln County Wars. As settlers moved into the region, Fort Stanton became a bustling trading and supply post for the region. From 1878-1881 rivaling cattle barons  literally “warred” over lucrative government contracts and economic dominance of the region. Billy the Kid ( William Bonney) was a hired gun for rancher John Tunstall. Events escalated out of control with the murder of John Tunstall in 1878. Billy the Kid was finally brought to heel and killed by Pat Garrett in 1881. Want to learn more…visit the Billy the Kid Visitor Center

Billy the Kid Scenic Byway

Fort Stanton

Lincoln County New Mexico
You will find a patchwork of history at Fort Stanton historic site

Fort Stanton was built in 1855 to garrison the dragoons of soldiers fighting the Mescalero tribes. Over the course of the Fort’s checkered past it housed U.S. soldiers, Confederate soldiers, Buffalo Soldiers, German POW soldiers, Mescalero refugees, and convalescing soldiers with TB. 

Many of the 53 buildings are open to explore with fascinating displays of the various uses of the Fort.  The small museum and gift shop is open 10-4 but the grounds are always open. Once a month there is a Living History event and Fort Stanton Live is an annual  re-enactment the second weekend of July.

Even if you are not history buffs, the setting of Fort Stanton is spectacular. 
The Fort was built along the Bonito River running through the picturesque Capitan Mountains with the Sacramento Mountains – and views of the beautiful peak of Sierra Blanca (remember the southernmost ski resort in the US).

Hubbard Museum of the American West in nearby Ruidoso Downs, NM

southernmost ski resort in the US

The Hubbard Museum of the American West is an impressive collection of cowboy, gunfighter, rancher, and Native American artifacts.  I found the “Images of the West” exhibit especially compelling. This exhibit focused on the romanticized West. 

Most people’s idea of the West is greatly shrouded in folklore due to romanticization. Throughout history, the American West has been romanticized in many ways. Romanticized versions of the West have appeared in art, literature, dime novels, movies, television, and Wild West Shows.

Hubbard Museum of the American West

Discover Ruidoso, NM for yourself

Whether you are looking for a cozy spot to hibernate or a heart-pumping adventure, Ruidoso, New Mexico should be on your bucket list.  Ruidoso is a gem in the American West. 

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Ruidoso New Mexico southernmost ski resort in the US
Discover the history of the Wild West in Ruidoso New Mexico

5 thoughts on “Ruidoso, New Mexico: Skiing in the Desert”

  1. The desert changes into the oasis called Ski Apache the best southern most ski resort in the USA. The city, and area are worth a visit. 260 square miles of the White Sands National Monument is one of the most unique areas in world as well to see from the peak, or in person. The snow melts quickly on the 12,000 foot mountain, and the mountain doesn’t get the total yearly amount of snow compared to world re-known Taos Ski Valley, N.M, or the infamous Wolfcreek (The most snow in Colorado, no one compares to WC). However Ski Apache is worth the price of admission when the snow is plentiful, and the the temps stay cold. The 15 year drought in Colorado, and N.M. is taking a toll on all of the west. The drive to Ski Apache is one of the most scenic drives, and the most daring to drive in blizzards (the drive to Santa Fe Ski resort is another drive to never forget). Oh ya Texans love Ruidoso, thus the Texans are everywhere. Hooray to the Texans for vacationing, etc. in Ruidoso contributing to the local economies.
    Skiing is as good as it gets these days in Ruidoso, and is a lot of fun. Also, Ruidoso has world class museums, shopping, and casino’s. Plan a visit to the epic Carlsbad Caverns, N.M. as well if you have the time along the way to Ruidoso will be unforgettable. Enjoy!

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