Skiing the Caldera

After our trip last fall to the Valles Caldera, when we learned more about their cross-country skiing opportunities, been waiting for an opportunity to go skiing with Jorge again and check it out in the snow.

I think the snow that we received around Christmas has been lingering up there, but a snowstorm at the beginning of the week dropped a couple more inches around Los Alamos. So we figured this would be a weekend to go. Monica planned to come along, along our coworker (and part owner of the comic shop) Kevin, and his girlfriend Katie. That's them, left to right, with Jorge at the far right.

I'm still using the skis I got in high school, featuring the highest tech of 1985. They're really designed for skiing in tracks, long and thin. Monica, Kevin, and Katie all had to rent skis, so I found a few places in town that rented and passed along the info. Monica went to pick hers up after work on Friday, I thought I'd have to meet her there with the hatchback — the skis being as tall as you standing with your arm upraised.

She called to let me know that I wouldn't have to meet her. When I got home and looked at the skis, I did a double-take. They looked like downhill. They're wide, they have an edge, they're shaped. They were only about as tall as she is. She assured me that they were cross-country and had some hiking-style boots that clipped in to prove it. That still gave me worries in the middle of the night, that they guy at the shop didn't know what he was doing with cross-country skis and that the going would be even tougher.

But when everyone gathered at our place (at 7:30 on Saturday), Kevin and Katie's skis were similar. And it turns out, talking to other skiers later, that's where the technology has gone. Jorge and I were out on our 20+-year-old skis and everyone else was on the new, shorter, wider, fancier ones.

But that was all to come later.

We made it to the gate of the road that leads the 2 miles into the Caldera just before 9:00, when it was due to open. A pickup truck sat on the other side, among the giant piles of snow. Even heading up out of Los Alamos, the snow looked pretty sparse, but it soon became clear that wouldn't be a problem in the Caldera. In fact the, problem was that they just started clearing all the snow, the road down was only plowed one lane wide. The guy in the truck looked at the Golf and declared that wasn't going down the road. We had Jorge's 4WD pickup, but there was still all kinds of doubt — that the road would be opened to anyone, that the parking lot would be cleared, that the trails would be groomed. It all looked … well, confusing, but then the supervisor returned up the road to get his "blade" and announced that we could get in if we wanted. We think. As I said, it was all kind of confusing.

Dropped the Golf at a pulloff further back, and piled into the back of Jorge's truck for the trip down, following the "blade" and the septic tank guys.

So we were the first skiers to get there, followed quickly by a few others. Took us a little while to get our gear on, decide what layers to wear, and get going. By then, the snowmobile had made it out on to the Cerro La Jara trail, which loops around a hill by the visitors center. The start was a bit slow, everyone getting the feel (again), the constant stopping to readjust layers (it was sunny and probably hit 40°), and brief blister crisis.

Jorge, out front, as he usually was.

The trail was packed down and, even on the skinny skis, pretty good going. We would all kind of go at our own paces, then pause and meet up and socialize, then go on our way again. The 2-or-so-mile loop took us about an hour-and-a-half with all that. Gave some pretty tremendous views, and really felt like it put you in the middle of the snowy expanse.

(Click for larger


We wrapped that up, had some snacks, and headed off again.

Started by just going into the fields (which was permitted, but ungroomed). We circled around gradually and picked up a groomed trail for what we figure was about a four-mile trip. Took us out more into the open center of the caldera.

Wait. Voice mail … and, there's plumbing problems at the comic shop, but the landlady's on it. OK, back to the skiing.


The second part had some good stretches, more flat or slightly inclined and straight that made it possible to get a good rhythm going, to just be able to glide along well and really move.

The snow was, probably, around 3 feet deep on average. But the wind made for dramatic variation; we heard from another skier who went off the trail that there was grass poking through the snow. At one point, we looped around by a snowdrift about 5 feet above us, formed only by the whirling wind.

And that wind was picking up on the last way back, making for some slow going as we were getting tired out. Wrapped up 1:30-ish and piled back into the truck for the ride back up the road (still being cleared) and to the waiting Golf.


andy said...

That looks like an awesome day.

Bram said...

Well, according to the calendar, they'll still be open for skiing — as long as there's snow — when you're out here.

PaulBob said...

Looks like y'all are ready...