Book delves into the history of winter sports in the Land of Enchantments
Editor’s Note: On the fourth Sunday of each month, Journal Arts Editor-in-Chief Adrian Gomez tells the story of some of the hidden gems found statewide in “Gimme Five.”
Daniel Gibson grew up in the North Valley.
In winter, he often looked up to the Sandia Mountains and saw the peaks covered in snow.
It was in there, he felt alive.
It is a feeling that has not faded.
âI’ve been skiing since I was almost 7,â he says. âBack in the days of leather boots and wooden skis. All you wore was wool and you would get soaked after a run.
Gibson worked on his latest project, âImages of America: Skiing in New Mexicoâ for two years with writer Jay Blackwood.
The book is currently available and delves into the history of winter sports in the Land of Enchantments.
âI have come to know a lot of the history of skiing in the state,â he says. âArcadia Publishing offered me the book and I really wanted to do it.
Gibson says skiing in New Mexico dates back over a century and the sport is still popular today.
New Mexico’s skiing history is among the oldest in the American West, when prospectors in the late 1800s and early 1900s were trying out their long boards.
He says many people are surprised there is skiing in the state, but the southernmost Rocky Mountain range, the Sangre de Cristos, cuts through northern New Mexico, with several peaks peaking at over 13,000 feet above sea level. Taos Ski Valley’s Kachina Peak chair climbs to 12,450 feet, and the Ski Santa Fe parking lot is 10,350 feet, to name a few.
The search for the book was not easy. Gibson says one of the biggest hurdles with the book is that the first photographs couldn’t be found.
As an avid skier, Gibson breaks down five historic moments that changed the sports landscape in New Mexico.
1. Taos Pueblo man on skis
New Mexico has the distinction of being home to perhaps the oldest known image of a Native American on skis, a man from Taos Pueblo circa 1900.
Gibson says the skiing started because of the Sangre de Cristo mountain miners.
âWe found this photo of a man from Taos Pueblo delivering mail to the Twining mining camp, where Taos Ski Valley is now located,â he says. âAt the time, instead of having two poles, there was only one. This is such an important photo to see. The only photo that escaped us was from the 1800s.
2. Charlotte Ellis on skis in 1896
Ellis was a member of the Ellis family who lived on 160 acres in the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque in 1905 in the Las Huertas Canyon.
âShe is seen in the photo on skis while on the family property,â Gibson says. “The photo is the oldest known to anyone in New Mexico on skis.”
Gibson says skis were used by many pioneers as a means of getting around snowy landscapes, rather than as a form of recreation.
âIn the photo, it looks like she’s skiing for fun,â says Gibson. “Charlotte would have used the only wooden stick for balance.”
3. The Blake family in New Mexico
Major developments developed across the state in the 1950s and 1960s, with the launch of Taos Ski Valley by the remarkable Blake family, Gibson says.
âErnie Blake built Taos Ski Valley, which is now world famous and attracts many visitors to New Mexico,â Gibson said. âWhen he arrived in the valley, there had been no electricity for nine years. He lived in a trailer with his three children for three winters. He had a grand vision for the ski area and we see it today.
4. Kingsbury Pitcher
Pitcher was known as “Pitch” and his presence in New Mexico was essential as he cultivated the growth of the ski industry.
âHe started Sierra Blanca, which today is called Ski Apache,â he says. âKingsbury and his family also really built Santa Fe from the ground up. He also placed the chair at the top of Tesuque Peak.
Pitcher was a member of the New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame. He died on December 29, 2017 at the age of 98 in Santa Fe.
5. Los Alamos Boy’s Ranch School
Los Alamos Boys Ranch School was a private ranch school for boys in the northeast corner of Sandoval County founded in 1917 near San Ildefonso Pueblo. During World War II, the school was purchased and turned into a secret nuclear research campus for Project Y.
Although the first ski areas developed in the state were in La Madera, today Sandia Peak Ski Area, in the Sandia Mountains and Hyde Park, today Hyde Memorial State Park, in Santa Fe, the children of Los Alamos were using the area up there, Gibson said.
âStudents at Los Alamos Ranch School in Los Alamos were skiing in the 1920s and 1930s in Jemez,â says Gibson. âIn the 1940s, scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory began skiing during their off-hours after developing the atomic bomb. “