Why are the mountains of New Mexico so popular with Texas tourists looking to ski? For one, it's a shorter (and often cheaper) trip than flying/driving to Colorado. And in smaller ski villages like Angel Fire, just north of the majestic Carson National Forest, you'll find plenty of easy runs on which to learn or brush up on your skiing or snowboarding skills, plus plenty of bunny slopes for the kids. After all, most Houstonians aren't hitting the slopes every weekend, which means most of us aren't looking for double-black diamonds for our ski vacations.
When it comes to Angel Fire, there's also the fact that the resort itself was founded by Texans—the LeBus family from Wichita Falls, who originally used this land in the gorgeous Sangre de Cristo mountains to graze their cattle until turning it into a family-friendly ski resort in 1964—and the fact that over half of the homeowners here also originally hail from Texas. No surprise, then, that Angel Fire has earned the nickname "Little Texas."
This means an inordinate number of us end up in Angel Fire for our skiing and snowboarding trips. But there's more to do here than just winter sports activities (which, by the way, officially open for the season on December 9). While you're there, you'll also want to:
Tuck in at Hail's Holy Smoked BBQ
How did I know the owners of Hail's Holy Smoked BBQ hail from Texas? The tray of fresh kolaches sitting near the cash register. They're the creation of Wendy Hail, who was determined to recreate the Czech pastry beloved by her husband, John, who was born and raised in East Texas. While they're not totally Texan (Wendy's kolaches come with a sweet almond glaze on top that's beloved by her New Mexican clientele), the barbecue is true, East Texan stuff. Try a three-meat plate of John's brisket, sausage and ribs, or if you're feeling brave, try Wendy's extra-spicy homemade green chile pozole.
Hoist a pint of local craft beer from Enchanted Circle Brewing
Texans drink craft beer to the tune of $3 billion a year, and that's just in our own state. If you're one of those craft beer fans, you'll want to seek out Angel Fire's first and only microbrewery, which creates far more interesting brews than you may expect to find in a small town. Enchanted Circle Brewing's wide variety of styles—my personal favorites included a peach wheat, a plum sour, and a laudable ESB—pairs well with its equally eclectic menu: think red chile prime rib enchiladas, smoked pork banh mi or buffalo-style fried cauliflower. The view from the brewery itself isn't to be missed, either.
Purchase some stunning jewelry at Hales & Barrow
Just down the road from Angel Fire is the old-timey, no-stoplight town of Eagle Nest, which contains all the cutesy antique destinations, gift shops and jewelry stores you won't find in the neighboring ski village. At Hales & Barrow, spitfire owner Gay Barrow was born and raised in Houston, but now does a brisk business selling her handmade silver and turquoise jewelry to celebrities across the world, including Barbra Streisand. If you want to hear fascinating stories about Babs herself or the Bayou City in the 1950s, Gay Barrow has plenty of them. If you find that you're not quite able to splash out on her splashy creations, don't fret; there are also plenty of more affordable treasures waiting to be found in her curiosity shop.
Visit the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial
Over 500,000 Texans served in the Vietnam War, yet it took until 2014 for our own state to create a monument to those men. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park just outside Angel Fire, high on a bluff overlooking the Carson National Forest, was established in 1968 as the first major memorial to Vietnam veterans in the country. Today, it remains the only state park dedicated exclusively to those veterans. The sweeping mid-century lines of the park's stark white chapel attract visitors from across the United States; inside, candles remain lit year-round while friends and family members leave photos, heartfelt letters, stuffed animals and other tokens of loss. Conveniently, there are plenty of boxes of Kleenex throughout the chapel, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Come back in the summer for the biking
You may not know that Angel Fire is home to the largest mountain biking park in the Rocky Mountains. When there isn't snow on the slopes, the folks at the Angel Fire Resort figured why not use them for something equally exciting? Today, there are over 60 miles of trails across an elevation change of 2,000 feet, with bike paths for everyone—including beginners. Even better, you don't have to bring your own gear; the Angel Fire Bike Park will rent everything you need, including a bike, helmet and pads. Take the lift to the top of the mountain, fly down your first trail of the day, and you'll soon find yourself hooked (and wondering if the Ant Hills at Terry Hershey Park will ever compare after this).