It’s the time of year when the leaves fall, snow hits the ground and many folks start to think about the colder climes ahead – with snow sports in mind. 

Given the uncertainty of the 2020-2021 season, physically distanced winter sports for skiers, hikers and general nature lovers may be just the ticket.

Ellen Miller Goins is no stranger to this kind of experience. She grew up in New Mexico and now owns the Enchanted Forest Cross-Country Ski Area. She is a veteran journalist and also owns and operates the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle, a digital newspaper in Northern New Mexico.

Back in the day

Miller Goins’ father, the late John Miller, and her mother Judy Miller, were skiers who originally bought Red River valley’s Powder Puff Mountain in the ’70s. 

Having been critically involved in the Red River ski scene, her parents became avid cross-country skiing enthusiasts, bringing John’s inspiration from California’s Royal Gorge Cross-Country Ski Area, the largest groomed cross-country ski area in the United States. In the mid ’80s, along with Gary and Fran Starbuck, the Millers built a groomed area on the Bobcat Pass plateau on the Enchanted Circle, creating Enchanted Circle Cross-Country Ski Area.

Later owned and operated by Miller Goins and Geoff Goins, they have maintained the spark struck by her father. 

“My dad knew these woods and he knew that the area right off the top of Bobcat Pass would make great cross-country ski country,” said Miller Goins. 

Enchanted Forest started with a just a beginner Nordic ski area. What began nearly 40 years ago has flourished into much more than a Nordic ski area, however.

It now offers everything from well-groomed ski trails, rentals, lessons, snowshoeing and dog trails – and, since 2010, yurt camping experiences.

Yurt ‘glamping’

“Apparently owning yurts during a pandemic is a good business model,” joked Miller Goins. So far in 2020, the resort has made several strides to enhance its yurt camping experiences, utilizing the space to its advantage. 

The two closest yurts are about one-fourth of a mile apart, and “are rented almost year-round,” Miller Goins said. Enchanted Forest offers what is referred to as “glamping” – a more glamorous camping experience.

“It’s a big step up from camping on the ground,” said Miller Goins. “You’re still using a port-a-potty, and it’s up to you to get your wood-burning stove going,” she added, but made it clear that they provide many other amenities to help guests have a comfortable stay. 

Each yurt comes outfitted with beds, a wood-burning stove, pots and pans, camp dishes, silverware and more.

Physical distancing

The Enchanted Forest property contains three yurts available for reservation, with a fourth being used as a warming hut. Miller Goins said that due to the pandemic, physical distancing is in place, as well as other measures being taken to comply with COVID-19 protocols. 

“We’re going to reconfigure the warming hut so the flow is safer,” Miller Goins said, noting too they will be ramping up their online bookings, “so that people can make reservations for gear.” 

As far as social limitations go, Enchanted Forest isn’t too concerned about the winter. When asked about their capacity, Miller Goins said she didn’t quite know, as they have never technically reached it.

Although there has been an increasing interest in physically distant sports this season, the resort – Enchanted Forest Cross-Country Ski Area – “just doesn’t have the numbers that the downhill areas do for overcrowding to be an issue.” 

‘Soft adventure market’

When planning a winter trip this season and looking for alternatives to safe and busy slopes, Enchanted Forest provides a similar, yet calmer experience. Miller Goins calls it the “soft adventure market.”

“It’s people who want to get outdoors in winter, but they want to do it in an environment where they know at the end of the day someone is going to come looking for them,” she said.

Their groomed terrain offers a skiing experience that can’t be found in other cross-country ski areas, Miller Goins pointed out, noting that there are other areas in New Mexico that are much harder to keep groomed, and this plays to Enchanted Forest’s advantage. 

Miller Goins describes Enchanted Forest as the perfect place “if you just want to go somewhere where it’s not all uphill and not all downhill.”

Enchanted Forest Cross-Country includes both “skate” and “classic” cross-country skiing. Classic cross-country involves specific Nordic skis and boots and is a combination of a nice walk through the woods and a gentle downhill stroll. Meanwhile, skating is a more artistic approach that takes advantage of the low downhill grade to create more of an aesthetic performance.

“The reason Nordic is appealing in general is because it has an injury rate of about one-10th of 1 percent. It’s a much safer alternative,” said Miller Goins. 

Safe, intimate and enviable 

In terms of safety, Enchanted Forest is proud to say it has never lost a skier on the near 600-acre property, aside from a few skiers being “a little late getting back to their car,” Miller Goins said, laughing.

So far this season, sales of Nordic skis have already shot up. Miller Goins said she is gearing up for Enchanted Forest to see a potential new – and larger – clientele.

As major ski resorts in the area debate opening up under various circumstances, with the possibility of having to change their schedules, Enchanted Forest Cross-Country may be one place where winter snow lovers can still get an intimate skiing experience. 

Miller Goins noted that because of their unique skiing and yurt camping, “it’s much easier to socially distance because you’re not all funneled into a lift line.”

When asked if the resort expects to sell out this season because of its uniquely physically distant position and potential increase in ski and yurt rentals, Miller Goins said that she can’t say anything for sure, but quickly noted, “When the yurts are full, they’re full.”   

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