Sixty years of family-friendly skiing and outdoor adventure
By Cindy Brown
Local lore says that skiing first came to New Mexico in the late-1800s, as mail carriers used hand-made skis to bring mail to Red River City and other gold-mining camps. A photo from around 1900 shows a Taos Pueblo man on skis, possibly delivering mail. Miners also used skis to travel during the winter.
The first attempt at creating a recreational ski area in Red River began before World War II. According to a story by Fritz Davis in the Red River Miner, a ski course was built with a horse-drawn tow.
Sadly, the ski area opened on Dec. 7, 1941 — the same day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, so the area closed the same day it opened.
In the time after the war, the whole town grew, but it was primarily a summertime destination. “After visiting the Santa Fe Ski Area, Oklahoma businessman Stokes E. Bolton and his wife Billie decided that the town was a summer resort but needed a winter attraction.
The Red River Ski Area would soon become a reality. “With surplus steel from oil derricks for lift towers, the Red River Ski Area opened in December of 1959,” according to the story in the Red River Miner.
The ski area grows
The ski area began recruiting well-known skiers like Toni Woerndle, who had been an alternate member of the German Olympic Team in 1936 and was working in Aspen, Colo. Woerndle started Red River’s first ski school.
His son George was 7 years old when the family moved to Red River. “It was small and rustic; the roads weren’t paved,” remembered George. “I went to a school at a one-room schoolhouse near the molybdenum mine.”
At that time, there was one chair lift and one tow lift at the ski area. In the early years, George recounted that there was no grooming done to the slopes, so you were either skiing deep powder or hard rutted snow.
He added that Red River was one of the first areas in the Rocky Mountains to start making snow in the early 60s. Before then, the ski staff would either have to put down straw across bare spots or drive up to Pioneer Canyon to shovel snow into the first snowcat and bring it back to put it on the slopes.
George’s parents had him walking around in the yard on skis when he was 2 years old and up on a mountain when he was 4. “Of course, my brother and I and a couple of other kids were the hot shots,” said George. “When other people came to town, we would try to teach them to ski, but we expected that they would be able to do what we did. We also liked to get off the trails into the woods.”
Both George’s dad Toni and his mom Ilse were inducted into New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame in 2019. In addition to their contributions to the ski area, they started one of the first wintertime lodges in town.
“I remember Mom putting together packages for weekly ski trips with skiing, lodging, ski rentals and everything you might need to draw people here — mostly from Texas and Oklahoma. I have a memory of a poster that may have said it was $69 for everything. It was a pretty good deal. They also had a ski shop for guests and worked hard to get the ski business going in Red River,” said George.
In time, George took over the ski shop, known as the Sitzmark, across the street from the lodge, and ran it for close to 40 years before selling it in 2018.
In the early 1960s, the ski area was sold to J.B. Veale. The current ownership of the ski area began when Drew Judycki came from Massachusetts to attend college in New Mexico. He got a job in 1968 as a ski instructor and worked at the resort in the 1970s.
Judycki eventually purchased it, according to Drew’s son, Linton — who is the current owner of the resort. “Dad bought in the 1980s with partners and, overtime, bought them out. My sister and I inherited it,” says Linton.
Although Red River Ski Area has continued to evolve over time, updating technology and adding snowmaking capabilities, certain things haven’t changed in the last 60 years.
“I think it’s a super special thing that Red River Ski Area continues to be family-owned,” says Linton. “We operate with the same values that we had when we opened: being family-oriented and treating everyone the same. I think that is similar to the town of Red River. We haven’t missed an opening day for 40 years. We are proud and excited every year to open up. Come join us and learn how to ski.”
To find out more
Red River Ski and Summer Area opens each year for skiing the day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, Nov. 22. The area covers more than 200 acres and has 64 trails, seven lifts, and an average snowfall of 214 inches. Visit redriverskiarea.com to find out about the Frozen Turkey Day, Torch Light Parades and more for the 2023/2024 season.