Editor’s note: The following article by Ellen Miller-Goins first appeared in the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle’s 2002-2003 Winter Enchantment magazine. Jeannine Neal died Sept. 28, 2007. Tal Neal died Feb. 7, 1992.
Though she had spent many, many summers in the Moreno Valley at the ranch home of her uncle and aunt Bill and Geneva Heck, the first time Jeannine Neal spent a winter in Eagle Nest was after she married native son Tal Neal in September 1949.
“We had loads of snow. We’d drive down into the Moreno Valley and the snow would be as high as the car on both sides. It was like driving through a tunnel, except with no top.
“I thought it was terrible! I couldn’t see how anybody could live in this much snow.”
Jeannine grew up in Raton and she married Tal, son of Eagle Nest’s founding father T.D. Neal, at 18, 2 days shy of her 19th birthday. “We lived in a little cabin behind the grocery store. Tal worked for his father doing whatever needed done — his mother Maude died in childbirth when he was 8 years old.”
That first winter, Jeannine says, “I was taking care of myself, my husband and his father. I did not work. I guess I was indoors most of the time.”
She did find time to visit Laurelle Gallagher, her best friend since the 5th grade at Raton Elementary School who had married Tal’s first cousin Bill Gallagher the previous year. “Laurelle was going through the same thing I was. We would get together,‑play cards, visit, cook …. We ate together a lot.”
At that time Jeannine says, Eagle Nest and the surrounding valley had about 150 residents — most scattered around at different ranches. “We had socials down at the old school before it burned down and dances at the saloons, the Laguna vista and the saloon where Julio’s is now.”
Daughter Lynn was born in 1951, son Dirk, in 1954 and daughter Kimberly in 1965.
Before marrying Tal, Jeannine had attended college 2 years at Stephens in Columbia, Missouri. (She started at age 16.)
When Lynn was 4 or 5 years old, she started teaching in Eagle Nest and then began working to finish her bachelor’s degree, attending summer school at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas and winter school one night a week at a special Highlands University campus in Springer.
“The kids and Tal would would go to the movie while I went to school. He was great to take me ’cause I wanted to go. We had a lot worse winters than we do now but we always made it home ’cause I had to teach the next day. Many times Tal would have to shovel a path out to the highway.”
Jeannine says she taught first and second grade for about 7 years, “then I substituted another 2 or 3 years. I didn’t want to teach either one of my kids but I taught Laura Lynn and I taught Dirk one semester until Fawn Metcalf finished her degree.”
In 1959, the year Red River Ski Area opened, “We would drive to Red River once a week over the Old Pass to take them skiing. Especially Dirk. Dirk was crazy about skiing.
“There were several kids who were taking skiing at the time so several of us mothers were carpooling. We did the same thing in summer.”
Jeannine says famed Taos Ski Valley instructor and coach Dadoo Mayer taught the kids skiing and swimming. She never took lessons herself, however. “It took me all day to get there, get them ready — in those days they had that old equipment — then get them home.
“We drove an old Scout and sometimes the pass would be closed so we drove through Taos to get home.”
By that time, however, Jeannine was used to high altitude winters. “We played snowballs and sledded, things like that.”
Jeannine recalled how their friends, Roy and LaVena LeBus decided to build a year-round resort with a ski area, country club and golf course in the mid-1960s. “One night I went out there to play bridge and Big Roy had a bunch of blueprints on the table and I said, ‘Roy, what is this?’ And he said, ‘This is Angel Fire.’ I watched it grow from day one.”
The resort opened for skiing in winter 1966 and Jeannine worked as their base lodge operator who did “everything from A to Z” before going to work for pal Bill Burgess in the marketing department and at the ski school. “I ran the ski school window for 2 or 3 years. There wasn’t anything I didn’t do then.”
Except ski. Though Jeannine says, “I took my one and only ski lesson from Ernie Blake at Taos Ski Valley. My friend LaVena LeBus broke her leg and I couldn’t get to her so I just sat there screaming for help.”
Tal, who died in 1992, also worked at Angel Fire, so very often Jeannine toted baby daughter Kim to work. “She had her bed there because they paid me $1.35 an hour and my babysitter charged me $1.50 an hour!”
She never took up skiing again, though. “When your kids were on skis, you couldn’t afford it.”
By then, Dirk was ski racing, carpooling with the Woerndles, Bohannons and others to races. “We took ’em all over to races in New Mexico and Colorado. I still have ribbons and trophies from his racing days.”
Jeannine says her daughter Kim is a “marvelous skier” however “Lynn never enjoyed it. But Dirk is a real skier.”
Later when the kids went to Catholic boarding school in Canon City, Jeannine says, “The Abbey took some of them to ski races in Colorado.”
Jeannine meanwhile, worked for Angel Fire Corporation until 1965. She worked in banking a number of years before heading to work at Winter Sports in Angel Fire from 1988 to present.
Jeannine says she still enjoys Eagle Nest winters. “I don’t mind winter at all. I read a lot, always.”