Non-skiers assume I hit the wrong “purchase now” key while booking my airline ticket when I mention I’m off to New Mexico for a ski holiday. Knowledgeable snow-sliders get a faraway look, wistfully sigh, and say, “I’ve always dreamed of skiing there.”
In northern New Mexico, the Sangre de Cristos mountains, which form the southern tail of the Rockies, tower more than 11,000 feet and are laden with snow. As I approached Taos, a winding access road gently lulled me until I rounded a corner and suddenly saw buildings clinging to the sides of the valley. My eyes started to climb—up, up, unable to even take in the top of the runs stretching above Taos Ski Valley.
This is where I’ve come to taste the powder and pitches for which Taos is famous. About half the area is rated “expert,” but even the blue-square runs provide a whopping good time. Following the natural terrain of the mountain, trails roll and curl this way and that, providing an abundance of superb skiing.
I found myself carving wide arcs down delightful cruisers such as Honeysuckle and Totemoff. My knees screamed for mercy, challenging the bumps on Blitz and Moe’s, making me wonder what sort of critter created such closely spaced, sharp-sided monsters. Then there’s Al’s Run. Situated directly under Lift #1, in full view of the base area (as this type of run always is), it is a long, ungroomed descent whose triumphant mastery crowns a skier’s visit, including mine.
One of these trips I’ll get acclimated—both my lungs and legs—to tackle The Ridge, a three-quarter-hour-plus hike above the lifts to Kachina Peak. The reward? Views all the way north to the Colorado border and south to Sandia Peak and Albuquerque, polished off with a long, delicious descent down Main Street to the envious masses below.
Don’t worry if you’re not quite up to an encounter with Al or Kachina—the Taos Ski School is an extraordinary place to hone your skills. Consistently rated among the very tops in the country, the instructors excel at combining technical improvement with lots of skiing. To spend a week at Taos and not take ski classes is only discovering half the fun.
In the early days, founder Ernie Blake decreed that lifts would close during lunch so his clientele could properly partake of the fabulous culinary offerings that abound in Taos Ski Valley. The choices are still so marvelous that by week’s end my ski pants are taunting my indulgence. Lethargic after a colossal lunch at Rhoda’s, I’m thankful this is a skiers-only resort; if I were blindsided by snowboarder, I don’t think I’d be able to get up.
Besides one of the last holdouts against snowboards, this is also one of the few resorts still family owned and operated, as are most of the lodges and restaurants. This gives Taos that warm and fuzzy feeling, like playing and staying with an extended family. This ambiance combined with the outrageous variety of terrain draws world-class skiers, such as 1984 Olympic Gold Medalists Deb Armstrong, now Taos Ski Valley’s ambassador and instructor extraordinaire.
Evolution of Taos
Eighteen miles down the road from the ski area, the town of Taos evokes a different flavor. In 1540, conquistador Hernando de Alvarado saw the sun glowing off adobe straw, and he thought he had found the fabled Cities of Gold. After putting up with their unwelcome neighbors for nearly 150 years, the Native Americans drove the Spanish out, but they soon resettled in the area, and by the early 1800s countless mountain men had made Taos their headquarters.
By 1900 it had become a renowned art colony, eventually luring Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, Aldous Huxley, Thornton Wilder, Thomas Wolfe, D.H. Lawrence and Carl Jung to the area for creative inspiration. It is now a working community of ranchers and artists, merchants and writers. The town is packed with galleries, shops and great little restaurants, many centered on historic Taos Plaza.
The nearby Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, second highest suspension bridge in the U.S., is where the title characters in Thelma and Louise tested the flying ability of their car. The Taos area also served as a backdrop for the 1969 movie Easy Rider.
Five minutes north of town is Taos Pueblo, established over 1,200 years ago and one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in our country. Two sprawling, multi-storied adobe buildings known as the North (Hlaumma) and South (Hlaukwima) Houses have been named a World Heritage Site. Rio Pueblo de Taos flowing through the center of the site is the primary source of drinking and irrigation water for its residents. The source lies high in the Taos Mountains, which form a backdrop to the Pueblo.
San Geronimo Church is a registered National Historic Landmark, constructed in 1850, which makes it one of the newest structures. The central altar is graced by a Virgin Mary brought by early Spanish missionaries. As you wander through the Pueblo, you may encounter the aroma of cedar and baking bread wafting from hornos, the adobe baking ovens. Massive drying racks dominate the Plaza, and depending upon the season you’ll find them garlanded with corn, meat and berries.
Many of the residences include small stores and workshops offering locally crafted jewelry, pottery, paintings, woodwork and food. Visitors are welcome daily except during certain ceremonial observances. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors. There is a $5 fee for the use of cameras or video equipment. Guided tours are available.
The three locales that call themselves “Taos” fill the calendar with an amazing array of festivals and events. Besides world-class skiing, you can enjoy snowmobiling, mountain biking, hiking, fly fishing, horseback riding, white water rafting, rock climbing and golf. Whatever the season, whatever your interests, you’ll find the Taos area richly satisfying.
Vicki Andersen, a freelance writer from Portland, Oregon, is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and the North American Snowsports Journalists Assn. She can be reached at email@example.com
TAOS SKI VALLEY
Season: November to April
Base elevation: 9,207 feet
Summit elevation: 12,481 feet
Kachina Peak (Lift #2): 11,819 feet
Lifts: 4 Quad Chairs, 1 Triple Chair, 5 Double Chairs, 2 Surface Lifts
Terrain mix: 24 percent beginner, 25 percent intermediate, 51 percent expert
Average annual snowfall: 312 inches
Average days of sunshine: 300-plus
Snowmaking: All beginner and intermediate slopes (648 acres)
Taos Ski Valley: (800) 347-7414; www.skitaos.org
Taos Pueblo: (505) 758-1028; www.taospueblo.com or www.taospueblo.org
Taos: (800) 732-TAOS; www.taoschamber.com
Monte Bello RV Park: (505) 751-0774
Monte Verde RV Park: (505) 377-3404
Taos RV Park: (505) 758-1667; www.taosbudgethost.com
Taos Valley RV Park and Campground: (800) 999-7571; www.taosnet.com/rv
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