“Taos - A Four Letter Word for Steep.” That’s their bumper sticker. They like to boast that Taos is “skiing for purists.” A sign at the entrance of the first lift says (in bold red letters) “Don’t Panic!” It adds, with an arrow in a black circle map, “You’re looking at only 1/30 of Taos Ski Valley - We have many easy runs too.”
Village folklore has it that many skiers seeing that ski map for the first time turned around, and headed for an easier mountain. However, there is another notice I love in Taos - it boasts of unlimited snow and “300 plus days of sunshine.” Can you imagine how marvelous Taos must be in the middle of winter, when we are freezing in the dark, damp East and it is an easy 3 hour drive from the airport in Albuquerque?
I found Taos to be incredible, and not too difficult on the runs I took. I did not attempt the chutes and the very steep areas, but it was a joy to watch the experts hike up and hop down the bumps and steeps with great skill! As in many areas, there is something for everyone in Taos, except for snowboarders. At this time, they have a policy against boarders. Many of the old-time regulars, who come for weeks or months each winter, say they prefer that policy. Others say it discriminates against members of their family, and they choose areas where skiers and snowboarders can co-exist.
But, a compromise appears to be in the works. A nearby mountain may be developed into an area exclusively for snowboarders. Of course, there are other ski areas in New Mexico, but they are several hours away from Taos, and I have not yet had a chance to check them out. Red River and Angel Fire are reported to be steep, excellent, and warm in the winter, so my “must” list definitely contains more trips to New Mexico!
There are many wonderful things about Taos. The European atmosphere ranked highest with me. It has the atmosphere of a fine ski village in Switzerland. That is not a coincidence. The founders - Ernie Blake, his friends, and family, came over from Switzerland and Germany. He struggled hard to develop the ski area, despite skepticism, due to its location and steepness. The Blakes still own and run Taos. In fact, they won a major ski award at the NASJA Convention which I attended earlier in Telluride (the North American Snowsports Journalists Association). Rhoda Blake, widow of Ernie, was given the “Golden Quill Award for Lifetime Achievement.” It was accepted by her granddaughter, Adriana Blake. She said her grandmother would have come in person, “had she known the powder was so good in Telluride!”
The history of Taos is fascinating. If you can, I urge those interested to acquire the coffee table book, “Ski Pioneers, Ernie Blake, His Friends, and the Making of Taos Ski Village.” The large book, by Rick Richards, is also a colorful history of a part of the ski industry. It is filled with revealing facts. One section lists the World War Two era names of many of the ski runs. They include “Patton,” in honor of General George Patton; and the names of the 3 German soldiers who plotted - unsuccessfully - to kill Adolf Hitler. Fittingly, in Taos, there is also a lodge named “Kandahar.” It and a trail called “Inferno” are named after a famous old ski race, started by the Ski Club of Great Britain and the Kandahar Club of Switzerland.
Skiers may also want to know statistics about Taos. In addition to excellent conditions, it is less expensive than many other areas. Low season lift tickets ran $30 a day this season. High season were $40, and the spring rate was $25 a ticket. There is a $38 dollar price for seniors from 64 to 69 during the season. Older than that may be free, but check that out next season. Worth the trip for the prices alone! Donald Rumsfeld has a place near Taos - wonder what rate he gets!
Taos offers enormous variety - there are 110 listed trails. 24% are rated beginner, 25% intermediate, and 51% expert. Taos admits their green and blue trails may be considered harder than other areas! The highest lift goes up to 11,819 feet, with a vertical drop of 2,612 feet. If you hike to the top of Kachina Peak at 12,481 feet, the vertical drop is 3,244 feet. I assure you, I did not do this! I could barely make it down the intermediates. The snow was very fast and icy in the morning, and slushy at the bottom in the afternoon. That was typical for spring conditions anywhere. But, with the steepness and the altitude, I found it a challenge!
At Taos, my husband and I had the good fortune to stay at Chalet Montesano. What a wonderful place! It is the extended home of Victor and Karin Frohlich. Both have a long and colorful history of development and ski instruction at Taos Ski Valley. In off season, Victor was a soccer player and Karin still plays a mean game of tennis. Their small inn contains beautiful apartments, and the modern luxuries of a sophisticated spa. You can also ski down to the slopes from the alpine chalet, but you have to walk back up. Best to store your skis at the lift area first. That also gives you the opportunity to eat at Rhoda’s restaurant (still overseen by Ernie’s widow and the family) or some of the other interesting restaurants in the area - such as the Bavarian Restaurant or the St. Bernard (part of another legendary inn). Taos Ski Village is very small. If you want to go anywhere else outside the village you have to drive. And, if you plan to prepare meals in your condo, it is best to buy your food before getting to Taos Village.
In short, Taos is a terrific experience. I am awed by how many wonderful areas there are to ski in this country. I have been at the sport for 42 years, but feel I am just beginning to scratch the surface. I must try them all out - it’s a hard job, but somebody has to do it!
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.