Firsthand Report: Taos, New Mexico 8
Author thumbnail By Connie Lawn, DCSki Columnist

“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.”

Skiing at Taos. Photo © Ken Gallard, provided courtesy of Taos Ski Valley Resort.

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!

A winter day at Taos. Photo © Ken Gallard, provided courtesy of Taos Ski Valley Resort.

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!

About Connie Lawn

When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.

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DCSki Sponsor: Canaan Valley Resort

Reader Comments

April 13, 2004
This banning of snowboards is a joke. Fortunately it will surely end here pretty soon. Last time I was at Alta we didnt see anyone between the ages of 5 and 30 all day long. Soon Alta will be the all-AARP resort. How long can this last? I know many who have switched from skiing to snowboarding. But who has ever switched from snowboarding to skiing? It cant be long until the Altas, Deer Valleys, and Taos-es of the world will join the rest of us in reality.
April 14, 2004
As an older skier with four skiing kids (and one boarding switch hitter), naturally I'm more accepting of their ski only policies. Although if I planned some sort of extended family ski trip I might have to rule out those destinations because of boarders in the group. Interesting that in good old capitalistic America, they apparently can make it financially even though they cut out 30-40% of potential patrons. Deer Valley isn't going to draw too many younger folks on tight budgets anyway. Wonder if some marketing type could explain if/how the ski only niche they fill actually works in their favor as magnet for folks who like that kind of exclusivity. Ask me how I think about all this after the first boarders only resort opens up on a great mountain!?
April 14, 2004
I also think that the skiers only policy is a sobbish attitude. Once the profit drops off, they'll see the light. I and my daughter ski but my friend that comes with us on most (if not all) of our trips rides a board. I personally don't care what equipment you ride/slide. As long as it is done responsibly and with courtesy, we can all have fun out there together!

April 14, 2004
I don't see how this type of segregation is feasible given the growth of boarding in the industry, but as Jim said, they must be making ends meet or they would not continue the practice. The sad part of the story is that alternative resorts for boarders in NM such as Santa Fe do not compare to Taos in terms of extent and expert terrain. Telluride is the closest comparable resort, and that's a long way away.

I certainly am glad that no resort in this area has a similar system of apartheid. I'm a skier but I will not visit resorts that have such policies.

April 14, 2004
Well, I didn't switch completely from snowboarding to skiing, but I did learn to ski after I was an intermediate snowboarder. Now I love to do both. Around the mid-Atlantic I usually snowboard; out west I usually ski on the steep and bumpy stuff, and toss a coin on the powder days. I'm an avid rider, and I also enjoy skiing at a skier-only mountain (Alta).
It sounds like Taos is a different situation for riders than Alta, because a place like Snowbird isn't a mile down the road, but I think in the end business decisions based on profit and loss will determine the policy there. If they've found a market niche catering to skiers only, more power to them. I'll keep going to places that offer more options, but I can appreciate the appeal that a skiers-only mountain might have for some. I don't know much about ski area management, but I might guess an all-AARP resort would stay in business for a long time. Chad, you may be on to something there...
April 16, 2004
I used to live in NM and skiied several times at Taos. Its truely an outstanding mountain. I snowboard now and have for about the past 8 years. I can say without hesitation that I would drop the board and pick up my tele's for a few days of skiing there. They have a good thing going and it probably won't change for a long time
April 17, 2004
Yes this trend is still alive in a few places. Me personally I don't care (probably because I do both but am a better skier) but a lot of other people do care. They don't like to be in the same place as riders, and their objection is indeed factual:

1) Skiers don't have a blind side, unlike boarders. For you skier who get all ticked off at riders "cutting you off" they are not doing it on purpose or because they "can't ride" .. they really can't see you so be careful when you are turning into a rider's blind side.

2) I have oberserved over and over again the retardedness of both skiers and riders on difficult ungroomed terrain. I have no idea why people go into stuff they can't handle and just try to wallow their way through it. None the less, because the snowboard is an easier tool to manage I see lots of low-level riders slipping on heel-side and mowing down an otherwise nice powder run. The skiers just fall, wallow, post-hole, walk, make one turn and fall again. So that is why some upper level skiers don't like low-riders because of this.

Financially Alta, Taos and Deer Valley will probably always be able to keep their policies. I do believe the current new-school tend is back to twin-tip park skiing (at least out west), away from snowboarding. In fact I think this trend is a partial back-lash from older adults now getting into riding; snowboarding is becoming a bit mainstream now and folks like Po' Boyz Productions, etc are bringing in a new generation of park skiers. In the park I see it is about 40% park skiers, %60 riders.
Connie Lawn
April 17, 2004
Thank you for all your great, thoughtful messages!
I just like to see us all be able to enjoy the snow and the mountains, and get down anyway we like. Obviously, we cannot dictate policy for the resorts. Ultimately they, and the market, will determine their policy.
I am much more nervous about extreme crowds on the mountains than I am about the kind of equipment used.
Try to enjoy the summer, friends! Yours, Connie

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