Ski Taos, New Mexico, February 11, 2005
We loved Taos when we first skied it last April, and we still love it. It is a steep, challenging mountain with plenty of snow and a vast variety of runs. It also exudes a warm, friendly atmosphere, comprised of 3 major cultures - European (and their American descendants), Hispanic, and Native American. They all join together to create Taos Mountain and Ski valley - one of the most charming places anywhere in America. After only two visits to Taos, we really felt as though we were rejoining family.
As in any family situation, there are some aspects which are never quite smooth. So we will dispense with them first. Yes, Taos is still one of the few resorts in the country which does not allow snowboarding. Some people return to Taos year after year because of this policy. Others, especially those with family members who only snowboard, are affected by the policy, and go somewhere else. As the Taos family says, “snowboarders are welcome - but not their boards.” They have to give skiing a chance at Taos.
Taos was the hard-fought dream of the founder, Ernie Blake, who emigrated from Germany and Switzerland. Family lore claims one of his dying instructions was to keep the area free of snowboarders. The family members who still run Taos indicate no change in plans. Our press group was fortunate to meet with family members Mickey and Adriana Blake, and Chris Stagg. They told us the policy is often looked at, but no changes are expected. As one said, “we may be famous for sticking it out to the bitter end.” They also pointed out, some areas have changed their policies, but snowboarders did not actually bring in more revenue, since some regular visitors chose not to return. Clearly, it’s an issue tougher to navigate than the 12,481-foot Kachina Peak at Taos!
While the snowboard policy holds, extreme skiing is in. Some really tough races were scheduled for the 2 days we were there. They included the first annual New Mexico Extreme Freeride Championship. I say scheduled, because my husband Charles and I caused it to snow again. As I have said, our motto this year is, “we go, it snows.” There was so much snow and clouds, or fog, that the competition ended at noon on Friday. It was able to resume on Saturday, but the daredevils were not able to perform as boldly as usual. When they did attempt their 25-foot jumps and other heroic feats, it was hard to see them. Still, a great time was had by all, and the parties were in full swing at the legendary bars and restaurants at Taos ski village.
The skiing was excellent at Taos, and there was plenty of powder. It just kept coming. No visibility, but it was like skiing on soft down pillows - lots to cushion you if you wiped out. It was not windy or cold, so the experience was not very extreme. I am happy my husband and I were able to ski Taos in excellent visibility last April, so we could see how magnificent the mountain and village is. Taos has at least 110 runs, which includes the bowls and chutes. 51% of the mountain is listed as expert, and steepness is its trademark. The top of the highest lift is 11,819 feet and the vertical drop is 2,612 feet, or higher if you hike to the top of Kachina Peak.
As usual, I am interested in the World War Two influence from those who developed the mountain. Many were heroes of the Tenth Mountain Division. On our last trip, we were given a fascinating book on the subject, “Ski Pioneers,” by Rick Richards. We have since donated a copy to Radio America Headquarters, where Jim Roberts, in charge of planning the World War Two Memorial, keeps a museum of the development of that memorial. I highly recommend that book to anyone interested in the Second World War, and in the equally fascinating campaign by the survivors who were not deterred in their dream to create a dramatic ski center. They faced tremendous odds - the steepness, cold, avalanche danger (which exists throughout the West - especially this year) and numerous setbacks, but they endured.
Modern day Taos Ski Valley has a number of comfortable chalets and restaurants to escape the rigors of the mountains. Our group ate in two which were exceptionally excellent - “Extreme Steaks” in the Ammizette Inn and Rhoda’s Restaurant. Rhoda’s is named for founder Ernie Blake’s widow. She is a remarkable lady, sometimes referred to as “the Baroness of the Ski Valley.” As a bride, she climbed Taos peak and helped to design and develop some of the ski runs. Ernie is said to have praised his wife’s prowess, saying she developed into a better skier than he!
There is an enormous variety of lodging in Taos. Most of the chalets near the slopes are small, family-owned enterprises. They give guests the feeling they are living with the families, and are part of them. This year we stayed in the clean and charming Columbine Inn. It is owned by an industrious young couple, Paul Geilenfeldt and Susie Durkee-Geilenfeldt. It has the usual comforts - including an indoor hot tub, a buffet breakfast, and a free shuttle to the lifts and to the airport. Prices are reasonable - as usual, package deals are best.
If you don’t want to fly out of Taos (I chickened out, because I was afraid to fly a small plane in the snow), shuttle buses pick you up at the door of all the lodges, and take you to the Albuquerque airport, 3 hours a way. Cost was $45 one-way. There are some very expensive hotels in the city of Taos and some corporate hotels and condos are in the works in the Taos ski village. And, like snowboarding, they are controversial. The majority of residents want to maintain their “Taos flavor,” and prefer small scale “Mom and Pop” operations to the big developments. As the Blake family says, they don’t want to be the “Disneyland of skiing.”
Little danger of that! Taos is likely to retain its charming, friendly, family atmosphere for years to come. The snowboard debate will continue, but the resort will maintain its loyal ski fans who like it that way. In any case, I thoroughly enjoy New Mexico, especially during the bitter cold winter months of January and February. I hope we can return each year, and encourage others to “think New Mexico” when making trips out West.
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.
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