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Firsthand Report: Taos Ski Valley 6
Author thumbnail By Connie Lawn, DCSki Columnist

Ski Taos, New Mexico, February 11, 2005

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

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.

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About Connie Lawn

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

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Reader Comments

February 24, 2005
So how was the skiing? I enjoy reading travel log type stories but I enjoy reading about skiing even more, especially at a place with the kind of terrain that Taos has. Would enjoy seeing some pictures too, even if it's just your tracks in the powder.
February 24, 2005
So how was the skiing? I enjoy reading travel log type stories but I enjoy reading about skiing even more, especially at a place with the kind of terrain that Taos has. Would enjoy seeing some pictures too, even if it's just your tracks in the powder.
Connie Lawn
February 25, 2005
Dear Denis - thanks for your comments - I appreciate them. We had a camera, but could get no decent photos. I thought I was diplomatic in saying the skiing was a challenge, in the bad conditions. We only had 2 days in Taos, and didn't even ski the second day. If you check the article I wrote last April on Taos, there are more descriptions and great photos. I did not want to be too redundant. Having said that, I am hoping Taos can send me some photos of the extreme events. Again, thanks for writing - please keep doing so. Yours, Connie Lawn
February 25, 2005

I just read that story. Very nice. I love Taos. Have been there twice, most recently 15 years ago and I think it is past time to go back. They have had a lot of bad snow years in the past decade but by all accounts this year is a very good one.

Scott Schilling
February 28, 2005
I heard you on the radio today and thought I would check out your review of Taos. I grew up and currently live in Northern New Mexico. It is always a treat to go skiing at Taos. I love to start the day with first tracks down the Totemoff tuck (7 miles of downhill to start the blood flowing). Next time you visit the area and want to ski a little known area, please try Pajarito Mountain http://www.skipajarito.com/. It is only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and has no lift lines. It is not the 2,000 feet of vertical that Taos has, but the 1,000 feet and no lines gets the legs plenty of fun. Plus a little sack lunch on the back of the mountain looking into the Valle Grande is unbeatable. We always like new snow, so I hope you show!
Connie Lawn
March 1, 2005
Thanks Scott - great comments. I hope to return to New Mexico each year. The ski areas are real gems!
Please keep writing.

Ski and Tell

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