Taos Trip Report
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Roger Z
February 24, 2007
Member since 01/16/2004 🔗
2,181 posts
Hey All-

Just got back from a weeklong trip to NM that included two days of skiing at Taos. Since today it is pouring rain here in Kansas and all I have on my plate is to work on my taxes (yay), seems like a perfect morning to write up a good, comprehensive trip report! (oh, btw, my parents are in CV this weekend and an email from them last night said there was lots of snow out there. Is this true? Haven't been able to keep up with the weather since I left).

Taos may be one of the oddest places weather-wise I have ever skied. The town of Taos is 2,500 feet lower than the mountain and is often ten degress or more warmer than the BASE of the ski resort. It was 50 degrees both days we were in town for a high, whereas the base of Taos never broke 35. The whole way to the mountain- usually- you're driving through desert with very little or no snow at all. The creek that drains the box canyon in which Taos resides is tiny. It's pretty odd to think that a canyon the size of the one that Taos resides is drained by a creek that is barely five feet wide (on the other hand, I drove across a "river" in western NM yesterday- it was actually called a river- that you could step across without jumping). And the entire climate changes in about 100 yards. You go from driving through the desert to pinon pine, then you round a rock and you're suddenly in spruce/ponderoasa/aspen forests with deep snow and getting deeper as you go up the canyon.

Then you arrive at Taos. If it is sunny and above about 17 degrees, the first thing you do is you strip off most of your layers because it feels like friggin' Cancun. I'm only mildly exaggerating here. The first day we barely hit 30 degrees and I skied in a) a thermal shirt and b) a vest the whole day, and was hot for much of it. When it gets cloudy and breezy like it did on the second day, you layer up just like anywhere else, but when you're that far south and that high up, you just feel WARM all the time. It's kind of a nice feeling, but kind of odd too when you're from the northeast/Mid-A, where you have three layers on in almost any temp.

Now, you probably noticed earlier that I said it was 35 at the base of Taos. Last weekend temps were pretty near average, so I'm guessing that highs in the mid 30s are pretty common for Taos. That means more ice than you'd expect to find at a western Rocky Mountain resort. There is almost a daily thaw and refreeze that occurs across at least the bottom 1,000 feet of the mountain (and higher up on slopes that face into the morning or afternoon sun), so Taos is more dependent on manmade snow than you'd expect. As a matter of fact, the first day there the beginner and intermediate runs started fast and slicked out as skier traffic wore off the top layer- just like back east. It was kind of surprising. They had just received 14 inches of snow three days ago and I was wondering where it all went- on the beginner and intermediate runs.

The other weird thing about Taos is you can almost never see much of the ski resort. The mountain unfolds in four different spots, each facing a slightly different direction northward, and is split by steep ridgelines. The mountain is really not very big so if you go there for a week it behooves you to take a day or two to try out Angel Fire or Red River or Sipapu, all about 45 minutes to an hour from the town of Taos.

Oh, one other non-skiing point. The box canyon is absolutely spectacular. Breathtaking. One of the prettiest spots I've skied. Deep pine forests and a mix of 13,000 foot peaks surround the resort, some of which are rounded like the Front Range and some of them are about as jagged as the Alps. The views change on every lift. There's a particularly nice looking bowl about a day's snowshoe away from the mountain that would be an OUTSTANDING backcountry experience.

Okay, HERE'S THE PART WHERE THE SKIING STORY BEGINS IF YOU WANT TO SKIP OVER THE REST OF THAT ABOVE!!! What can be said about Taos' skiing? First, there is more beginner and intermediate skiing than you might think. Taos does an amazing job with their grooming- their grooming report makes it look like they haven't touched much of their terrain but in actuality a seemingly-large amount of acreage is groomed out very nicely. The second day we had about two inches of snow, but the wind was howling so I had low expectations for the non-expert terrain holding the snow. But lo and behold! The groomers had groomed the freshies right into the base and suddenly the beg/int runs had gone from eastern-slick to western-heavenly in just one night, and because of a lack of skier traffic they pretty much stayed that way all day, with a few push-piles forming in the heavier-trafficed spots toward the end of the day.

However, if you have a beginner skier along they would probably not like this mountain. There is a spot in almost every beginner/novice trail that plunges as steep as an intermediate run. However, there are several stretches on intermediate runs that are less steep than what you would find on the greens. I think for this reason intermediates would truly enjoy the hill for two or three days, because there is a lot of variety to keep them occupied- including here and there some short, semi-steep mogul fields that they can safely practice on to become a better skier.

Now how about that legendary expert terrain? Let's divide this into three parts: the lift-serviced, the west basin and highline/Kachina.

Lift serviced expert terrain is almost disappointing. It's not particularly steep. What you will notice, however, is because it's lift serviced, it has a lot of skier traffic and consequently it has some of the nastiest, gnarliest moguls you can ever imagine. Try Ruby Gully off the Kachina Lift for a sample. It will make you a better mogul skier if you work it, because it's so tough.

More generally, lift-serviced, or no, a lot of the steep terrain doesn't go on for a long time. Most of it is done after 400 or 500 vertical feet (with the exception of Kachina Peak, which one local told me was actually a long intermediate run). The one exception to this is the Longhorn trail, which is a relentless mogul field that twists down 1,400 feet of vertical in a style very reminiscent of Mad River Glen. I think Longhorn is probably an old run and is definitely one of the most difficult endurance runs on the mountain. Immediately left of Longhorn- accessed via Lorelei- is the steepest run I skied on either day: Pierre's. I think it's a new run and that S.O.B. is nasty and pure joy. It's about eight feet wide and plummets right down the ridge that separates the front face from the Lift 7 bowl area. There's even a cliff about five turns down the drop that you either ski over or around. Beneath the cliff was some of the best snow I skied either day, puff powder with a few widely scattered moguls. Then Pierre's dumps into Longhorn and it's more excruciating mogul fields down to the run-out.

But the real expert skiing is the ridgelines at Taos. As a matter of fact, I'd say that if the ridges aren't open, it's almost not worth going there. West Basin Ridge has a few chutes immediately to the right of the summit lifts that you can easily ski. Further to the right, however, is the "Thunderbird" complex, and I was warned- and heeded the warning- not to ski this area without someone intimately familiar with it. There are several beautiful, inviting chutes in this area but unfortunately there is a hellish rock field above it that you have to be able to thread. If you don't know where you're going you can wind up in a world of hurt very quickly. So I stayed away from that both days, although I wouldn't mind trying it someday if I could find someone that could guide me through the rock garden.

Highline Ridge is where I spent most of my hike-to time. Be warned: everything east of Juarez Bowl gets closed at about 1:45, so get your hiking in early. I didn't realize that and that's how I missed my chance to ski Kachina Peak on Sunday. The neat thing about the ridge isn't that the terrain is particularly steep- it seems to be on par with 9990 or Jupiter Peak at Park City- but all of the options available up there. An expert could easily ski Taos for a week because you're always learning how to get to different chutes and faces and exposures. I happily found Twin Trees Chute but didn't realize until after I got there how to get over to an even steeper chute immediately to skier's left, that parallels a beautiful rock wall. Well, it was after 2, so I never got a chance to try that second chute.

The ridges are high, not skied too frequently (simply because there are hundreds of acres for people to spread out on), and therefore hold snow really, really well. Kachina Peak has multiple routes down, including some hair-raising chutes on it's north shoulder that are in-bounds but unmarked.

So although Taos in some ways skis small, a solid skier in good shape could spend a LOT of time exploring it and having a blast. Overall, however, I'd say it's better as a long weekend than a destination resort, because the terrain off the ridges is more limited than you'd find at other western spots. That and the village is kind of small.

That said, I'd highly recommend it. I had a blast and feel that my skiing improved significantly skiing there. The scenery, terrain, and snow up on the ridges is well worth the trip. Can't imagine what that ridge must be like on a sunny powder day!!!
JimK - DCSki Columnist
February 24, 2007
Member since 01/14/2004 🔗
2,728 posts
Quote:


The other weird thing about Taos is you can almost never see much of the ski resort. The mountain unfolds in four different spots, each facing a slightly different direction northward, and is split by steep ridgelines.




Thanks for taking the time to do the write up Roger. Your impressions pretty much jive with those I had from my only one day visit there years ago. Esp comment above. Although I didn't get to explore as much, I was altitude sick and it snowed about 6 inches during my ski day. The whole place seemed like a steeply tilted white blurr to me. The day before was sunny and I went to Ski Santa Fe, there I very much enjoyed the extraordinary desert-mtn landscape you speak of, but that night was when the mild alt sickness began and lasted for about 24 hrs.
I guess one way Taos has always marketed for longer stays is for guests to get into weeklong lessons and gourmet dining each nite in the handful of slopeside lodges.

BTW my understanding was that Taos was having an esp good snow year, so your luke estimate on snow conditions was interesting. Because of their low latitude and sun, I guess even generaous amounts of snow deteriorate fairly quickly?
Roger Z
February 24, 2007
Member since 01/16/2004 🔗
2,181 posts
Quote:

BTW my understanding was that Taos was having an esp good snow year, so your luke estimate on snow conditions was interesting. Because of their low latitude and sun, I guess even generaous amounts of snow deteriorate fairly quickly?




You're right, Jim, they are having a good snow year, but I think maybe the snow is coming in spurts. As a result, it's been settling a bit. I should add to my lukewarm comments, though, that on the ridges there was nary a rock to be found, and the coverage was on the whole significantly better than Park City last month. I've been told that two winters ago was one of their best, and there wasn't a rock to be found around the hill that year. If a couple more blasts hit them, that's likely to be the case again this winter, too.
fishnski
February 24, 2007
Member since 03/27/2005 🔗
3,530 posts
Your parents are right...2 feet in the last week with snow almost everyday since early to mid jan!...Enough about these lowly WV Alpps..Good thing you used your good judgement by not skiing up at the Thunderbird Chutes...Wouldn't want to have to nickname you ROCKY
Denis - DCSki Supporter
February 24, 2007
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,227 posts
I have been to Taos 4 times for trips of anywhere from 4-7 days and I am astonished at your impression that it isn't big enough for more than a weekend!!!!! It is an incredible place. When they have a good snow year I'd rather be there than Alta, or anyplace in Utah or Colo. On my last trip 2 years ago my son and I skied in the trees all the time because it had snowed 30" the day before we came and another 30 on our first day. The West Ridge opened on our last day but Kachina never opened because of avalanche danger and we did see some monster slides (not as they happened but the rubble) We spent most of our time on Maxi's lift and between that and the front lift, the one that you see from the base lodge, there are innumerable glorious steep tree runs between these 2 lifts. On my previous 3 trips I had never known the extent of it. The map shows very few of them (Werner, Longhorn, Lorelei). Some of these unnamed tree chutes were steeper than anything on the west ridge, definitely expert skiing and easily reached with no hiking from the lifts. We saw virtually nobody in there. I now think that Taos has the best tree skiing in the country, and I have been to over 100 ski areas. On big western mountains you have to poke your nose into things and look around. Local knowledge helps of course but if you have a trusted partner (like my son) and some experience doing this you can do it yourself. The experience builds on itself and you suddenly realize that you can sniff out the goods that the locals find.
Roger Z
February 24, 2007
Member since 01/16/2004 🔗
2,181 posts
Well, Denis, I said that "overall" it's a long weekend resort (3-4 days), as in if you have non-expert skiers along. I also said that experts could keep themselves entertained for quite a while there- maybe I should have been more clear. I have no doubt an expert could keep going for a week or longer there- probably a season or more when the conditions are good. I also mentioned Pierre's, which sits on the same ridge as Werner and was easily the steepest run I skied in the two days there (though I'm sure poking around you could find steeper stuff).

Frankly, I'll wait for a local to show me around West Basin. The last couple times I've poked around sketchy terrain like that on my own I've ended up a) skiing across an avalanche chute at Steamboat (bet you didn't know they had those there- they do!) and b) having to hike back up from what appeared to be a 30 foot cliff at Brighton. Those experiences built for me in the sense that I'm not about to start trifling with certain types of terrain on my own anymore- out-of-bounds and rock bands/gardens being the two highest on that list. Maybe if I had a son who could survive me...
SteveC
February 26, 2007
Member since 10/24/2005 🔗
145 posts
Roger your post is very timely! My wife and I are going to Taos March 14-16. This will be my first ski trip anywhere out west and my wife's first ski trip to the Rockies. The info you posted is very helpful (particularly regarding clothing).

I was hoping you could answer a few questions I still had. How long roughly would it take to hike to Kachina peak?
Can you "picnic" at the lodge?
How much time should we allow to get from Taos to the resort?
And do they have lockers or baskets you can rent to store stuff?

Thanks again for the detailed write-up!
Any other info you want to pass on would be greatly appreciated.

BTW: We are both upper intermediate skiers (I like steeps slightly more than she, she is much more graceful than me and we both suck at bumps).
Roger Z
February 26, 2007
Member since 01/16/2004 🔗
2,181 posts
Hi Steve- hope you both have a blast! With regard to your questions (and Denis can probably help where I can't):

Quote:

1)How long roughly would it take to hike to Kachina peak?
2) Can you "picnic" at the lodge?
3) How much time should we allow to get from Taos to the resort?
4) And do they have lockers or baskets you can rent to store stuff?





The answer to 1) is "I'm not sure." A couple of locals suggested 45 minutes, when I told them I was flatlander and suggested 1-1 1/2 hours they said that sounded about right. Be prepared to pace yourself- hiking at 12,000 feet is VERY different than hiking in the Shenandoah. Plus the views are spectacular so it's worth factoring in some extra time.

2) There are some picnic areas around the base available, yes. I think they may mostly be outside though. Though given how warm it feels on a sunny day, you won't mind in the least!

3) 30-35 minutes, mayb 45 minutes if it's snowing

4) Yup. Big locker/basket check facility right by the stairs that lead up to Al's Lift.

Some other useful tidbits:

If you take the little people mover back to your car, they will drop you off RIGHT at your car, all you have to do is yell "Whoa" and they stop. They're pretty friendly that way.

In my opinion, the best intermediate skiing is the 2 runs under the West Basin. Check those out early and ski 'em often! Porcupine to lower White Feather to get to that lift is an excellent warm-up run.

One last thing you and your wife might want to check out: Taos prides itself on it's ski lessons. The second day we were there, a significant minority of the skiers were in ski lessons of some sorts. Since you're both self-described "upper intermediates" who "suck at bumps," this sounds like a prime learning opportunity to hone your skills!
SteveC
February 26, 2007
Member since 10/24/2005 🔗
145 posts
Thanks for the info, especially about the runs under West basin! I'd love to get some lessons while I'm there; I hear the ski school is really good. I'll write-up a report when I get back!

As a sidenote, this is my third year skiing. I've found that I really like the "steep" sectons at Whitetail (mid way down Bold Decision) and Liberty (Upper Ultra). So I'm really looking forward to doing runs like those, except longer. Who knows, maybe once will be enough and I'll be begging for mercy at the bottom, but I'm anxious to try.
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