Let’s Take it to Taos

(Last Updated On: February 15, 2013)

Frank and I have been talking about a trip to Taos since the year I moved to Crested Butte, but it was not until this year that this long-anticipated trip came to fruition. Being a remote ski area offering top-notch steep terrain, Taos Ski Valley is a close sister to Crested Butte Mountain resort. Though Frank had skied in Taos before, I had not set my skis on their slopes. I was pleasantly surprised to find the ski area chock full of superb terrain, friendly locals, good snow, and lots of potential. The one thing Taos was devoid of was lift lines – even on a pow-day.

When tourists approach TSV, they can be deceived. As I walked toward the base area, I kept wondering, “where do we ski?”. The heart of the skiing is hidden behind the initial ridge.

Photo courtesy of Taos Ski Valley.

But the offerings are not hard to find. Just take Lift 5 to Lift 2, and turn right to hike the ridge. 1,300 acres of skiing are at your feet, including the steeps of the West Basin as well as off the Highline ridge, shown below.
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Photo courtesy of Taos Ski Valley

Frank dropping in to our first run of the day on Juarez.
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The ridge hike is full of stunning views all the way down to the plains of New Mexico.
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Riding up Chair 7A with some of Taos’s famous terrain behind.
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We did the ridge hike several times that day, enjoying some good snow days after the last storm.
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We skied until close, and when the day was done, we grabbed a beer at the famed St. Bernard.
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Jean Mayer, a Frenchman, landed in Taos in 1958, a couple of years after the ski area opened. While he served as the technical director for the ski school, he also established the St. Bernard Hotel as a premier hotel for TSV’s visitors. Jean continues to serve his guests on a regular basis. And the hotel remains as a living museum of Taos’s history with its Euro-meets-west eclectic vibe.
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First rocker skis 😉
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While we sipped on our Bavarian beverages, we watched flakes fly on the other side of the windows. The storm was here. And as we left, the base area was blanketed in white:
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We knew the next day would be golden.

Ernie the Earnest

Taos Ski Valley was established by Ernie Blake in the late 1950’s. Ernie Blake was actually a former German. His family, of Jewish heritage, defected to America in 1938 as the Nazis gained power. After marrying, he pursued jobs in the ski industry, eventually ending up in Santa Fe. It was during that time that Ernie discovered the region that would become the Taos Valley Ski area. Ernie had to make flights regularly on his self-piloted Cessna to commute between Sunlight Ski area (near Glenwood Springs, CO) and Santa Fe ski area, where he was a ski manager. He noticed the basin where TSV is presently located held a lot of snow, and also had an old mining road running straight up into it, providing relatively easy access. In 1955, Ernie chased his dream of owning his own ski area. He moved his wife, Rhoda, and their children, into a camper at the base of Taos Ski Valley in 1955. Even after the passing of Ernie Blake in 1989, the ski area is still family owned and operated.

Ernie Blake hiking on the ridge. Photo courtesy of Taos Ski Valley.

Taos Takes on the Times

Taos is a unique ski area. Take bit of Bavaria and merge it with the Hispanic heritage of the Sangre de Cristos and put it all in a remote village in a tightly packed valley in the mountains of New Mexico and you have Taos Ski Valley. The ski area is old-school, from its lodges to its slow-speed chairs. But, at TSV, there is never a need to be in a rush. Crowds don’t exist here. Think old-school Alta or A-Basin before high-speed quads and the bombardment of city weekend warriors. Taos sits in its own place and time.

But, clearly, even with all its charm, TSV could use an update. So, the Development Plan came to birth.

The United States Forest Service recently approved a Master Development Plan for Taos Ski Valley, so there will be some big changes over the next 10 years. Some of the changes aren’t overly exciting, such as a tubing hill and a reconfiguration of some of the parking lots at the base area. Others are pretty big.

-Mountain Biking: Taos has not yet joined the ranks of ski areas with mountain bike trails. That will change this summer, with a brand new lift accessed trail slated to open at the start of the summer. Combined with other trails already available in the area, Taos might become a mountain bike destination in the future.

-Upgraded Lifts: Taos’ lifts are in need of some updating, so look for lifts 4 and 5 to become high-speed quads, and lift 7 will upgrade from a triple to a quad.

-Main mountain glading: If you’ve ever skied on the Rubezahl trail between the “upper” base area (lift 4/ Phoenix grill) and the main base area, you’ve probably noticed the large area above with no runs. This area is currently heavily treed, but selective glading will open this area up in the near future.

-A new West ridge lift: The farthest reaches of the West ridge require quite a bit of hiking. With a small new lift, this area will be easier to access, and even more glading on the backside will add additional terrain. The heart of the West basin (trails like Oster and Stauffenberg) will still require a short hike, as will Highline ridge, so snow quality shouldn’t suffer.

-A lift up Kachina Peak. This, obviously, is the big news, though it was first proposed way back in 1965 by Ernie Blake himself. The terrain of Kachina Peak is amazing, but since a lap there currently takes around 45 minutes, it’s tough to spin very many laps there. While a new lift will take away from the snow quality in Kachina, due to the increased traffic, it is hoped that a backcountry gate will also be part of the equation, so the terrain surrounding Kachina will be accessible. Currently, Taos Ski Valley has a closed boundary policy, so a new bc gate would add a lot of newly accessible terrain.

For more information, click HERE for a PDF map.

Kachina Peak. Photo courtesy of Taos Ski Valley.

Taos Take Two

Day two at Taos was the best day we’ve had so far this season. With 8 inches of fresh snow, more falling throughout the day, and access to the fantastic steep terrain that TSV has to offer, this day brought smile after smile, alternating with only with face shots.

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We met up with a few different locals that day, including Sarah and Andy.
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We were having too much fun skiing to take very many pics, but here’s a couple of me enjoying the West Basin.
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As the day neared an end, the clouds began to lift, creating a soft and inspiring light.
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On our way home we made a quick stop at the Rio Grande.
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But our hearts remained among the snow-capped peaks above.
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The Wrap

Taos is not as hard to get to as you might think. Colorado’s Front Range skiers are often loathing the horrific I-70 traffic. To avoid it, they head to places like Wolf Creek or Silverton, or even Crested Butte. I know, because I was one of them once. But, here’s some Google Maps stats for you. The drive time from Denver to Crested Butte is listed at 4 hours 23 minutes and 4 hours and 34 minutes to Wolf Creek. Shockingly, the drive time to Taos is only 3 minutes more, at 4 hours and 37 minutes. Just because Taos is in another state doesn’t mean it’s that far away. Compare that with a drive from Denver to Silverton or Telluride, both 2 hours longer and traveling over much more treacherous mountain terrain. So, Front Rangers, you should be getting your game on in Taos! I would if I were you.

To top it all, Taos is also very affordable to visit. Deals on tickets can be regularly found on Liftopia. But, even their most expensive tickets top out at $75, a good $20 to $30 less than the average Colorado ski area. The close proximity of the town of Taos allows for affordable lodging, and excellent southwestern cuisine.

There are the Vail’s of the West and the Stowe’s of the East, but some ski areas stand out on their own. Taos is one of them. Not many ski areas in the US can say that they appeal to all levels of skiers, from beginner to extreme. But, Taos can. It’s a great family getaway, or a superb weekend warrior mission. Whatever your flavor, you’ll find your niche in Taos.

Taos is a place that is hard to leave. Take it from the many long-time locals who still reside there. In riding chairlifts with strangers, we encountered an abnormal number of people who had spent their whole lives in Taos – a sign that Taos is indeed a hidden treasure.

Brittany Walker Konsella

Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things,Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate 🙂 Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

Brittany Walker Konsella

Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things, Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate :) Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

4 thoughts on “Let’s Take it to Taos

  • February 15, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Taos…is my favorite area anywhere. A little partial being from NM, but I strangely never skied it while growing up there. I didn’t have the skills yet, hah.

    You hit the nail on the head with the mix of Bavarian & southwestern influences making it so incredibly unique. Oh yeah. And those steeps. And desert sunsets. Cripes!

    I am not so wild about the proposed west ridge and Kachina lifts though. Maybe west ridge won’t have a ton of impact, but a Kachina lift reminds me of the new six pack to the top of Parsenn at Mary Jane. Just loses allure, and of course the snow will be chewed up instantly. I’m a stubborn old coot in some respects, as slower lifts (as you mention) aren’t a problem to me. The snow lasts longer, no crowds as you mention, and no traffic to race against.

    I also have to add that it’s amongst the most friendly of areas I’ve ever skied. This is in large part to the number of Texans who frequent the area on holiday, no joke (mixed in with humble locals). I’ve lost count how many chipper conversations have begun by someone asking us, “Where ya’ll from?” on the lift. The bro/brah ‘tude is pretty much nonexistent, esp for how gnarly some of the terrain is.

    Fun story. My aunt went to UNM in Albuquerque with Ernie Blake’s daughter, and said she wasn’t a very focused student as she was more consumed with getting to Taos every weekend than her studies. LOL!

    I could go on. Hah. Glad you guys enjoyed the trip.

  • February 17, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Agreed, Keith. Kachina will often sport moguls with a lift, which is definitely a bummer. But Taos will gain a backcountry gate, which would be awesome considering the current closed boundary as well as the somewhat limited backcountry options due to the reservation.

    We also noticed the lack of a bro-brah scene there. The snow didn’t get shredded nearly as quickly as it would on a pow day in places like Alta-Bird, Squaw, Jackson, or even Crested Butte where there are just gangs of good skiers pillaging every pow stash. The snow lasts better in Taos, partly because of the short hikes, but also due to the lack of a “scene”. Which is sweet.

    Oh, and Orlando’s was amazing for dinner- and go ahead and try their avocado pie- we decided it was a combo of cheesecake, key lime pie, and avocado.

  • December 13, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    Nice write up here! The Kachina lift is built and ready to open as soon as we have enough snow. The one thing I don’t agree with you on is having a backcountry gate. That is something that wouldn’t be suitable for the terrain accessed from the top of Kachina, and it’s something most locals don’t want. Having lift serviced access to the Wheeler Peak Wilderness wouldn’t be a good idea, it is very steep and rugged terrain. Wilderness Bowl and Lake Fork Mountains, the areas that would be accessed if there were a gate, are avalanche prone and require knowledge of the lines and routes to avoid getting cliffed out. Each of these mountains drain into large paths that slide naturally pretty often. If there was a gate on Kachina people who don’t understand the area would be getting into terrain they aren’t ready for. We have plenty of great inbounds terrain especially now with a lift on Kachina (which is already moguled out within hours of opening so snow quality isn’t an issue), and we have some stellar, tho limited, backcountry terrain that doesn’t need a lift accessed gate. The William’s Lake trail begins near the bottom of lift 4 and allows easy access to the entire basin. The Pueblo land boundary is about a mile south of Kachina Peak and the ridge south and above William’s Lake is the boundary. A gate on Kachina probably wouldn’t create any conflict with the Pueblo, the issues are more about the ruggedness of the closer terrain. There are lines that look skiable from the top that run into large cliff bands. The west side of Kachina and Lake Fork drains into the East Fork of the Hondo River below Vallecito Mountain. Even locals who know this area have gotten lost and a horse was even abandoned in there because it’s dense forest with tons of trees down and other obstacles to navigate, and the route out is a 4 mile long creekbed with no developed trails. It wouldn’t be a very pleasant experience for anyone who dropped into that side without knowing what they were getting into. Taos Ski Valley does not currently have a developed search and rescue team and the Ski Valley’s Ski Patrol has said in the past they are not interested in performing out of bounds rescues, tho this may be a changing factor with the Ski Valley’s new owner and much needed modernization beginning to unfold. The Kachina lift is good for the ski area, it’s been in the development plan for decades, and it’s not going to ruin any of the skiing or experience at TSV. A backcountry gate would however, in my opinion as a longtime local backcountry user, have a negative impact on this area and what this place is within our western mountain culture. If you’d like to keep updated on current conditions in the Taos region, as well as see pics and reports from the Taos backcountry, check out our informal forum, the Northern New Mexico Avalanche Exchange; http://www.nnmae.org/phpbb3

  • December 13, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    Thanks JB for all of your local input and insights! We really appreciate it! We certainly would NOT want people wallowing in dense forest and getting lost 😉 Hopefully we’ll be able to head down this year to experience the new Kachina! Taos is a great place to ski 🙂

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