Vacay.ca occasionally publishes articles on destinations outside of Canada. In this article, Vacay.ca Writer Lisa Monforton heads for the ski hills of New Mexico.
Story by Lisa Monforton
TAOS, NEW MEXICO — “Don’t panic! You’re looking at only 1/30th of Taos Ski Valley. We have many easy runs, too,” reads the sign at the base of Lift 1.
The cheeky signage is the first thing we notice as we hop on the gentle chairlift that sets our first impressions of Taos Ski Valley on a brilliant blue sky day in early February. That and the guy skiing around in an Uncle Sam stars-and-stripes ski getup.
But no one is talking politics here. Everyone’s soaking up the sun and seeking out delightfully long fall lines, the views, the Euro-meets-southwest apres. And, of course, the pow.
The unpretentious resort has historically appealed to mainly locals. We knew Taos’s reputation was laid back; even the chairlifts take their time. But we were about to discover its wilder side — altitude with attitude.
We headed up Lift 1 (all the lifts are numbered) above Al’s Run — a long, bump-filled black diamond that you’d likely tackle only after giving your thighs a wake-up call. Al’s is just a warm-up to some of the surlier steeps spread out over this 1,300-acre resort.
While we made the 30-minute drive from the town of Taos through the Grand Hondo Canyon, we didn’t notice the peaks we were heading towards. The highest is Kachina, at 3,804 metres (12,481 feet) on the resort’s back side, in the Sangre De Cristo mountain range. It sits at the southern tip of the Rockies in northern New Mexico.
Ahh, so there really is a very valid reason for that sign down at the base.
In New Mexico, Fresh Fun on the Ski Hills
The Kachina chairlift opened in 2015 to the consternation of the exclusive set who used to hike up the slope to reach this peak that looks out to the state’s highest point, Wheeler Ridge. The lift makes it accessible to any advanced skier who makes the ascent, which isn’t complete without a selfie next to the rainbow-coloured Himalayan prayer flags fluttering in the breeze. (And, if you really want to hike up, head over to Highline Ridge or West Basin Ridge.)
Taos Ski Valley has long been known for its steeps, chutes and gnarly double-black diamonds, delivering the goods to skiers and riders with a penchant for wild, heart-pumping terrain. Black “expert” signs mark 51 per cent of the runs here.
It’s other claim to fame was its snowboarding ban until 2008, a highly contentious issue. But that’s in the past. Taos Ski Valley is very much about moving into the future, with talk of becoming a four-season resort.
Kachina’s pitchy verts became my ski mates’ favourites. I preferred to veer off into the sweet short-and-sassy single blacks like Hunziker Bowl, Lower Inferno and Zagava. The thighs can catch a rest on the long and loopy blues, like Lower Stauffenberg, and meandering, still-longer lazy greens, like Whitefeather, that bring you back to the base for apres.
The variety of runs made everyone happy. So did the apres options, like the mid-mountain Bavarian, where the servers dress in traditional German costumes, hoist steins (even a 32-ouncer, if you’re so inclined) and elevated ski resort food like goulash and apple strudel with ice cream.
There is plenty of tradition here, but these days the resort is tweaking its image to appeal to families and the cruiser crowd like me, as it embarks on a new era of ownership and new offerings.
The Blake is a new hotel named after the family that owned and operated the resort up until a few years ago. Ernie and Rhoda Blake, the patriarch and matriarch, are still legendary with nods to them on and off the hill. The bar and restaurant of the hotel is called 192, named after the tail wing number of the airplane Ernie flew between his Colorado and New Mexico ski playgrounds.
In 2013, Louis Bacon, a hedge-fund investor and conservationist, bought the resort and is fulfilling Ernie’s decades-old aspirations. Like the Kachina chairlift. And more places for heads in beds, like the Blake, all part of a $350-million investment planned over the next eight years.
It all adds up to a pleasant surprise of a ski holiday, one that is not on the radar of many Canadians — but should be.
MORE ABOUT VISITING TAOS SKI VALLEY
Where to Stay: The Blake, which opened on February 1, looks like it’s been there all along. It melds an understated decor of Spanish and Pueblo themes and cool historic photos all around the building. The kiva fireplace in 192 restaurant is the perfect place to warm up while you’re waiting for your friends before breakfast, lunch or dinner. Nightly room rates for a weekend stay in March start at around $525 CDN ($400 USD).
The Bavarian-styled St. Bernard Hotel & Condominiums would appeal to the traditionalist with its nightly prix-fixe French-inspired menu and the cosy Rathskeller bar for apres drinks. All-inclusive weekly rates are about $3,275 CDN ($2,500 USD), based on double occupancy, and include three meals per day, daily lift tickets, ski lessons and more.
Where to Eat: The Bavarian and the St. Bernard were my favourites. The Blake, though we didn’t get to try it, has a casual menu of flatbreads and tapas, local craft beers and cocktails. In the town of Taos and area, there are lots of dining choices. A few we enjoyed:
Taos Mesa Brewing: Choose from two locations, one on the town’s main street and the other on the outskirts, the cooler location of the two sites, with live music every night, a dance floor and a fun mix of locals and tourists.
Taos Inn: Dubbed Taos’s “living room,” this funky spot is adobe styled (like nearly everything else here) and is an ideal place to spend a relaxed evening with Tex-Mex food, a lengthy margarita list and live music.
Gear rentals: Cottam’s has locations in Taos and on the hill for those who need to rent skis. The Blake also has a new rental shop on its premises.
Shuttle: The Chile Line Shuttle has pick-up points in Taos to bring skiers up to the ski resort.