For many decades it’s been known as an artists’ colony – the town of Taos is full of art galleries and museums showcasing regional artwork, as well as the ‘banned’ paintings of D. H. Lawrence being housed in La Fonda de Taos, a charming hotel in the plaza.
Artists and writers, as well as tourists, have been drawn by crystal clear air you can cut with a palette knife and a purity of light that’s almost spiritual.
The landscape is raw, awe-inspiring, big in every way and mesmerising, with an other-worldly quality. Ancestors of the Taos Indians lived in this valley long before Columbus discovered America – ancient ruins indicate native Americans were here nearly 1,000 years ago.
And Taos is also home to a world-class ski resort that has gained an iconic, cult status.
Taos is a long way south from the previous stop on our American road trip visiting some of the ski resorts in the Ikon Pass season lift ticket scheme. All had so far been in Colorado – Steamboat Springs, Winter Park amd Eldora. Now the SatNav was guiding us, firstly on Interstate 25 South, to New Mexico, a five-hour drive from Eldora.
I’ve visited Taos many times before – but first-timers become more and more doubtful the closer you get that there can possibly be a ski resort anywhere here.
The town of Taos is surrounded by high level desert plateaux and sagebrush often wafts across the arrow-straight roads in front of you. We left Interstate 25 shortly after Apache City and, on roads sometimes free of other traffic for miles, reached Taos via Rough Mountain, Fort Garland, San Luis and Garcia, where we crossed the state line into New Mexico.
Before long we’d left the desert and were heading up from Taos town through a deep, boulder-strewn canyon beside a tumbling river, the road twisting and turning ever upwards.
Suddenly, there was Taos Ski Valley, the village at 2,840-metres (9,320-ft) – and rising from the base area the towering, heavily-mogulled Al’s Run. The sight of this intimidating slope has caused many a car full of Texans to do a rapid U-turn and head straight back down the canyon. That’s why they put a sign up in the parking lot saying, reassuringly: ‘Don’t panic. From here you can see only 1/15th of Taos skiing. We have easy runs too.‘
The sign’s in storage at the moment with remodelling of the parking area in progress, but they plan to put it back.
Taos Ski Valley was founded by Ernie Blake, with his wife Rhoda, in 1956. Ernie was born Ernst Hermann Bloch in Germany in 1913, grew up in Switzerland, close to the ski resort of St Moritz, and emigrated to New York in 1938.
He worked for US military intelligence during the Second World War, after which he assisted in the interrogation of leading Nazis Hermann Goring and Albert Speer. His code name was the anglicised Ernie Blake, and, after the war, he chose it as his real name.
A few years later, while flying a small plane between the ski areas he was helping to run in Santa Fe and Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Ernie spotted the snowy surroundings of Wheeler Peak – and became convinced this was the perfect site for his dream resort.
He moved Rhoda and children Mickey, Wendy and Peter, to a trailer in the valley, leased the land and began building ski lifts – Taos Ski Valley was born.
It’s one of the loftiest of resorts, with the top Kachina Peak lift station at 12,481-ft (we used to hike up there before the lift was built), embracing some of the steepest and most challenging couloirs and glades in North America.
The couloirs of Stauffenberg, Zdarsky, Oster and St Bernard, to name just a few, are wild, spectacular and very steep. The plunging double-diamond glades of Walkyries, Sir Arnold Lunn and Longhorn combine charm and challenge in equal measure.
This is serious skiing in a singular location and takes Taos to a high position on my shortlist of the world’s top resorts (and don’t worry, the old sign is accurate, there are lots of easy cruising runs too!).
My son Mark, taking a break from ski-teaching in Whistler to join me on the road trip, agrees. ‘Taos has an amazing amount of exciting terrain packed into a compact area – it has some of the best skiing I’ve seen anywhere, in Europe, North America or Japan,’ he enthused. And he raved about the Faction skis, a pair of Chapters and a pair of Candides, we’ve been testing on the trip. ‘Taos gave them the perfect workout,’ he said. ‘And they were fabulous in the chutes, on the gnarly stuff and on piste too.’
One thing Taos Ski Valley is not in the top league for is nightlife. It’s quiet! But down in Taos town it’s a different story. The Taos Inn is jumping most nights, at its Doc Martins Restaurant or in its Adobe Bar – known as ‘the living room of Taos’ by locals and visitors alike. With great live music, it’s one of our favourite bars near one of our favourite ski resorts.
Rob skied in the Taos Ski Valley and saved money by buying an Ikon Pass.
Rob used the Hertz online America Road Trip Planner and he flew Heathrow to Denver with IcelandAir . Rob skied on Faction‘s latest range of skis whilst reporting for MadDogSki.com.
Rob stayed at The Blake Hotel at Taos Ski Valley, and had great meals at the Bavarian Restaurant.