My buddies Ray and Whit and I had a dilemma. After two days at Taos Ski Valley, we were all set the next morning to head for Albuquerque to catch an afternoon flight home. But overnight, eight inches of feathery new snow had fallen, and the clouds had parted, making way for sparkling azure skies.
It really wasn't a hard call. We threw on our gear and grabbed a lift. At the top, we popped out of our bindings, flipped our skis over our shoulders, and hiked higher for 20 minutes. The reward: untouched powder on Corner Chute, an expert-only run that starts with 50 yards of moguls before wending through spruce and fir trees.
That's Taos skiing--a bit of hard work with a payoff you'll never forget. Start with the fact that the village is in the thin air of 9,207 feet, so you may find yourself gasping just walking to a restaurant. Once on the mountain, you quickly realize more than half the 110 trails are for experts, and nearly two dozen runs are accessible only by hoofing it along the ridgeline at 12,000 feet.
The ski area, nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, was founded by a Swiss immigrant, Ernie Blake, in the 1950s. Blake, who ran the resort until his death in 1989, never wanted his Taos to become like the popular, homogenized resorts that dot the Rockies. Blake's family still runs the resort with that throwback ethic in mind. One of the first things you'll notice is that nary a snowboard is in sight. Taos is one of just four U.S. ski resorts that ban boarders, and it helps keep the lift lines blissfully short. For such purist skiing, it charges $63 for a one-day lift ticket.
The mountain is a wacky hodgepodge of runs, with easy cruising slopes spilling into far more challenging expert terrain. This may leave you with the idea you shouldn't come here if you don't like a good challenge. And that's about right. Taos has a great ski school to help eager novices. But really, Taos is for those who like their skiing steep and deep.
The Taos resort has many homey touches. At the delightful Bavarian lodge, waitresses in dirndls serve up hearty goulash, tender wienerschnitzel, and rich sp?tzle to warm you up. At the Hotel St. Bernard, known as the Saint B, you'll find a traditional ski chalet with rough-hewn wood beams and a cozy fireplace. The real treat here is dinner, when owner Jean Mayer hand delivers each course served from a large platter, family style. The food is exquisite. Our meal--$45 per person not including wine--featured French onion soup, fettuccine with rainbow trout, ribeye steaks, and a syrupy baba au rhum.
The one place to find new-world luxury is the Edelweiss Lodge & Spa (edelweisslodgeandspa.com). Getting an early start is easy, since you can schuss to a lift from the hotel, as we did on our last day. Oh yeah, my buddies and I covered the 135 miles back to Albuquerque just in time to catch our flight.
By Jay Greene