For most of my eight years writing about skiing, I’ve focused broadly on New England and specifically on Maine. But like most skiers, I do occasionally venture to other places to take some turns. It’s a good way to not only see new environs but get some new perspective. As my father used to say (in a line that was undoubtedly stolen from someone else), “Skiing out West is a whole different sport.”

Late in January, I went to the southern tip of the Rockies to visit Taos Ski Valley, a New Mexico resort in the Sangre de Cristo Range. Famously, when founder Ernie Blake set out to build the resort in the 1950s, colleagues warned him that the mountains were too steep for a ski resort – too steep for skiers, and too steep for lifts. Despite the warning, Blake pressed on, and Taos Ski Valley grew over the years. With relatively new ownership (and a lot of cash behind it), Taos seems to be pushing hard to develop, grow and compete with the destination resorts of the Rockies.

Skiing Taos, I was reminded more than anything of Sugarloaf. The remoteness of the mountain, the trails cut along the fall line, the lack of crowds and a community of die-hard locals alternating between embracing and grousing about change – it felt like home. And of course there was the challenge, which is no joke. Taos has an international reputation as a place where skiers go to test their skills, and I’ll admit that I’ve never skied anywhere else as difficult as Taos Ski Valley.

From tight, steep glades to knee-busting moguls, to hair-raising hike-to chutes and cliffs, Taos made me feel like both an expert and a skier with lots still to learn.

Getting there: As a long-time Sugarloafer, I appreciated the remoteness of Taos Ski Valley. It’s worth the trip but it’s not easy to get there. The biggest airport in the region is in Albuquerque, a little less than three hours from the resort.

Slightly closer, Santa Fe, a two-hour drive, is serviced by just two airlines. For a luxe experience, there’s Taos Air, a direct charter service from Austin and Dallas that launched earlier this season. Rental cars abound and the resort operates a shuttle service to all three airports.

What’s new: Since billionaire conservationist Louis Bacon purchased Taos Ski Valley from the founding Blake family, the resort has seen an extended stretch of renovation and improvements. Perhaps the crown jewel is the Kachina Peak chairlift.

The Hunziker Bowl, on the backside of the Kachina Basin, has no lift. It takes only a couple of minutes to hike the uphill trail. Photo by Josh Christie

Conceived by founder Blake over half a century ago but never put into place, the lift was built just a few seasons ago. Climbing from mid-mountain to a staggering 12,450 feet at the summit of Kachina (the fourth-highest lift in North America), the lift expanded Taos’ expert terrain by nearly 50 percent and cut a 45-minute hike to a five-minute lift ride.

Exploring Taos: Lift One rises right out of the guts of the Taos base area, climbing over Al’s Run (a long, steep mogul trail on display to everyone on the chair). From here the glades and chutes of Ernie’s Run and North American – one of the longest glades in the country – drop back toward the base, and Lift Two climbs to the top of the lift-serviced terrain, and a control gate to Taos’ hikeable ridges. Tracking off to the right takes you to West Basin Ridge, an Alpine playground of cornices and mandatory drops into 35 to 45 percent chutes. Heading left leads to Highline Ridge, the ridge that connects the top of the resort and Kachina. Steep bumps and glades on trails like Billy Sol, Juarez and Two Bucks lead back into the lift-serviced trails. Both are definitely tough, but the Highline Ridge is a bit more approachable – think White Cap and Brackett Basin.

While Taos feels like it caters to experts, there’s ample terrain for beginners and intermediates. Lifts Four and Eight drop skiers at oases of easy terrain in the midst of the steeper trails, and even the top of Lift Two offers Honeysuckle, a cruiser that winds many miles back to the base area.

Food: Stop by the Bavarian Restaurant, at the bottom of Lift Four, for German cuisine and beer. Homemade apple strudel, Wiener schnitzel and pretzels are a perfect fit while catching the afternoon sun on the restaurant’s massive deck, which was rebuilt last summer to add more capacity. Note that you need to ski in or take a shuttle to get to the Bavarian, but other options – the charming St. Bernard, the upscale 192 At The Blake and the New Mexican cuisine of Rhoda’s – are right in the base area.

Lodging: The Blake, at the foot of Lift One, is in the heart of the resort’s village. Opened just two years ago, the LEED-certified luxury hotel is a cornerstone of the redevelopment of the area that’s been rolling out since 2013. The building combines a classically European Alpine exterior with an interior that celebrates the indigenous peoples of the area. If you can’t swing the $300-plus a night to stay, the nearby town of Taos has options aplenty.

Nearby: You’ll have to drive through the city of Taos to get to Taos Ski Valley, and it’s easy to see how you could spend a day or more exploring. The downtown is a charming mix of shops and restaurants, with great locally brewed beer at the Taos Mesa Brewing Tap Room (with two dozen options on draught) and Eske’s Brew Pub. Minutes out of town on Highway 64 is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, an engineering marvel that sits 650 feet above the Rio Grande. It’s the second-highest bridge on the U.S. Highway System and the fifth-highest in the United States; views of the Rio below and the Sangre de Cristo Range to the northeast are stunning.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Josh can be reached at:

[email protected]


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