advertisement

Downhill

Five alpine resorts are within an hour's drive of Taos; all offer complete facilities, including equipment rentals. Although exact opening and closing dates vary according to snow conditions, the season usually begins around Thanksgiving and continues into early April.

Ski clothing can be purchased, and ski equipment can be rented or bought, from several Taos outlets. Among them are Cottam's Ski & Outdoor Shops, with four locations (call tel. 800/322-8267 or 575/758-2822 for the one nearest you; www.cottamsoutdoor.com), and Taos Ski Valley Sportswear, Ski & Boot Co., in Taos Ski Valley (tel. 575/776-2291).

Taos Ski Valley, P.O. Box 90, Taos Ski Valley, NM 87525 (tel. 575/776-2291; www.skitaos.org), is the preeminent ski resort in the southern Rocky Mountains. It was founded in 1955 by a Swiss-German immigrant, Ernie Blake. According to local legend, Blake searched for 2 years in a small plane for the perfect location for a ski resort comparable to what he was accustomed to in the Alps. He found it at the abandoned mining site of Twining, high above Taos. Today, under the management of two younger generations of Blakes, the resort has become internationally renowned for its light, dry powder (as much as 320 in. annually), its superb ski school, and its personal, friendly service.

Taos Ski Valley can best be appreciated by the more experienced skier and snowboarder. It offers steep, high-alpine, high-adventure skiing. The mountain is more intricate than it might seem at first glance, and it holds many surprises and challenges -- even for the expert. The London Times called the valley "without any argument the best ski resort in the world. Small, intimate, and endlessly challenging, Taos simply has no equal." The quality of the snow here (light and dry) is believed to be due to the dry Southwestern air and abundant sunshine. Note: In 2008, Taos Ski Valley began allowing snowboarders onto its slopes.

Between the 11,819-foot summit and the 9,207-foot base, there are 72 trails and bowls, more than half of them designated for expert and advanced skiers. Most of the remaining trails are suitable for advanced intermediates; there is little flat terrain for novices to gain experience and mileage. However, many beginning skiers find that after spending time in lessons they can enjoy the Kachina Bowl, which offers spectacular views as well as wide-open slopes.

The area has an uphill capacity of 15,000 skiers per hour on its five double chairs, one triple, four quads, and one surface tow. Full-day lift tickets, depending on the season, cost $40 to $66 for adults, $30 to $55 for teens ages 13 to 17, $25 to $40 for children 12 and under, $40 to $50 for seniors ages 65 to 79, and are free for seniors over 80 and for children 6 and under with an adult ticket purchase. Full rental packages are $29 for adults and $20 for children. Taos Ski Valley is open daily 9am to 4pm from Thanksgiving to around the second week of April. Note: Taos Ski Valley has one of the best ski schools in the country, specializing in teaching people how to negotiate steep and challenging runs.

Taos Ski Valley has many lodges and condominiums, with nearly 1,500 beds. All offer ski-week packages; three of them have restaurants. There are three restaurants on the mountain in addition to the many facilities of Village Center at the base. Call the Taos Ski Valley (tel. 800/776-1111 or 505/776-2233).

Not far from Taos Ski Valley is Red River Ski & Snowboard Area, P.O. Box 900, Red River, NM 87558 (tel. 800/331-7669 for reservations; 505/754-2223 for information; www.redriverskiarea.com). One of the bonuses of this ski area is that lodgers at Red River can walk out their doors and be on the slopes. Two other factors make this 40-year-old, family-oriented area special: First, most of its 58 trails are geared toward the intermediate skier, though beginners and experts also have some trails, and second, good snow is guaranteed early and late in the year by snowmaking equipment that can work on 87% of the runs, more than any other in New Mexico. However, be aware that this human-made snow tends to be icy, and the mountain is full of inexperienced skiers, so you really have to watch your back. Locals in the area refer to this as "Little Texas" because it's so popular with Texans and other Southerners. A very friendly atmosphere, with a touch of redneck attitude, prevails.

There's a 1,600-foot vertical drop here to a base elevation of 8,750 feet. Lifts include four double chairs, two triple chairs, and a surface tow, with a capacity of 7,920 skiers per hour. The cost of a lift ticket for all lifts is $55 for adults for a full day, $40 half-day; $48 for teens 13 to 19 for a full day, $35 half-day; and $39 for children ages 4 to 12 and seniors 60 through 69 for a full day, $28 half-day. Free for seniors 70 and over. All rental packages start at $20 for adults, $13 for children. Lifts run daily 9am to 4pm Thanksgiving to about March 28. Ask about their lesson packages.

Also quite close to Taos (approx. 20 miles) is Angel Fire Resort, P.O. Drawer B, Angel Fire, NM 87710 (tel. 800/633-7463 or 505/377-6401; www.angelfireresort.com). If you (or your kids) don't feel up to skiing steeper Taos Mountain, Angel Fire is a good choice. The 73 trails are heavily oriented to beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders, with a few runs for more advanced skiers and snowboarders. The mountain has received over $7 million in improvements in past years. This is not an old village like you'll find at Taos and Red River. Instead, it's a Vail-style resort, built in 1960, with a variety of activities other than skiing. The snowmaking capabilities here are excellent, and the ski school is good, though I hear it's so crowded that it's difficult to get in during spring break. Two high-speed quad lifts whisk you to the top quickly. There are also three double lifts and one surface lift. A large snowboard park contains a banked slalom course, rails, jumps, and other obstacles. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowbiking are also available. All-day lift tickets cost $59 for adults, $49 for teens (ages 13-17) and $39 for children (ages 7-12). Kids 6 and under and seniors 70 and over ski free. Open from approximately mid-December to March 29 (depending on the weather) daily 9am to 4pm.

The oldest ski area in the Taos region, founded in 1952, Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort, HC 65, Rte. Box 29, Vadito, NM 87579 (tel. 505/587-2240; www.sipapunm.com), is 25 miles southeast of Taos, on NM 518 in Tres Ritos Canyon. It prides itself on being a small local ski area, especially popular with schoolchildren. It has two triple chairs and two surface lifts, with a vertical drop of 1,025 feet to the 8,200-foot base elevation. There are 31 trails, half classified as intermediate, and two terrain park trails have been added. It's a nice little area, tucked way back in the mountains, with excellent lodging rates. Be aware that because the elevation is fairly low, runs can be icy. Lift tickets are $40 for adults for a full day, $26 half-day; $26 for children 12 and under for a full day, $22 half-day; $22 for seniors (ages 60-69) for a half- or full day; and free for seniors age 70 and over, as well as children 5 and under. A package including lift tickets, equipment rental, and a lesson costs $53 for adults and $42 for children. Sipapu is open from about the end of November to April 1, and lifts run daily from 9am to 4pm.

Cross-Country

Numerous popular Nordic trails exist in Carson National Forest. If you call or write ahead, the ranger will send you a booklet titled Where to Go in the Snow, which gives cross-country skiers details about the maintained trails. One of the more popular trails is Amole Canyon, off NM 518 near the Sipapu Ski Area, where the Taos Nordic Ski Club maintains set tracks and signs along a 3-mile loop. It's closed to snowmobiles, a comfort to lovers of serenity.

Just east of Red River, with 16 miles of groomed trails (in addition to 6 miles of trails strictly for snowshoers) in 400 acres of forestlands atop Bobcat Pass, is the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area (tel. 505/754-6112; www.enchantedforestxc.com). Full-day trail passes, good from 9am to 4:30pm, are $14 for adults, $10 for teens 13 to 17 and seniors 62 to 69, $6 for children age 7 to 12, and free for seniors age 70 and over, as well as for children 6 and under. In addition to cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals, the ski area also rents pulk sleds -- high-tech devices in which children are pulled by their skiing parents. The ski area offers a full snack bar. Equipment rentals and lessons can be arranged either at Enchanted Forest or at Miller's Crossing ski shop at 417 W. Main St. in Red River (tel. 505/754-2374). Nordic skiers can get instruction in cross-country classic as well as freestyle skating.

Taos Mountain Outfitters, 114 S. Plaza (tel. 505/758-9292; www.taosmountainoutfitters.com), offers telemark and cross-country sales, and rentals. Southwest Nordic Center (tel. 505/758-4761; www.southwestnordiccenter.com) offers rental of five yurts (Mongolian-style huts), four of which are in the Rio Grande National Forest near Chama. The fifth one is located outside the Taos Ski Valley (offering access to high-alpine terrain) and is twice as big as the others. These are insulated and fully equipped accommodations, each with a stove, pots, pans, dishes, silverware, mattresses, pillows, a table and benches, and wood-stove heating. Skiers trek into the huts, carrying their clothing and food in backpacks. Guide service is provided, or people can go in on their own, following directions on a map. The yurts are rented by the night and range from $70 to $125 per group. Call for reservations as much in advance as possible as they do book up. The season is mid-November through April, depending on snow conditions.

Skiing with Kids

With its children's ski school, Taos Ski Valley has always been an excellent choice for skiing families, but with the 1994 addition of an 18,000-square-foot children's center (Kinderkäfig Center), skiing with your children in Taos is even better. Kinderkäfig offers many services, from equipment rental for children to babysitting services. Call ahead for more information.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.