"Don't panic!" screams the sign at the base of Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico. It's sage advice on any snowy slope, but here it's merely pointing out that the precipitous run in front of you is not the easiest way down.
Taos is just the place to test your skiing and riding mettle, with extreme terrain accessible by a short hike. The resort culminates atop Kachina Peak (12,481 feet), looming more than 3,000 vertical feet above the base village.
All things considered, Taos is one of those spots seemingly tailor-made to be a ski hill. The unmistakable snow-catching mountain above the high desert offers long and challenging mogul runs, steep and deep chutes, and a laid-back New Mexico vibe. Views of the surrounding alpine scenery include Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in the state.
There is some gentler terrain at Taos (nearly half the terrain is rated beginner or intermediate), as well as an outstanding Ernie Blake Snowsports School (named for the resort's late founder), with the yellow jackets of the resort's skiing and snowboarding instructors around most every bend. (After a long holdout, the resort opened its lifts to snowboarders in 2008.) Taos Ski Valley gets 300 inches of snow annually. The area has enjoyed some of the season's best snow, opening the bulk of its terrain while many of its peers went through a nearly snowless December.
Humming with activity day and night, the Bavarian-themed base village has more than its fair share of watering holes and dining options. And less than 20 miles away is the town of Taos, perhaps the most celebrated arts town in the U.S.
What's New at Taos Ski Valley
New this season, Ernie's Run -- on the front side of the mountain between North American and Longhorn -- is an expert gladed run that has been rated a double black diamond. The bigger news: Next season will see a new beginner's lift from the base area a third of a mile up the green Rubezahl trail that will help temper the intimidating terrain.
Best Ski Deals at Taos Ski Valley
The resort offers $60 lift tickets to holders of passes from any resort outside of New Mexico. The Girls Getaway Package includes your fourth night free on a four-night package (from $800 for four people). You can get a two-hour lesson for the quartet of women for just $100; the lift tickets are not included.
Ski Better Week starts at $867 per person and includes seven nights at the slopeside Snakedance Condominium Hotel, plus six days of lift tickets and morning lessons. Prices are based on double occupancy. Snakedance is also offering 20% off for Valentine's Day (Feb. 11-17).
You can save money by staying in Taos proper, but you may also spend more on the art and food (plus you're looking at an hour in the car daily). Split the difference in Arroyo Seco (home to the Abominable Snowmansion hostel, with private rooms under $50) or one of the properties on the road to the resort.
Save the Dates
Watch elite skiers compete at the Salomon Extreme Freeride Championships (March 1-3). For Breast Cancer Awareness Day (Feb. 25), Taos is auctioning off painted snowboards at the Paint for Peaks auction. The resort is offering a package deal for the event that includes lift tickets and lodging discounts.
In the base village, Tim's Stray Dog Cantina (www.straydogtsv.com) mixes a mean margarita and plates up New Mexican staples like Frito pie, red and green chile, and blue-corn rellenos.