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Insider’s Guide to Skiing Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico - Where Aspirations Thrive

The following guide was sponsored in partnership with our friends at Taos Ski Valley.


All legendary, big mountain ski destinations have one thing in common. When you catch that first glimpse–majestic peaks, ridgeline after ridgeline, lifts soaring up endless terrain–you lose your breath for a moment. Your heart skips a beat. 

For big mountain skiers and riders worldwide, Taos Ski Valley has always been on this shortlist. No one forgets that first time you arrive at Taos. Turn the corner to see the daunting face of Al’s Run, Taos’ signature behemoth mogul run plummeting into the resort base, a right of passage for locals and visitors alike.

In fact, Taos’ first impression for newcomers is so intimidating that years ago the resort put a big sign up at the base to reassure the faint of heart that plenty of easier terrain lies beyond view.

Yes, Taos’ 3,131 feet of vertical drop make it one of North America’s steepest mountains where heart-pounding descents off Kachina Peak, Highline Ridge, and West Basin Ridge are perennial routes for the Freeride World Tour extreme ski competitions. 

But one of the best-kept secrets at Taos is its meandering valley geography with perfect pitched greens, blues, and entry-level black terrain. My childhood friends and I learned to ski at Taos and many of my friends’ kids are now in Taos’ award-winning Ernie Blake Snowsports School. Throw in the top-notch ski-in-ski-out accommodations and a laid-back, eclectic European Alps meets Northern New Mexico vibe, and you have a world-class destination for all levels and ages. 

Taos is near and dear to my heart and I am stoked to share a few secrets to help with your next visit to this iconic ski destination.


TAOS OVERVIEW: A MODEL OF SUSTAINABILITY AND STOKE

Taos Ski Valley is located in the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where the Rocky Mountains begin. The ski area is a short drive from the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the town of Taos, a confluence of Native American, Hispanic and European cultures, with a rich and diverse people, cuisine, art, and atmosphere. 

Taos Ski Valley has adopted the “Ski the Change” motto and pledge to be a force for good through social responsibility, environmental sensitivity, and economic sustainability. And Taos is walking the walk, winning the Golden Eagle award for environmental excellence, the ski industry’s most coveted award for sustainability by the National Ski Areas Association.

The ski resort offers 1,294 acres of terrain, accessed by 14 lifts and 110 trails. The mountain stretches from a base of 9,350 feet to a summit elevation of 12,481 feet. Our friends at Zrankings.com list Taos’ True Annual Snowfall at 254 inches. 51% of Taos’ runs are considered difficult, 25% intermediate, and 24% easy. Taos is 60% north facing, high, shaded, and steep, so its snow preservation is excellent.

The mountain can be broken down into six areas:

Lower Front Side: a diverse and expansive area with perfect bunny hills at the base and the high-speed Lift 1 accessing generous groomers, and a plethora of long north-facing glades and bumps in the “Front Side Steeps.”

Local Favorites: Porcupine, Rhoda’s, Spencer’s, North American.

Upper Front Side: anchored by picturesque groomer Bambi along the ridgeline that dissects the front and back sides, with plentiful secret stashes in an array of east, west, and north-facing chutes, trees, and bumps.

Local Favorites: Bambi, Lorelei, Werner’s, Longhorn. 

Back Side: a mix of east, north, and west-facing terrain with a high alpine feel at the base of Kachina Peak and home to favorite groomers, entry-level black terrain, and Taos’ signature terrain park, Maxie’s.

Local Favorites: Shalako, Lone Star, Walkyries Glade, El Funko.

Highline Ridge: earn your turns double-black terrain with trademark big mountain steeps.

Local Favorites: Two Bucks, Tresckow, Twin Trees.

West Basin Ridge: more hike-to double-blacks with some of the most technical terrain anywhere and one of the longest tree runs in the west.

Local Favorites: Thunderbird Trees, Meatball, Wild West Glade. 

Kachina Peak: always opens first to hiking only before the Kachina Peak Lift spins. Quintessential big mountain skiing.

Local Favorites: Everywhere.

Most of Taos’ double black terrain requires daily avalanche mitigation. You will know it with the thunderous booms, the sound locals love because it means rope drops are imminent. Thanks to this incredible work from Taos Ski Patrol, we get to access terrain that would otherwise be off-limits. 

This also means some unpredictability of what will be open, especially during and after storm cycles. The beautiful thing is that terrain usually opens in a staggered fashion so there are always new chances for fresh tracks even days and weeks after storms.

Plan your visit for multiple days to maximize your odds of new and different terrain openings. 


GETTING HERE: TAOS IS AT YOUR DOORSTEP THANKS TO THE NEW TAOS AIR

Just 90 minutes north of Santa Fe and about five hours from Denver and West Texas, Taos remains easily accessible by scenic road trip and a great option for our Colorado Front Range neighbors to avoid the I-70 traffic hassles.

But if coming in from out of state, I highly recommend Taos’ new 100 percent carbon offset airline, Taos Air, providing direct access from no-hassle private terminals in San Diego, Los Angeles, Austin, and Dallas. You can leave in the morning and be carving turns by the afternoon. 

Taos Air is extremely convenient and simple: no TSA, no airport hassles, excellent customer service, free shuttle service to and from Taos Ski Valley, and complimentary ski & board rentals for round-trip flights. 


TAOS LIFT TICKETS

Taos is a member of the IKON and Mountain Collective multi-resort passes for a convenient skication. Taos also offers flexible single-day tickets, a mid-week pass for unlimited Monday through Thursday skiing, and several other limited and unlimited pass options. Ages 6 and under ski free!

Season Pass Info Here

Lift Ticket Info Here


TAOS SNOW AND WEATHER: OROGRAPHIC MAGIC

Multiple factors give Taos an extra advantage when it comes to excellent snow. The high elevation (mid-mountain 11,000 feet) means colder temperatures, allowing early snowmaking to ensure terrain is open and helping snowpack last through spring. When storms roll in, the colder temperatures maximize snowfall and produce the fluffy powder that Taos is famous for.

Second, Taos’s unique location far enough north but still southwest, means that it sees good snow from both primary storm tracks in the Southern Rockies:

1) Storms from Baja California or the Four Corners with a west-southwest wind carrying subtropical moisture, and

2) Storms that drop down from the northwest with cold temperatures and enough moisture for Taos to work its magic. 

This brings us to the third and most important point. Taos has the uncanny ability to produce snow through orographic lift which I have coined Taos’ “orographic magic.” 

Taos is situated perfectly on the western edge of the mountain chain, adjacent to hundreds of miles of lower flatlands. Few major mountains are obstructing the wind, moisture, and energy, which collide with the steep rise into Taos where the air cools, condenses, and creates snow.

And with an average of 300 days of sun per year, your odds of scoring a bluebird powder day at Taos are solid.


SKIING TAOS

Game on. It’s time to ski and ride! 

Grab your ready-to-go breakfast burrito at Cid's Mountain Market or Tenderfoot Katie's, and a Mayan Mocha or Chai Charger at Black Diamond Coffee, and hop on Lift 1 for a few laps before venturing to the upper mountain or backside.

The Lower Front Side has incredible terrain for all levels that often gets bypassed first thing. Plus this allows time for avalanche mitigation higher up. Cruise down Powderhorn for fresh corduroy, or opt for a cruiser-steeps combo with Porcupine to Spencer’s or Jean’s Glade. Then hit Rhoda’s and your legs will be fired up and ready to go.

Ride back up Lift 1 and a quick jaunt on Whitefeather to Lift 2 where the gentle pace gives you time to open Taos’ new App to check terrain openings.

From January to April, you will likely have many enticing options. But don’t overthink it and hit the good terrain immediately accessible. The almost-open or harder-to-access terrain will be there later. Keep it simple and you will be rewarded. 

For intermediate and entry-level advanced skiers, lap the picturesque Bambi with ridgetop views and a sweet pitch. Then stay far skiers left on Powderhorn over to Firlefanz and lap Lift 8 where fresh corduroy lasts all morning. Lower Stauffenberg is excellent for growing comfortable with faster speeds as each steeper section is followed by modest pitches so you can let it fly with confidence.

For first-time black runs or learning moguls, try the short but challenging Zagava, Poco Gusto, Whitefeather Gully, Tell Trees, and Tell Glade.

For advanced and expert levels, hit Reforma or Castor right off the bat for soft and steep turns directly under Lift 2. Then take Bambi to Lorelei for a Taos classic. Hop on Lift 7 and then skate skier’s right over to Lift 7A for a short trip back to the top. 

This time skate up to the Highline and West Basin hiking gate. Check the board for what is open, switch to walking mode, and open the pit zips for some pre-lunch earn-your-turns. A moderate 10-15 minute boot pack through the forest will bring you to a fork, left for Highline and right for West Basin. The north-facing Stauffenberg or the east-facing Thunderbird are good intros to West Basin. The north-facing Billy Sol and Two Bucks are fantastic Highline primers.

Once you’re ready for a break, go for a local’s favorite Frito Pie lunch and cold or hot beverage at Whistlestop Cafe located on Whitefeather near Lift 2. Kick up the boots on the deck and take in the expansive views to the north or study the West Basin terrain for your afternoon attack.

After a hearty refuel, head back up Lift 2 and choose your fancy.

For beginner to entry-level advanced terrain, drop into the Back Side to cruise Honeysuckle and Totemoff off Lift 7. Then head over to Lift 4 with views of Kachina Peak and long-arching turns down Shalako, Patton, and Baby Bear. Ready to test out a few moderate black runs? Try Lower Hunziker Bowl, Staub, High Noon, Papa Bear, or Street Car. 

For advanced and expert terrain, check the App and boards to see what has opened up. For example, take Bambi to Werner’s for super steep trees, or stay far skier’s right on Pierre’s for technical chutes and narrow chokes. Werner’s and Pierre’s dump you into Longhorn for large, soft bumps back down to the base. 

Hop on Lift 1 and hit North American or Ernie’s if open. Otherwise, head up Lift 2 to spend the rest of the afternoon on Highline and West Basin where snow stays soft and first tracks are almost guaranteed around storm cycles with frequent rope drops. Venture where you didn’t go in the morning, such as Wild West Glade, for optimally spaced glades and fun pitches, or Twin Trees, with steep chutes followed by a wide-open powder apron on the Highline side. 

At any juncture during your visit, if Kachina Peak opens for the 40-minute hike, don’t think twice. You won’t regret it. If the Kachina Lift opens, make sure to fit several laps into your itinerary. 

For any questions about the hike-to or other extreme terrain conditions, inquire at the Ski Patrol hut atop Lift 2.

By about 3 PM the Bavarian will be calling your name for aprés in the outdoor Biergarten located at the bottom of Lift 4. Opened by a Munich native over 20 years ago, the south-facing Bavarian is also a classic sun-soaked lunch spot with authentic German fare and crisp beers. Try the Bier Bratwurst, Goulaschuppe, or Veggie Melt washed down with a cold Warsteiner König Ludwig Weissbier.

Take Rubezahl back to the base by 4:15 PM when the catwalk closes for grooming. Aprés can then continue at Rhoda’s or grab some rations at Bumps Market for tailgating and watch the sunset glow off of 13,167 ft Wheeler Peak to see why our beloved mountains are named the Sangre de Cristos.


TAOS UPHILL POLICY

Uphill access by skinning or touring is an awesome way to start the day at Taos with views of the sunrise and guaranteed first tracks. Self-Guided Tour starts at 7:00 AM until 7:30 AM, check-in with guest services, and have a valid pass or day ticket with a signed waiver. Details here.


TAOS 2022 EVENTS

A slate of incredible events is coming to Taos in 2022, including prestigious international Freeride World Tour events and the World Pro Ski Tour Championships!

SheJumps' Wild Skills Junior Ski Patrol (January 30, 2022) Day camp where girls ages 8-17 will learn mountain safety and first aid while working with strong women of the ski patrol. 

Taos Winter Wine Festival (February 3-6, 2022) featuring the culinary artistry in Taos coupled with wines from our winery friends from around the world who love to ski.

Junior Freeride (February 8-12, 2022) The best junior freeride athletes in the world will descend on Taos for an International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association sanctioned Junior Freeride Competition.

Freeride Championships (March 1-5, 2022) Taos’ famed steeps will again host Freeride World Qualifying events in conjunction with the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association and the Freeride World Tour. 

World Pro Ski Tour World Championships (April 7-10, 2022). This prestigious event draws professional athletes from all over the world in both men’s and women’s races. Thousands of spectators, competitors, and sponsors are expected to attend, showcasing Taos’ world-renowned terrain on international television.


TAOS LODGING AND WELLNESS

For the ultimate slopeside experience be sure to stay at The Blake. I stayed in one of The Blake’s hotel suites last spring and it was just what the doctor ordered. A stone’s throw from Lift 1 with a huge heated saltwater pool to soothe the muscles after an epic day of skiing. 

In addition to The Blake, the Village of Taos Ski Valley has various accommodations that put you within striking distance of first chair stoke.


FINAL THOUGHTS

At its heart, Taos Ski Valley is an aspirational mountain. Whether we are beginner rippers or expert shredders, a new challenge or personal plateau always awaits us at Taos, along with the first-rate team, infrastructure, and amenities to help our aspirations become a reality. And thanks to Taos’ “Ski the Change” pledge to be a force for good, the surrounding community, and Mother Nature can also thrive with us.


Visit SkiTaos.com for all lodging, event, and other ski-related information.


OPENSNOW RESOURCES

Snow Forecast & Report: Taos Ski Valley

Daily Snow Forecast: New Mexico Daily Snow

Download: OpenSnow App


This guide was sponsored in partnership with our friends at Taos Ski Valley.

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