By Julien Ross, Forecaster Updated 1 month ago January 20, 2024
The following guide was sponsored in partnership with Taos Ski Valley.
Big mountain. Small town. Sacred lands. Cultural confluence. Desert powder. Bluebird skies. Sustainable. Steep. Very steep. World-class ski school.
This is Taos Ski Valley. And the sum of its parts equals the true essence of skiing. Protected and coveted. Better not bigger.
Taos is near and dear to my heart and I am stoked to share this local insider's guide to help with your next visit to a truly iconic and independent 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 “For the Good” motto which affirms Taos’ commitment to be better, not bigger, and to work to protect our environment and preserve the essence of skiing. 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 13 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 quad accessing generous groomers and a plethora of long north-facing glades and bumps in the “Front Side Steeps," home to Taos' top to bottom without stopping right of passage: Al's Run.
Local favorites: Porcupine, Rhoda’s, Spencer’s, North American, Al's Run.
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, Pollux, Lorelei, Werner’s, Longhorn.
Back Side: featuring the brand new high-speed Lift 4 quad that takes you to the high alpine base of Kachina Peak. A mix of east and north-facing terrain with wide-open groomers, entry-level black runs, and Taos’ signature skills park, located on Lone Star.
Local favorites: Shalako, Lone Star, Sir Arnold Lunn, Hunziker Bowl.
Highline Ridge: earn your turns with trademark big mountain steeps on northeast and north-facing terrain.
Local favorites: Niños Heroes, Corner Chute, Tresckow.
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: Fifth Chute Zadarsky, 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 and anywhere.
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 during storm cycles. The beautiful thing is that terrain usually opens in a staggered fashion so there are always new chances for fresh tracks.
Plan your visit for multiple days during and after storm cycles to maximize your odds of the deepest powder on new terrain openings. Some of the best powder days come one or two days after a major storm once avalanche mitigation is completed.
GETTING HERE: TAOS IS AT YOUR DOORSTEP
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 flying via JSX, providing direct access from no-hassle private terminals in Dallas, Austin, Los Angeles, and San Diego. You can leave in the morning and be carving turns by the afternoon.
Find complete details on getting to Taos here.
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 and over 80 ski free!
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 get terrain 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.
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 AND RIDING TAOS
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 on the upper mountain. Cruise down Powderhorn for fresh corduroy, or opt for a cruiser-steeps combo with Porcupine to Spencer’s. Then hit the gladed bump run, Rhoda’s, and your legs will be fired up and ready to go.
During storm cycles and avalanche mitigation, runs immediately accessible under Lift 2 like Castor, Pollux, Reforma, and West Blitz Trees open first so hit one or two of these to complete the morning freshies circuit.
For intermediate and entry-level advanced skiers off of Lift 2, check if the brand spanking new high-speed Lift 4 quad is open in the morning on the back side (during storm cycles Lift 4 might open a bit later due to avalanche mitigation).
If it is running, cruise Honeysuckle off the backside from Lift 2 down to Lift 4. Take in the views of Kachina Peak and enjoy 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.
If Lift 4 is not spinning yet or you want to stay on the front side, lap the picturesque groomer 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.
Learning moguls or want to try your first black diamond run? Try the short but challenging Poco Gusto, Whitefeather Gully, Tell Trees, or Tell Glade.
For advanced and expert levels, after you have lapped a few under Lift 2, take Bambi to the east-facing Lorelei or Sir Arnold Lunn. Then hop on Lift 7 and skate skiers right over to Lift 7A for a short trip back to the top.
Skate or walk 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 Ridge and right for West Basin Ridge. For experts and seasoned advanced skiers and riders, ridge hiking captures the true essence of the Taos big mountain experience.
The north-facing Stauffenberg or the east-facing Thunderbird are good intros to the West Basin Ridge terrain.
On the Highline Ridge side, east and northeast-facing Hidalgo and Juarez (shown below) are the first runs you come to and the shortest hike.
Another 10 minutes takes you to plentiful north-facing terrain like Corner Chute and Tresckow. Twin Trees is east-facing so get it before the sun does (and before the gate accessing terrain past Juarez closes at 1:30 pm)!
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.
After a hearty refuel, head back up Lift 2 and choose your fancy.
For advanced and expert terrain, check the App and boards to see what has opened up. For example, take Bambi to Werner’s or Pierre’s for technical chutes and narrow chokes. A favorite mogul run, Longhorn, brings you back down to the base.
Hop on Lift 1 and hit North American or Ernie’s if open. Otherwise, head up Lift 2 for another hike or two on Highline or 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 on the West Basin 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. The Kachina hike is a right of passage for locals and visitors alike.
Catching the rope drop on Kachina Peak usually comes a few days after a major storm cycle.
Once the Kachina Lift starts spinning a day or two after the hiking gate opens, make sure to fit several laps into your itinerary. Powder stashes are plentiful off Kachina after storms in February and March.
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.
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.
AWARD-WINNING SKI SCHOOL
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. Taos offers a plethora of private, group, and special-event learning options.
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 from 7:00 AM until 8:00 AM and a light at the base of Lift 1 will indicate if uphill access is open each day. Check-in with guest services, and have a valid pass or day ticket with a signed waiver. Details here.
TAOS 2024 EVENTS
A slate of incredible events is coming to Taos in 2024, including prestigious international Freeride World Tour events and the World Pro Ski Tour Championships.
SheJumps' Wild Skills Junior Ski Patrol (February 11, 2024) 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 1-3, 2024) features the culinary artistry in Taos coupled with wines from our winery friends from around the world who love to ski.
Freeride Championships (March 1-6, 2024) 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 (March 28-30, 2024). 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 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.
Taos stays on the cutting edge of infrastructure and sustainability to be better, while preserving that magic small ski town vibe and resisting the larger industry trend to be bigger.
Whether we are beginner rippers or expert shredders, the true essence of skiing on some of the best snow and terrain in the world awaits us at Taos Ski Valley. And thanks to Taos’ “For the Good” pledge and investments, the true essence of the surrounding community and Mother Nature are preserved, protected, and celebrated.
Visit SkiTaos.com for all lodging, events, and other ski-related information.
Snow Forecast & Report: Taos Ski Valley
Daily Snow Forecast: New Mexico Daily Snow
Download: OpenSnow App
This guide was sponsored in partnership with Taos Ski Valley.