Days of chutes and singletracks
TAOS, N.M. – When most people think of 2-for-1s they think of great deals at nice restaurants during mud season. My partner in crime, Elna, and I were recently privy to some really delicious specials down in Taos, but our idea of a cheap date may be a little different than yours.When we think of 2-for-1s we think of nice creamy corn snow for brunch and the desert dust of the trail for afternoon dessert. With plentiful snowfall at Taos Ski Valley this winter, and a warm arid spring around the Rio Grande Gorge area, good skiing and mountain biking are within minutes of each other. For our first course of the day we begin at Taos Ski Valley. With a vicious freeze-thaw cycle in full effect on the lower mountain, our destination for good snow was up high. Taos Ski Valley does not believe in snowboards or high-speed chairlifts, so we had plenty of time on our two lift rides to the top check out the map, hydrate and do our taxes. At the top we found our way to patrol headquarters, and were greeted by a friendly patroller named Dave who was happy to tell us where the goods were. Dave suggested we hike in the morning, and enjoy the slush of the lower mountain in the early afternoon.Dave’ told us to head to the top of the 12,481-foot Kachina Bowl, which is hailed as the crown jewel of Taos Ski Valley by its patrollers, and has the area’s highest inbounds terrain.The bowl is a skier’s amphitheater of wide open steeps, couloirs and cliffs, and depending where you drop in, the hike takes 35 to 75 minutes. As we climbed toward the prayer flags at the top, we were tempted by the K1 through K5 series of chutes but continued on to the peak and Main Street, a steep, wide-open bowl. To our surprise and enjoyment the pitch was full of nice chalky winter snow.After a short coffee break at the must see Bavarian Lodge and Restaurant, which sits at 10,200 feet at the bottom of Kachina Bowl. With a caffeine buzz going and plenty of chocolate in our systems, our examination of the chutes began. This area is full of rocks, cliffs, tight lines, a few bumps and the occasional tree. The nice thing about these chutes is that you can stand at the bottom of the bowl and plan your next decent. The entrances are also wide and very forgiving. Just remember as you move from K5 towards K1, the stakes get higher.
As the mid-mountain chutes began to soften up it was time to hit The Ridge. This portion of mountain has two parts, Highline Ridge and West Basin Ridge. Both of these areas require short 10- to 15-minute treks. Like Kachina, these hikes commence at patrol headquarters.
“Ninos Heroes” offered up the most challenging terrain, while the openness of Juarez allowed for some nice GS turns on the Highline face. On the West Basin side we enjoyed some killer steep bump lines on Reforma and Blitz, while the notorious Staufenberg was a gauntlet of rock outcroppings leading to a near vertical couloirs. After a morning of hiking and with the car-sized moguls becoming a bit more tender we hit the lower mountain. One of my favorite things about spring is slush bumps. They are soft and have just enough water content to provide the right amount of suction to the skis, so the skier hardly has to turn to slow down. “Al’s” is located under the mountain’s main lift. It’s a minefield of oddly shaped bumps, which look as if they came out of a Dr. Seuss book. Local’s favorite “Inferno” provides the best bump lines on the mountain, without the pressure of showing off your skills to the people above. Both these runs end at another Taos Ski Valley icon, the Hotel St. Bernard, where the $7 lunch special on the deck is the best deal on the hill. After getting our fill of snow cone face shots, the Bernard was the perfect place to relax for a few, before our next outing.
To top off our 2-for-1 day, we sought out dry trails in the lower elevations of the historic town of Taos, about 35 minutes from the ski area. The first of the stashes was Trail 18 off of Road 518 just south of town. Trail 18 is well marked and a double track that runs southeast along the left side of 518 towards the Sipapu Ski Resort. The rolling trail had some technical spots, but Elna and I hardly noticed that we were gaining elevation. Not wanting to damage the trail, once we hit mud and snow we turned back and enjoyed the downhill. Trail 18 was a awesome warm up for things to come, and gave me satisfaction of trying out my new rig from Van Dessel on the dirt for the first time.Our next find was the West Rim Trail. This trek has a trailhead at the historic Rio Grande Gorge Bridge Visitor Center on U.S. Highway 285 north of town. The High Bridge portion of the trail is 18 miles out and back. West Rim consists of easy ups and downs, with a couple of tricky sections. Bring your camera, because what the trail does not offer in challenging terrain, it makes up in its views of the gorge and surrounding mountains. Saving the best for last, Elna and I took in the Horse Thief Trail. Finding the Horse Thief is quite the mission, and I recommend getting directions from a local. The trail lies north of town on 522, just past Arroyo Hondo, and down a dirt road west towards the Rio Grande Gorge. That is all I can remember. We just happened upon the Horse Thief, right before I drove my truck into the gorge. The only thing marking this piece of singletrack was the tire marks left by riders before us.