Utopia in Taos | VailDaily.com

Utopia in Taos

Laura Bell
Special to the Daily/Michael HolmquistGot powder? Taos, N.M., does and it's a skiers-only destination.

If you are passionate about skiing, finding powder stashes four days after the last big snowfall, seeing smiling faces of resort workers and finding great deals at mountain restaurants, then head south, dear skier to Taos, N.M. And Taos is especially dear for outright skiers as it is snowboard free.Sure, Taos has a well-earned reputation for steep and deep. Fifty-one percent of the named runs are on expert terrain. But for the less adventurous skier, there is 24 % beginner and 25% intermediate terrain. This makes Taos ideal for the hard-core skier, blue run cruiser, never-ever skier and families who want to have fun regardless of individual skiing capability.Family-owned

And family is key at Taos. This is a resort that has been family-owned and operated since its inception in 1955. Founder Ernie Blake passed on a legacy of the love of skiing to his children and grandchildren. Today, the children and grandchildren can be found teaching skiing, greeting guests, running the tubing hill and answering all types of questions. It’s almost impossible to ski in Taos without running into a Blake descendant. Bearing his moniker, The Ernie Blake Ski School introduces children to the sport and helps advanced skiers hone their craft to perfection. On a picture postcard day in February, when the sky was a robin’s egg blue and the sun was warming up the slopes, I had the pleasure of being guided for a few hours on the mountain by Taos’ Ski Valley’s Marketing Director, Chris Stagg, also son-in-law of the late Ernie Blake. Although it hadn’t snowed in three days, after a five-minute hike we found an untouched run off the West Basin Ridge, through a gladed area that had been opened up and thinned out the previous summer. Correction, we didn’t make the actual first tracks, a snowshoe hare did. “All this is brand new, and we hope to expand into more glades this summer” enthused Stagg. “We have a saying in windsurfing, ‘Why leave the wind to find the wind?'” Stagg said and dove right in to a foot-and-a-half of champagne powder.Why indeed?In fact, bountiful snow conditions this season prompted Taos Ski Valley President Mickey Blake to extend the season an extra week ending April 10th.

On the next lift ride Stagg pointed out a cliff, adjacent to Zdardsky Chute, which many of the skiers taking part in the recent New Mexico Extreme Freeskiing Championship had chosen as a launching site. Just observing the drop from the chairlift was enough to make me dizzy.After a few more runs in the powder and trees, and another hike up The Ridge, where I met Ernie’s wife, Wendy, (guiding a group of skiers) I confessed to Stagg that I needed a breather, so we cruised down some delightfully groomed blue runs.I professed my thanks and said goodbye to Stagg, who had to go into town for court. Among the many hats Stagg wears, he is a municipal court judge, private pilot, PSIA examiner and the former and first mayor of Taos Ski Valley.Ski schoolLunch was a welcome surprise with an amazing variety of privately and mountain-owned restaurants to choose from. As I was pressed for time – I wanted to spy on Reece my 3-year-old daughter in ski school – I chose some simple fare from one of the mountain restaurants. Imagine the shock of receiving change from a $10 after buying a super-sized burger, large drink and jumbo fries! I feel I deserved it after my hikes.

Reece was enrolled in the Kinderkäfig Children’s Center’s Junior Elite 1 Program. Without her seeing me, I watched her Level 3 Class take on the White Feather green run. It was just beginning to snow and the ski instructor had adapted the Carol King classic, “I Feel the Earth Move,” to “I Feel the snow, snow under my feet, I feel the snow come tumbling down.” All the children were gleefully singing, albeit a bit off key.Ski school was another unbelievable bargain. Children up through the age of 15 can enroll in ski school, receive a lift ticket, rental equipment (including a helmet), an all-day lesson and lunch for $90. A similar package in Vail for a 15-year-old would be $168, allowing for the recommended $20 for lunch. After the children’s time on the slope ends, it is possible to pick up your child and ski with them for the day. Or, they can play supervised in the children’s center. I chose to retrieve Reece at 4 p.m. from the children’s center much to her dismay. She was having a foam-rubber sword fight with her new friend, Becky.I too was disappointed to leave the mountain, but the falling snow showed promise of another excellent day.While the town of Taos is charming, dotted with adobe houses and artisan’s workshops, you can find everything you need without ever leaving the Taos Ski Valley, a narrow corridor which leads to the ski mountain.The dining experience can range from pizza and cookies found at Crossroads Pizza and Pasta to winemaker’s dinners at the ski-in ski-out Inn at Snakedance.And of course there are après ski bars galore. In fact each month, you can join the employees of Taos Ski Valley at their employee appreciation party. You might run into a few Blakes along the way and ask them for a personal tour of the mountain.Vail, Colorado

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