Continuing my exploration of skiing northern New Mexico, aka the Land of Enchantment, I headed north of Santa Fe up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range to legendary Taos Ski Valley and Red River. The landscape varies from red rock desert to steep mountain terrain as sapphire blue skies hang overhead and uncrowded slopes beckon. (See Mike's Trip Report -- "Santa Fe and New Mexico Are A World Apart From Everyday American Skiing" here).
You pass through the town of Taos, a collection of historical landmark homes and structures reflecting the Southwestern adobe style, on the way up to Taos Ski Valley. A 10-mile drive up a narrow canyon brings you to a small European-style village perched below 12,481-foot Kachina Peak. The ski area combines European and Southwestern flavors, and an exquisite mountain that caters to both expert skiers and ski-weekers taking daily lessons from this top-ranked ski school. Staying in the Snakedance Condominiums it was an easy walk to the lifts and the village.
Taos Ski Valley was created by founder Ernie Blake, who died in 1989. The mountain, known for its legendary black runs, vertical chutes and hike-to steep terrain, has changed little over the years, although the tough reputation is a bit misleading. Nearly half of the 110 trails are blue and green cruisers that provide a wide variety of groomed terrain.
It’s big time skiing and riding with over 3,000 feet of vertical, and some of the best hike-to terrain in the West. A new Kachina Peak lift, which opened this year, now offers easier access to this fabled terrain. Taos Ski Valley did add some new hike-to terrain with the opening of Wild West Glades, and there’s also plenty of other hike-to only terrain still available, pleasing some locals who regretted the Kachina lift installation.
A sign at the bottom, put up by Ernie years ago, greets visitors: “Don’t panic! You’re looking at only 1/30 of Taos Ski Valley. We have many easy runs too.” And, they do. It will please all levels of skiers and riders. For dinner, grab a shuttle to Bavarian Lodge & Restaurant up on the mountain. My group had a wonderful fondue dinner with some great German beer. The theme changes nightly. A stop at the famed Martini Tree in the village is always a treat (ask where the name came from). For lift ticket pricing, click here.
Red River, the mile-long town spread out along the bottom of the mountain is more like Colorado than the southwest. The former gold-mining town reminds you more of a western alpine town, but it is definitely a ski town. Two of the ski area’s seven lifts rise from the middle of the town. I stayed at Auslander Lodge and Condos, within easy walking distance of the lifts and town.
It’s a great family ski area with many long black and blue cruisers with a handful of steep shots and a few glades sprinkled in the mix. Beginners have a great learning area at the base with a carpet lift. Once they’ve mastered the basics they can get around the whole mountain with a gentle green access road to follow back down. The Green Chair on top of the 10,350-foot mountain offers short beginner runs through an aspen forest. It’s like a small Midwest area with mountain top views. Red River also had the best terrain park of the three New Mexico ski areas I visited. You can clickhere for lift ticket pricing information.
Don’t miss the Snow Coach Dinner Tours, which are offered several nights a week. A snow coach takes you 1,600 feet up the mountain to the Ski Tip Restaurant. It’s transformed into a mountain top restaurant with linen service. Enjoy a wonderful rib-eye steak dinner, grilled to perfection, accompanied by an acoustic guitar. The cost is $115 adults and $87 children (5-12). Reservations are highly recommended.
The town has a real western feel with shops, restaurants and bars all within easy walking distance. The 400-some residents are a friendly bunch. I recommend visiting the Black Diamond Grille for lunch or drinks after a great day on the slopes, Capo’s Ristorante Italiano for tasty Italian dinners, and Shotgun Willie’s for a hearty breakfast.
Check out Ski New Mexico for more information about skiing around The Land of Enchantment.
Photos: Top -- Taos Ski Valley is known for its steeps, but there are plenty of runs for all ability levels (TSV); Right -- New TSV owners have added a new lift up Kachina Peak and have plans for many more improvements (TSV/Facebook); Left -- It's dinner for Mike and a group of friend at Red River -- Mike is second from left); Bottom -- Red River Ski Area rises from the western town (Mike Terrell); Below --