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Taos on My Mind

I’ve always harbored an affinity for Taos, N.M. It’s a skier’s mountain. OK, technically they allow snowboarding now, but in my mind, it’s still a haven for skiers who like steep, challenging terrain. Think steep glade skiing, long steep cruisers, even a steep bowl and you get the picture. Also, when I think about the food in Taos, I salivate. Visions of green chilies dance in my head and I see green chilies in mini POC helmets skiing along side me down those steep runs.  Maybe I shouldn’t admit that, but truly Taos is a foodie town. And for some unknown reason, maybe attributed to the vortex that Taos sits on top of, the beer tastes better there; particularly at the Bavarian Lodge at the base of Lift 4 around noon on a sunny day. I also think about the painter Georgia O’Keefe when she got off the train in Taos: She was astonished by the colors—crazy, arty pinks, peaches, and oranges from the sunsets against earth tones and pine peppered mountains.

So when I heard they were putting a lift up Kachina Peak, I knew it was time for a pilgrimage to the land of enchantment. A look at the calendar presented a four-day weekend in mid-February. That meant we could leave the Front Range of Colorado on Thursday and come back Monday night without our 9-year-old missing school.

We decided to stop and ski at Monarch for half a day on the way down, preferring the scenic route through Leadville and past the Collegiate Range towering above Buena Vista and Salida. We left after lunch and three hours later we pulled into Taos, in time for some homemade New Mexican cuisine at Orlando’s.

The bumps may build quickly but the 5-minute lift ride speeds up access that once required a 45-minute hike.
The bumps may build quickly but the 5-minute lift ride speeds up access that once required a 45-minute hike.

Saturday morning turned out to be a spring-like February day, clear and bright, a cerulean blue ski accentuating the reddish tan of the adobe houses. We took some warm-up runs off of Lifts 4 and 7, delighted by the long cruisers steep enough to work on your aggressive carving technique. A few bump runs loosened up our legs and then it was time to try the new fixed-grip triple Kachina Peak Lift. Over the past two decades my husband and I came prepared to hike at Taos. When the snow is good, nothing beats the chutes off the West Basin Ridge like Stauffenberg or a more committed 45-minute hike up to Kachina Peak (12,481 feet) for some steep and deep turns down the K Chutes. This time we didn’t bring the backpacks; we just loaded the new lift.

Kachina Peak Lift is now the third-highest lift in North America (behind Loveland and Breckenridge) and changes Taos’ vertical drop to an impressive 3,274 feet. The lower capacity lift is less susceptible to cross winds and limits skier numbers on the hill. A five-minute lift ride whisks you to the top, where you can hike up a short way for a 360-degree view of the Sangre de Cristos, including Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico.

The snow was a little thin that day (two weeks later Taos received 48” of snow in one storm cycle), but enough to pick through routes down K3, K4 and K5—all with our 9-year-old. Granted, we’ve been grooming her on runs and areas like Pallavicini at A-Basin, the Cirque at Snowbird, the back bowls of Vail, Temerity trees at Aspen Highlands and Loveland’s Patrol Bowl. The chutes off of Kachina Peak combine all the terrain aspects of these other areas. After all the hours on the magic carpet, money on ski lessons and times wishing we were skiing different terrain, we were finally skiing what we wanted to ski—with our child. If a family that jumps off cornices together, stays together, than skiing Kachina offered us some great family bonding.

Sure, the snow got chewed up pretty quickly. Main Street, below the new lift, got so bumped up it looked like Outhouse at Mary Jane. I encountered one local who just stood there shaking his head. His stash was gone with the new triple, accessible to anyone who could load a lift. There were folks who should not have been on that terrain (and I’ve never understood what pushes a person over the edge enough to want to take their skis off and walk down). There was, however, adequate signage at the lift that warns of terrain suitable for advanced skiers and riders only. For the most part, we were elated with being able to lap terrain with our daughter that we used to ski only once or twice a trip. We spied numerous other families out there jumping off of cornices and teaching hop turns in the chokes.

The vibe around Taos' new Kachina Peak lift is generally positive except for some locals who miss their hike-to stash.
The vibe around Taos’ new Kachina Peak lift is generally positive except for some locals who miss their hike-to stash.

In two days, the three of us lapped the new lift about 6 or 7 times, raced NASTAR, hit the terrain park and even poked through the West Blitz Trees. Of course Taos is more than the skiing: Memorable for me was a German lager at the Bavarian Lodge and Restaurant sipped to the sounds of a live band, green chili-smothered enchiladas at Tim’s Stray Dog Cantina, butternut bisque and tacos in the Treehouse Lounge above Lambert’s in town and scrambled eggs with green chilies at the Taos Diner I on the way out of town.

Mercurial clouds ended the weekend high-pressure as we drove north on Monday. We took Hwy 285 back to the Front Range, reflecting on our Taos adventures. To break up the trip and soak our legs, we stopped at Joyful Journey Hot Springs in Moffat, Colo., where the artesian mineral water is fed from snowmelt off the Sangre de Cristos. A fitting ending, I thought, to our enchanting family ski getaway in Taos, N.M.

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