Tele Takeover in Taos
By Susan Schnier
It’s just snowed three feet of Taos powder – a precip phenomenon that so light and dry that it’s more Martini than Champagne. I’m hunched over my poles, waiting at the base of Lift #1. Gore-tex is crinkling, coffee is imbibed, and the musky scent of herbal remedy fills the cold air. But while it’s a typical powder day at Taos Ski Valley, it’s actually very unusual. Yeah, there are no snowboarders; old school Taos has never let them in. But the big news is that every other skier in line sports freeheel gear – up to 50% on a powder day. Tele at Taos and you’ll lose your “alternative” status, but gain kindred freeheel partners exuding an unquenchable thirst for untamed terrain.
Steeped in southwest culture, half hour from the Taos Pueblo, tumbleweeds and the artsy town of Taos, Taos Ski Valley is a high elevation hamlet in the Sangro de Christo mountains, jutting out the top of a steep box canyon. “Most people that live here now were hitchhiking or driving their VW bus through town on their way to California 20 years ago,” explains Chris of the Thundirbird Lodge, “either they lost a wheel or didn’t get a ride, and they ended up staying. With Taos, you either love it or hate it.”
For telemarkers, there’s nothing to hate, just leg-burning bump runs, steep, tight forest excursions, and a long, smooth ridgeline. Gnarly conditions like hidden rocks and stumps bond tele’ers together at Taos, with a strength we only wish the snow crystals had. From alpine to telemarker, tourists to locals, and teens to grandparents, weathered “Ridgeheads,” spend their days trekking from the top of chair 6 along the sprawling ridgeline choosing their poison. Tele styles are as diverse as the eccentrics that call Taos home, from rippers doing it for decades to fearful newbies tentatively sliding their knee back like a puppet string over which they had lost control.
If you want help honing your skills at Taos you don’t have to wait around for that one telemark instructor that only works two days a week, 15 out of Tao’s100 adult instructors telemark, as well as a handful of children instructors. A six-week weekend tele clinic, taught by tele guru, Hank, draws men and women from Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Los Alamos.
• Eat at Rhoda’s for a low-key atmosphere and great food from veggi pasta to duck to lobster.
• The Hondo Restaurant at the Inn at Snakedance has delicious and harty meals for a fairly hearty price. Carnivores should try the bacon-wrapped buffalo in shitake mushroom gravy. Home made deserts from sinfully rich lava chocolate cake to coconut iced cream to crème Brule.
• For a reasonable price you can get a massage at the Inn at Snakedance – ask for Abeile.
• If it’s Thursday, try to find the “Martini Tree,” a tradition started by ski school founder, Ernie Blake, when he used the gin drink to coax a fearful student down Al’s Run. Serve yourself if you can find it. If not, the après-ski joint at the base called the Martini Tree is easier to find.
• Tele events like Demo Day, Tele Fun Day, the 6-week locals clinic, and tele ski week.
• The shop carries tele rental gear