Taos Ski Valley has long been on my list of “must-ski” destinations. Located in the mountains of northern New Mexico, Taos has a big-time freeskiing reputation. It’s also known as a great resort for families. For us, that’s the perfect combination.
In March, my 16 year-old son and I road tripped south to check out the mountain for ourselves.
Here’s our report, with ten solid reasons to visit Taos this winter.
1. Where the Rockies Begin
If New Mexico brings to mind spicy chile peppers rather than cold snow, you’re not alone. New Mexico is one of the most diverse states in the U.S., a land of high desert plateaus, rolling plains, ancient native settlements and world-class art colonies. It’s also where the Rocky Mountains begin.
Taos Ski Valley lies at the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains adjacent to Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest peak at 13,159 feet. The summit of the resort atop Kachina Peak is 12,481 feet. There’s nothing small about these mountains.
2. Terrain for All
Located in a narrow canyon, Taos’ slopes rise steeply from the Village and can be disorienting for first-time visitors. From the base, guests can see only 1/30 of the resort. While there are four lifts here, two of them go straight up. The other two, a short magic carpet and the Pioneer lift, are for beginners.
From this vantage point, it’s hard to imagine anything in between.
In reality, the terrain at Taos Ski Valley is almost evenly split at 49% green and blue and 51% black and double black. The mountain has two sides, divided by the ridge running up from the base to the Ski Patrol headquarters.
To access either side, take Lift 1 or Lift 5 and then ski over to Lift 6 or Lift 2 on gentle green terrain. At the top of these lifts, advanced and expert skiers can ski back down through several chutes or check in at Ski Patrol to access extensive hike-to terrain.
Beginners can take Honeysuckle, a flowing green run that traverses the mountain with options for other green and blue trails. Honeysuckle will also get you to Lift 4, a good spot for families, with options for blue, green and black terrain. Lift 8 is another sweet spot for intermediate and beginner skiers, while advanced and expert skiers will gravitate toward Kachina Peak.
3. Easier Access to Kachina Peak
In 2014, a new lift was built to the top of Kachina Peak, eliminating a 45-minute bootpack.
While access to Kachina Peak is now easier, the skiing is not.
Kachina Peak is a realm of steep chutes and natural obstacles (think rocks, trees and windblown snow). With some pitches approaching 45°, take a minute to catch your breath and watch other skiers before choosing a line. If you want a “warm-up” stick to Main Street, the easier way down (but still a double black).
Once you’ve got a feel for the terrain and the snow, choose your challenge.
At some point, when you’re lapping the peak, take time to click out and walk to the summit where the views of Wheeler Peak are staggering.
When you’re done with peak laps, traverse just above the base of the lift through a short stand of trees to Hunziker Bowl for some wide open ripping.
4. Legendary Hike-To Terrain
Taos Ski Valley’s extreme terrain is justly famous and for more than 10 years, the mountain has hosted the Taos Freeride Championships, a qualifying event for the Freeride World Tour.
In addition to Kachina Peak, hike-to terrain on West Basin Ride and Highline Ridge serves up steep bumps, chutes and glades. Hiking opens up the most terrain. But if you prefer to keep your skis on, you can also access part of West Basin Ridge via the High Traverse at the top of Lift 2.
Before you enter either area, check in at Ski Patrol HQ and get a quick orientation of what to expect and where to go based on the day’s conditions and your abilities.
5. Lots to Learn
Taos has a special spot just for kids on Strawberry Hill. Here, at the Children’s Learning Center and daycare, you’ll find a rental shop, two magic carpets and two child-friendly chairlifts serving kid-friendly learning terrain. Lessons are available for kids 3 and up.
In addition to full and half-day lessons, Taos offers weeklong packages for kids. Younger kids are offered full or half day instruction for six days with the same instructor.
Teens, too, can get in on the action. Teen Snowsports Weeks include 6 two-hour morning lessons, leaving plenty of time for independent exploration. All Snowsports Week lessons begin on Sunday and end on Friday.
6. Adult Snowsports Weeks
Adults love Taos Ski Valley’s Snowsports Weeks, too. Adult Snowsports Weeks include 6 two-hour morning lessons as well as one or two “tech talk” evenings.
Specialized adult offerings include Race Week, Women’s Week, Tele Week and Super Snowsports Week. Private weeks can be arranged and there is also a First Experience Package including lift tickets, lessons and rentals.
7. The Village, Reimagined
A tiny settlement with just 69 year-round residents, the Village has limited services. But it has almost all that you’ll need (including spare toothbrushes) just steps from most of the lodging.
Everything at Taos Ski Valley is just steps from everything else, especially now that construction on the Blake hotel is nearly complete. Named in honor of ski area founders Ernie and Rhoda Blake, the Blake at Taos Ski Valley opens on February 1st, with 80 guest rooms, a restaurant, spa, and the Village’s only pool.
In addition to the Blake, there are hotels, condos, B&Bs and rental homes nearby. We stayed at Snakedance Condominiums and we’d happily return. It was quiet, convenient, clean and super-comfortable.
As for dining, options include ski town fare at Tim’s Stray Dog Cantina, breakfast at the Blonde Bear, and lunch and dinner at the on-mountain Bavarian Lodge, where there are also four guest rooms in a traditional German ski lodge.
8. A Vibrant History
Like many U.S. ski resorts, Taos Ski Valley was founded in the 1950s and designed to mimic a European resort. Skiing at that time was relatively new in North America, without a history of its own.
Yet Taos has a remarkably old and multi-cultural history. Seventeen miles away, you’ll find Taos Pueblo and the town of Taos. For more than 1000 years, Taos Pueblo has been home to the Red Willow People. Visitors to this UNESCO World Heritage Site are welcome, with tours available.
The town of Taos started as a Spanish mission around 1615. Stroll through the plaza, visit galleries and enjoy authentic Northern New Mexico dining. The town also has a wide range of lodging.
9. Surprisingly Close
Taos can seem remote, but it’s actually easy to visit. Fly into either Albuquerque (2.5 hour drive) or Santa Fé (1.5 hour drive). Shuttles are available if you don’t rent a car.
The town of Taos is about 30 minutes away and connected to the ski area by a free town shuttle, the Chilé Line.
10. Big (Mountain) Value
Skiers and snowboarders at Taos Ski Valley have 1,294 skiable acres with a vertical drop of 3,281’ to explore. Fifteen lifts serve 110 trails. There is snowmaking on all beginner and intermediate slopes and an average annual snowfall of 305”. Taos averages more than 300 days of sunshine each year, with many of these in winter.
Taos is on the Mountain Collective pass and has discounted multi-day rates, along with reduced rates for teens, kids, seniors and military. Buy in advance and save the most money.
More Southwest Skiing
- Ski Resort Marketing: NSAA Awards for 2016, August 1, 2016 (Taos Ski Valley won for the best overall campaign.)
- Get Lost in the Woods. North America’s Best Resorts for Tree Skiing, February 15, 2016.
- More of North America’s Favorite Ski Runs, December 28, 2015.
- Skiing Purgatory with Teens (Or Toddlers), December 16, 2015.
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