Taos Ski Valley

No skiing experience has been quite as intimidating as the first time I saw Al’s Run, driving up to the base of the Taos ski area. A narrow alley shooting up the lift line and angling almost straight up toward the heavens, Al’s brought on instant acrophobia. An exceptional slope, even for a typically heart-stopping black diamond run, it promised a continuous roll to the bottom for any misstep. And I hadn’t even seen the double diamonds yet.

Al’s Run epitomizes Taos as envisioned by the late Ernie Blake, a Swiss by birth who was one of the pioneers of skiing in the American West. Blake found his perfect world in the shadows of New Mexico’s tallest peak in the mid-fifties and set out to separate his ski area from the competition. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Blake’s son Mickey, who runs the operation now, has overseen extensive expansion, in both size and tolerance for less-than-expert skiers (intermediate and beginner terrain now accounts for almost 50 percent of the total acreage, and the full-service children’s ski school and day care facility, the 18,000-square-foot Kinderkäfig, is the biggest in the state).

Still, Taos remains very much an alpine purist’s nirvana, with the fluffiest powder this side of Alta, Utah, and the highest elevation (11,819 at the top), biggest vertical (the distance from the top of the highest lift to the base of the ski area, in this case 2,612 feet), and most snow (323 inches a year, on average) in the region—not to mention nonexistent lines at the lifts and a “skier’s only” policy that bans snowboards.

Along with wider throughways and more intermediate runs have come other improvements aimed to enhance the breakneck thrill quotient and make you forget Al’s Run. The runs dropping off the Highline Ridge, for instance—a ten-minute hike from the top of the No. 2 and No. 6 lifts along a path with breathtaking views—are some of the nastiest vertical chutes on the mountain (they go by the names Hidalgo, Juárez, Niños Héroes, and Billy Sol). You’re as likely to share a chair with a jet-setter from Gstaad or Connecticut as with a student from Tech. But no matter where they’re from, these ski people are serious about their pursuit and so old-school friendly that you just might get directions to one of those legendary trees on Al’s Run with martinis buried around it in the snow.— J.N.P.

Season November 26—April 11 (505-776-1111, 800-992-7669; www.skitaos.org).

Size 1,100 acres, 72 runs (24 percent beginner, 25 percent intermediate, 51 percent expert).

Lifts/prices 11 lifts. All-day lift ticket $29 and half-day ticket $26 through December 18, $42 and $29 thereafter.

2005 Note: Please check www.skitaos.org for up-to-date fees and services information .

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