Note: Taos opens to snowboarders on March 19, 2008.
A ski patrol party in Taos, New Mexico is hardly the place for a snowboarder. But on Sunday night, January 13, that’s where I found myself.
Rick Pyatt--a patroller of 22 years--was one of the first to welcome me (“greet is probably a better word). Within a few sentences, our conversation turned to policies and rope closures, and Rick delivered a deadpan line. He said: Go as fast as you can, look for the ropes shaped like a noose, and try to stick your head through them. His blue eyes seared and a smug grin shown in the lines on his face in the dim light of the Martini Tree Bar.
The comment didn’t bother me much, partly because I’ve known a million Ricks, but also because I knew that I’d be riding up Taos’ Chair 5 at 8:00 a.m. the next morning.
The day after announcing that Taos would open to snowboarders on March nineteenth of this year, Adriana Blake--granddaughter of Ernie Blake, the founder of Taos--received 940 e-mails. One of them was from me.
I asked for a preview. I wanted to see Taos first-hand so that snowboarders everywhere would know what to expect come “opening day. It was a potentially explosive plan--a handful of riders cruising the slopes of a place that hadn’t seen change for generations. But I assembled a small crew, including Ryan Thompson, Josh Sherman, Java Fernandez, and the future mayor of Portland, Brad Steward, and we jumped on the figurative grenade.
Eight o’clock is the early lift, and it’s usually reserved for patrol. The base area was empty except for a few employees as we passed by, snowboards in hand. I loaded with Adriana, and the chair carried us over Al’s Run--moguls for miles and a snowboarder’s worst nightmare.
Just shy of the top, where a single board would be set down on a Taos run for the first time, the chairlift stopped. We dangled. And then we looked to the lift shack for an explanation. It was Rick, making the most of skiing’s last gasp.
On the mountain, we hiked cold snow--once up Highline Ridge and then out West Basin Ridge. Short pitches full of features fell away, many of them untracked. Views of Kachina and Wheeler Peak were drawn out in one direction and, in the other, the desert and the Rio Grande.
As the sun filled in the valley, skiers began to unload at the top of Chair 6. Cultures collided in awkward silence, as the public looked its future in the face. Cameras and cell phones popped from every pocket to document the strange scene and to prove that it really happened--that it really was happening. Some, it seemed, were in denial, and had yet to come to terms with the reality of March 19. Others approved wholeheartedly, and a young girl on skis looked at me and said: “Oh cool. I’ve never seen a snowboarder before.
We rode hardpack runs for the rest of the day, exploring the mountain, which is more quality than quantity. From the chairlifts, we were cheered, booed, and “f-you’d, but we were finally riding at Taos.
Taos is a freerider’s mountain. It’s most like Wolf Creek, Crested Butte (without the real estate initiatives), and what Aspen Highlands used to be. It’s least like Bear Mountain, Breckenridge, and anything Intrawest. There are almost no beginner runs and there’s only a very small park. As Adriana puts it, “The terrain park is secondary to the terrain.
“Town is a village of 101 year-round residents, and it’s unlike any other U.S. resort. Independently owned chalets--full of a charm more European than New Mexican--dot the valley floor. The local people are some of the coolest anywhere. They’re nostalgic, and they sense the end of an era, but most of them totally get the changing times. A lot of them are snowboarders.
Continue to check twsnow.com for developments, and come judge Taos for yourself on March 19.
For lodging, try Alpine Village Suites (alpine-suites.com).