“TAOS, a 4 letter word for steep!” It’s posted just about everywhere you go, and it’s no lie. Our buddy “Q,” decided to head west and confirms this statement in our latest installment of Local’s Lowdown.
Taos is a mountain that doesn’t normally come up in conversation. Even when I was talking about New Mexico as a destination to ride people would say “There’s snow in New Mexico?” The answer is YES. In fact, as Local Freshies reported earlier this year, Taos is known to get tons of snow during an El Niño winter. So, I reached out to Pete who is a friend of mine that I’ve ridden with for years and after watching Taos get pounded early in the season we’d decided to take our chances in February hoping for an early month storm. They got one, between the 1st and 3rd. Reported totals were in the 24 inch accumulation area, just days before we were supposed to show up.
After a two and a half hour flight from Chicago we landed in Albuquerque. Although there were shuttles that would caravan you from either Albuquerque or Santa Fe airport to the mountain, we opted to rent a car so that we could really get the full experience. After getting our orange Hyundai Santa Fe and doing some quick research, we decided to get creative. It was time for our own impromptu Breaking Bad location tour in Albuquerque!
Breaking Bad Location Tour
First we stopped at Walt’s house, had lunch at Saul’s Office (now Sinners Saints ((Try the Premium Tacos))), then off to the Pickup Point and finally the Carwash.
After monkeying around for a bit it was time to get serious and make moves. The drive to Taos is very desolate with not so much in mountainous scenery. Passing through Albuquerque then around Santa Fe there isn’t much. Like most desert areas there was lots of sage brush, unexplainable chasms and dry river beds dotted the landscape. Normally a sea of grey and brown near Santa Fe, the hillsides would reveal pockets of red-rock which you could spot from miles away.
Once past Santa Fe you’re essentially up against the Rio Grande river valley. After an hour of going through gorges you pop out onto a large plain. It was sunset and it had to be one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a long time. No picture could really do it justice. On our left the plain had a gigantic chasm with steep walls. This held the Rio Grande and further back in the distance to the right was the Tierra Blanca Mountains. This is the range that housed Taos Ski Valley. It was our treat as the sunset the sky seemed to have a purple glow.
The Snow Mansion – A Hostel with all the Amenities
By the time we reached town it was dark and we needed to unload our gear so we could get out to grab a bite. Being practical in our accommodations Pete and I were staying at the Snow Mansion, a huge hostel with some cool perks: free parking, a free pool table, organic dinners, coffee/cereal/fresh fruit breakfasts and having our room was pretty awesome too. You could have easily slept 10 people in this place. With 4 bunks, a queen bed, sofa, mini fridge and private bathroom we had plenty of room to spread out. We unloaded our stuff and were quick out the door to get something to eat at one of the places we’d seen on the way into town.
Pizano’s – A cool Pizza Joint
Pizanos. A cool little pizza joint with a hip feel served up a heck of a meal. Our waitress was extremely helpful and showed us exceptional service suggested a green chilli soup and a pizza. Sounded like a plan. I feel like every region I travel to has their “thing” and New Mexico’s by far is “green chile” and you can get it on or in just about anything from soup to beer and the green chili soup at Pizanos was super tasty. Being a ‘za connoisseur I was pretty impressed with their pie as well, a solid crust, fresh ingredients, legit cheese, this pizza hit the spot. Pie cut it was more New York style but that’s forgivable. Full from dinner it was time to crash and get ready for the next day.
Taos – An Intimidating Mountain
Snow Mansion to Taos Ski Valley or TSV for short is only a short drive and once you’re there it’s pretty impressive. From the base of Lift 1 you stare up at an endless mogul run that looks like it’s almost vertical. Directly next to it, another mogul run which is less vertical. It’s pretty damn intimidating seeing something like that being a snowboarder. But a sign at the base reminds you “Don’t panic you’re looking at 1/30th of Taos Ski Valley, we have many EASY runs too!” Mocking you!
Snow in Taos is quite different than other western resorts. Even though it had been a few days since their storm the snow was quite dry and capable of being pushed around fairly easily because it wouldn’t pack. That quality really helped a lot in what looked like skied out areas between trees and groomed runs.
After a few laps Pete decided to start getting adventurous and wanted to do the Kachina Peak. On the way up it’s looking pretty bad, moguls as far as the eye could see. Pete’s thinking if we ride the ridge to the tree line we could find a stash or two. Not knowing the terrain very well yet I’m feeling pretty sheepish but figure if we’re here, I’m gonna do it. The ridge is wind whipped and has revealed some rocks along the path; looking for a place to drop in we finally make it to the trees. Pete finds a line and we’re off. Thankfully there’s something to push because this thing is pretty much vertical with trees just out of harm’s way.
Getting hungry we were right by the Phoenix Grill and it was time for a bite. The exterior of the building had a unique decor but I’d recommend against this place while there are other options available. Being out in the mountains time management is critical when taking a break and the way the service was managed caused the line to grow when there shouldn’t have been a line. Also, there were items listed that didn’t actually exist. But, we were here to ride so after a longer than expected break we headed back out.
The Iron Beavers
Running around the rest of the mountain we ended back at the bottom at some point and that’s where we meet a local named Jeffe, a skier who happened to score a 3-day discount pass. We ride together a bit, having a bit of hot chocolate and decide to take a longer break and get a beer at the Bavarian Lodge and Restaurant, where we meet the “Iron Beavers” a group of girls who were there for a ladies weekend from Durango and were having a blast apparently drinking and dancing to a DJ provided by the bar. Besides being super friendly they were also super gracious, sharing their beer and other supplies, they were out to party. After all the cocoa and beer we sort of lost track of time, DON’T MISS THE LAST LIFT OUT! Rubezahl is a long ride and the trail is flat enough in places where if you’re riding, you’ll have have to unstrap and skate. Not the way you want to end your day. But of course we missed it and had to manage.
Roaming Dogs Everywhere!
Noticing a few issues with his board Pete suggested we take our boards in for a tune-up overnight. Jeffe had suggested the shop on the hill Terry’s Sports. After dropping our rides off it was back to the hostel to clean up for dinner. Something I forgot to mention about Taos Ski Valley, the town of Taos and surrounding areas is that there are freely roaming dogs just about EVERYWHERE so don’t be alarmed. Whereas I didn’t come across a single aggressive animal, apparently the laws on cleaning up after them aren’t as aggressive so WATCH YOUR STEP!
Terry’s Sports – A High Service Shop for Skis and Snowboards
Pete and I make it a point to ride as early and as long as possible when we go on these trips. So for 3 days we shoot to be at the hill by 9am (or open) and ride the day as long as our pass will allow for. Day 2 was no different. There early again, we go to pick up our boards at Terry’s. The clerk working tells us that there’s still something he wanted to finish on one of the boards and it was going to be a few minutes. Knowing we had to meet Jeffe again Pete and I split up. Once the boards are ready I’m stoked, the clerk had given us an employee discount saving us some serious bones and all he wanted in return was for us to drop off some beer after our day. DONE. In the process of being tuned Pete’s board had to have the bindings removed. Unknowingly I bring the board to him and he realizes that they’re set for regular stance, he’s goofy. He goes and sorts it out and Jeffe shows up. We ride all day, the snow is no different than the day before, soft, malleable providing a good base for a decent day of riding.
Bavarian Lodge and Restaurant – A Great Option when on the Mountains
Riding around taking advantage of the day it was soon time for lunch, we’d stopped at the Bavarian Lodge and Restaurant the day before and noticed they served a great menu and I was starving. Brats and schnitzel were sounding pretty good but they had something they called the Jagerschnitzel “pork cutlet breaded, fried and topped with mushroom gravy, served with mashed potatoes and sauteed seasonal vegetable” that was out of this world. Every bite was a bit of heaven, if you’re there, get it. Top that off with a 32oz nut brown ale in a bavarian style glass and you’ve got a winning combination for a skiing lunch. PROST!
Super Bowl Sunday at Martini Tree
Being SUPER BOWL SUNDAY we knew we’d be doing our apres ski at Martini Tree. A bar directly at the bottom of the hill packed with hungry Bronco fans ready to watch the game on one of the many TVs around the room. Not having a horse in the race neither Pete, Jeffe or myself were really all too concerned on who won, it was more about just hanging out and enjoying the atmosphere. Some beer and nachos, the Broncos won and it was time to get home and to bed.
The very last day on hill was a bit bitter sweet. Sunny, the conditions were great but I’d still felt like I had to finish something there. Jeffe had ridden with us for a bit, but after getting separated in the park Pete and I figured we should climb the Highline Ridge. A short walk up from the Ski Patrol Headquarters, once at the ridge you can go left up the Highline or right up the West Basin Ridge, we opt to go left up Highline and dive into a line no one had carved out yet. Still soft almost a week later Pete’s thirst for powder was finally satiated.
Accomplished it was time for lunch at the Hotel St. Bernard. They had an outdoor BBQ section which served burgers, brats, chicken sandwiches and fries for a few bucks. Nothing special really about it, just a convenient spot at the base with quick relief. After filling up we plan our last runs to ride out the rest of the day and say farewell to TSV.
The Natural Springs around Taos – A Must Do
People we’d spoken to had a lot to say about the natural hot springs around Taos. After riding we had time, and the idea of soaking a bit was just what the doctor ordered. Jeffe had offered to draw us a map, but after a quick google search we found Black Rock hot spring near John Dunn Bridge a short 20 minute drive from the hostel. After conferring with one of the staff at the Snow Mansion we were on our way. The drive isn’t bad… That is until you make it to the dirt road and even that’s not the part to worry about, it’s the last stretch just before you make it to the bridge which is a pretty good pitch and looked icy in places. A single mistake could take you down the 100’ cliff and into the Rio Grande, I wouldn’t recommend going unless you have a 4X4 or know the road is clear. We’re stupid so we continued on. Once you cross Rio Grande there’s an obvious parking lot and trailhead.
The trail it’s about what you’d expect for going down to a river, rocks, a small gap, some cool caves off one side. Once we make it, there’s a couple who are just about to leave and a guy sitting in the pool. We ask if we’re in the right place and we’re assured we are so I start stripping down getting ready to hop in. I’ll warn you as I was warned looking for this spot, it’s a local hangout where clothes are optional and as I’m getting ready to hop in, Aaron’s pasty naked ass is getting out to chase his dog, luckily a couple other ladies who’d also happened to be traveling stopped by to even the numbers out a bit.
Aaron told stories of rockers like Van Morrison
While hanging out in the pool Aaron told stories of rockers like Van Morrison who had come out to the spring to hang out and take acid, how locals would come out to party there and how on a Monday night he thought the place would be empty but a party happened to show up. The pool was comfortable, there were rocks to sit on and being in the river valley you had the advantage of being totally isolated from any light pollution. While we sat and chatted the sun was going down and with each passing minute you got an even better view of the night sky than the minute before. From where I was sitting I was able to watch the big dipper chase across the sky and above me the Milky-Way was so clear it looked like a cloud, a great way to close out our adventure.
Soon it was time to go get dressed in the cold night air and make the semi-dangerous trek back up the completely black trail with nothing more than my iPhone and Pete’s iPod light to guide the way. Safely back at the car Pete negotiated the road back like a champ, our front wheel drive Santa Fe definitely proved its mettle and we were back at the hostel ready for showers and to get out for some grub.
Taos Ale House
A local brew-pub which proved promising was Taos Ale House. Inside was nothing special, it reminded me more of a butcher’s shop than a bar, but none the less there were a handful of people at the bar and having some food at some tables. To start a De La Vegas Pecan-Ale caught my eye. It was unreal. I swear to god it was like drinking a pecan pie without the actual pie. I’m also a sucker for a chicken fried steak, don’t know where the predilection came from, but they had one on the menu. I had to have it and I’m glad I did. Smothered in gravy it was exactly what my body needed after 3 days of riding my ass off and to cap off the trip I had to finish with another pecan ale.
Taos is a really amazing place. The mountain is definitely an experience with tons of gorgeous steep runs, cliffs and moguls galore for you to enjoy. The people are crunchy, the town is quiet, the sky is probably the most beautiful you will ever see, give it a shot and I promise an experience you won’t soon forget.