Taos: Part I 

The Tribal Wars

click to flip through (2) Don't Panic? Yer kidding.
  • Don't Panic? Yer kidding.
Taos ski valley is legendary for its powder, its bumps, its ski school, its ridges where the intrepid hike in the thin air of 12,000+ feet to exquisitely steep — and, believe it or not, still treed — runs where they’re likely to have the entire pitch to themselves. It’s also legendary for the fact that only skiers are allowed access to this wealth of snowslider’s paradise.

No one told the two guys at the top of Lift #1.

Lift #1 is called Al’s Run Lift. Except nobody calls it that; they call it Lift 1. It rises 1,617 from the base of the mountain. It’s pretty much the first lift everyone rides to start their day. At its base is a sign encouraging people not to panic. Al’s Run is the kind of ski run that makes almost everyone panic. It cascades down the front of the mountain in a series of long, steep steps. At the bottom of each step is a thin ribbon of sanity, a traverse to something easier, an invitation to get the hell off Al’s Run and onto something less threatening to body and self-esteem. From top to bottom, side to side, Al’s Run is a riot of moguls. Big moguls… scary moguls… steep moguls… moguls only a certified lunatic, a highly accomplished skier or a serious masochist could love. And every single one of them is right under the friggin’ lift.

I don’t know if the two guys at the top of Al’s Run were actually going to put on a show. I suspect not. Whatever their intention, they never got the chance. The lift stopped, they got on at the top, accompanied by a Ski Patroller, and downloaded. No one downloads Lift 1. Except these two guys, their snowboards, and the patroller escorting them off the mountain. No snowboarders at Taos, dudes.

I don’t have a clue how these guys got to the top of Al’s Run with their snowboards. From my vantage point as our chairs passed each other, it didn’t look like they were holding splitboards that might have fooled a sleepy liftie, just regular, one-piece snowboards. Maybe they walked up; maybe they beamed up. But one thing was certain; they weren’t riding those things down.

March 19th is emancipation day for snowboarders at Taos. After, well, forever, those two guys and all their friends will be able to take their snowboards up the mountain and ride them down, ride ‘em down alongside the skiers who’ve had Taos all to themselves and who will continue to have it all to themselves until last ride on March 18th.

“Taos has always been about family,” explained Alejandro Blake, grandson of founder Ernie Blake whose spirit still casts a spell over the resort almost 20 years after his death. “Families can’t come to Taos when one of them snowboards. My grandfather would have embraced this change.”

Of course, not everybody does. Monique, an outgoing, middle-age Belgian woman over from her home in London for an annual two-week pilgrimage was sanguine about the change. “I hate the idea,” she said, quickly adding, “But I understand it. We’re (skiers) are getting older. Snowboarders are younger. Not even Taos can continue to survive catering to an aging population. I’ll still come here; it’s the only place I ski.”

The epic battle between skiers and snowboarders, the battle that played out in so many acts at so many resorts is being relived in cyberspace at www.ridetaos.org, on chairlifts and on the patio of the very comfortable Bavarian restaurant at the foot of Kachina lift.

“I overheard a conversation the other day,” said J.P., an amiable server at the restaurant. “A couple of long-time Taos skiers were reciting the litany of snowboard crimes — blind spot, can’t do moguls, scrape the snow off the steeps — and one said, ‘This experiment will fail; after a year or two they’ll kick them off the mountain and we’ll have it back.’ I just shook my head.”

The ‘experiment’ won’t fail. But it will change Taos. Whether the change is for better or worse depends on how tribal your affiliation is. It’s ironic. It’s the Shiite-Sunni schism writ small. We all worship the same deity, Ullr. But for some of us, our differences are simply irreconcilable.

Make your peace people. We have our humanity in common… unless we abandon it to fear, prejudice and dogma. Ski Taos, Ride Taos, either way you win.

Taos New Mexico. Al's Run: All Bumps, All the Time.


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