The High Desert

Taos is More Than Great Skiing

It was nearly 50 years ago that Swiss-born Ernie Blake flew over the Taos mountains in his Cessna 170, and noted that it offered skiing comparable to his native land. The Taos Ski Valley resort, now named as one of the top 10 destinations in North America by Skiing magazine, has been in the Blake family’s hands since then, and is now headed by Ernie’s son, Mickey Blake. Today, 300,000 annual visitors enjoy alpine skiing on 72 trails. Although snowboarding is not permitted, winter visitors can rent snowshoes and walking poles or take a spin on the ice-skating rink.

Taos Ski Valley offers spectacular scenery for its 300,000 visitors a year.
Larry Turner/Taos County Chamber of Commerce

The resort has remained the same size for nearly 25 years, and its beauty makes it a dependable filmmaking locale: Valley of the Sun (1942) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) are among the movies made there.

Ski areas are certainly more natural than cityscapes, but they still create significant environmental impacts through logging, erosion and damage to wetlands. The Ski Area Citizens Coalition (SACC) encourages patronage of environmentally friendly resorts, based on thorough exploration of the sites" policies and practices. Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort in Utah was awarded SACC’s first prize in 2001.

Taos Ski Valley received only a "cautious recommendation" that year with a mediocre "C" grade, gaining points for limiting development, but losing them for intense snowmaking and a failure to provide mass transit. Snowmaking can strain water resources, and Ski Valley operates the Southwest’s largest system.
Mickey Blake questions the objectivity of the SACC survey, and points to the resort’s re-vegetation, recycling and expansion-limiting work as proof of its green commitment. "We destroy our environment and we destroy our livelihood," he explains.

An Artists" Enclave

The city of Taos lies on the edge of the high desert in the Carson National Forest, amid squat juniper trees, prickly scrub grasses and towering evergreens. "A mix of trendy galleries and native honesty," according to First Tracks Online Ski Magazine, Taos, where the number of artists per capita is higher than anywhere else in the world, offers a decidedly different experience than most ski towns. The historic Taos Pueblo, home of the Tiwa Indians since at least 900 AD, now enjoys a rich mixture of Anglo, Native American and Spanish cultures.

Dining and lodging opportunities are diverse and plentiful in Taos. For special green accommodations, the Dobson House Bed and Breakfast offers rooms for $110 per night in an Earthship, which is a self-sufficient dwelling made from recycled clay, rubber and glass. It’s equipped with its own solar cells, water collection facility and sewage treatment system.

Taos is also a destination for green energy aficionados. Nicknamed the "Solar Capital of the World," Taos enjoys 320 days of sunshine per year. Taos" KTAO (101.9 FM) is the U.S." largest solar-powered radio station. Aside from the pulsating rock beat it sponsors the annual Taos Solar Music Festival. "KTAO really shows the power of the sun!" says owner Brad Hockmeyer.

A Summer Season

The Bavarian Lodge offers nature tours into Williams Lake Glacial Canyon, a unique alpine wetland. The drawing card at the Inn at Snakedance is a herd of llamas, which are available for "Take a Llama to Lunch" wilderness tours guided by trained naturalists. And Taos Ski Valley’s chairlifts are pressed into service for summer sightseeing. Visitors can ride up and hike down, or simply relax and watch the passing scenery.

LAURA M. HRASTAR and DIANA J. BENTON are E interns with wanderlust.