Kachina Peak from the top of lift 7a, on my last day at Taos
Last season I spent a week at Taos, and loved it, and wanted to go back this season. So way back in August 2018 I started a thread to try to get a mini-Gathering going for early 2019... and it turned out great... We wound up with 25 PugSkiers or friends of PugSkiers that I know or met, and there were a few other Ski Divas floating around too.
Personally, I had a great week skiing, and doing a Ski Week - a daily 2 hour group lesson each morning, that Taos is well known for. We had a variety of conditions - cloudy and hardpack, a little fresh snow, full on dumping, shin deep trees, and bluebird. There were dinners and apres and a lot of fun skiing.
Day 1 - Saturday, 2/2/19
I flew into Santa Fe from DC (via Phoenix) this year, as it was a bit cheaper for flights at the right times than Albuquerque (where most folks will fly into). I got a ride from my friend Meimei (MarzNC from the EpicSki days) and got to Taos around 8:00. One advantage of a Gathering - sometimes you can catch a ride. I was staying right in the village in a nice condo I shared with @mdf and @Dean ... it worked out great. 2 bedrooms and a loft, and 2 bathrooms. It was a nice place and I'd stay there again.
Santa Fe airport - this is the entirety of the baggage claim and there are no gates; everyone exits onto the tarmac. It was a really small airport - reminded me a bit of Mammoth airport.
Lenticular clouds over the mountains on the drive up to Taos Ski Valley
Day 2 - Sunday, 2/3/19
Sunday is the first day of the Ski Week... so I got my Mountain Collective pass (no Ikon for me this year) and my Ski Week ticket, and headed out onto the mountain.
The new ski school office. Taos has been making upgrades and village expansions, and the ticket offices have moved around and are new - both to pick up MCPs, Ikon passes, and get ski school tickets.
I thought this sign was cool. Ernie Blake was the founder of Taos Ski Valley, and always promoted lessons and learning to ski better. Originally at Taos (in the late 50's), you were required to take a lesson when you bought a lift ticket.
The brand new Lift 1 ... the first high speed lift at Taos. This is the only way out of the base area, and it was revamped for 2018-19. Sadly (to me) they got rid of the "Don't Panic" sign, that let beginners and intermediates know that the black diamond terrain visible isn't the only thing off the lift.
For the Ski Week, everyone gets to the Whistlestop Cafe mid-mountain on the front side for the ski off... they assign you a group, and you're off. It was busy this year - ~120 people in the ski off. I wound up with a large group, but after some movement and shuffling, by the second day it was a 4 person group for most of the week.
Every morning from Sunday - Friday you meet up at 10:00 (or a time set by your instructor) and have ~2 hour group lesson. This is done for all levels, from beginners, to experts. They generally try to find out what you want to work on - fundamentals, bumps, steeps, etc. and get you into an appropriate group.
Coming down to the Whistlestop Cafe to get ready for the ski-off. The high areas remained pretty clouded for most of the day.
The ski-off, people beginning to be sorted. I went pretty early... and I think that's @Unpiste and @aveski on the far left without yellow jackets.
A bit later, with a bunch of folks lined up in their groups. There were several groups below me as well at this point.
@Weegie McAdams was in my group (left) and Jim on the right, were great to ski with all week. @Flying Dutchess was also in the group most of the week, and @Dean joined us for a day.
This was the view at the top of lift 4, which drops you off at the base of Kachina peak. The peak was completey fogged in, and the wreaths are there where a few weeks ago they pulled the two men out of the avalanche, who both, very sadly, eventually died. A pretty sobering reminder that you're at a serious mountain.
The first day of lessons, the instructor is trying to get a feel for the whole group and what they'll take on for the week. We skied some groomers, and then some bumps. (Typically for Taos when they haven't had a lot of fresh snow, the bumps were irregular and deep - very difficult for me. But that's why I wanted to learn!) Once the lessons end, everyone generally heads for lunch. So places can get crowded if your lesson runs long. My instructor generally preferred 9:30-11:30, rather than 10:00-12:00, which I think is better even though it limits warm-up run options.
After the lessons, at lunch in the cafeteria. @Pumba , @MattSmith, @mdf, and @Jimski ... and that's @aveski just out of frame bottom right. Most folks ate in the cafeteria most days, but there were other lunches at Rhoda's, and the Bavarian, and the St. Bernard - which are all sit down places, and sometimes cheaper than the cafeteria.
@Bruuuce and his wife Kathy made it out from Steamboat. They didn't take a ski week, but I think they still had a great time.
@Bruuuce and Kathy skiing under lift 4
Highline Ridge in some fog... All of the terrain is skied frequently with some short-ish hiking from off to the right.
@Bruuuce in the (hard to see in the flat light) bumps
Riding back to the front side on lift 7a at the end of the day. 7a is an old short double chair that just connects the top of lift 7 to the top of the ridge shown here. I call it the most uncomfortable chair I've ridden.
Day 3 - Monday, 2/4/19
The second day of lessons. Our group shrank, and we had a good time trying some more bumps, working on form some more, and skiing all around the mountain.
Our instructor for the week, Dave Doty... Coincidentally, he taught my instructor from last season to ski, and she has been at Taos ever since - over 30 years. Dave has been there for more than 40. He seemed to find PugSki and how we do Gatherings interesting... maybe he'll join!
@Weegie McAdams and Jim on the lift, enjoying the day
It was a little clearer today... Here you can see the top of lift 7 below me, and Kachina Peak in the distance.
The base area prior to the 1 PM meet-up. Most days folks would gather here at about 9 AM, and about 1 PM to figure out who was going to ski what and make some groups. Taos makes that easy, since there's just the one lift and one area to meet from the base village.
Some of the afternoon ski group that day... @Tony S, @Jimski, @Dean, and Meimei.
@BillSavage and @Tony S taking on some steep terrain off of Honeysuckle cat-track to the backside.
A view of Wheeler Peak, the highest peak in New Mexico
Day 4 - Tuesday, 2/5/19
Taos reported 1" of new snow overnight, but wind and local variation did it's job, and it was more like 4-5" in many places on the backside. So today my instructor asked if anyone minded if we mostly just looked for untracked areas - and we all thought that would be fine. That amount of snow on groomers or easy trees can make for some real hero conditions, and it was a very fun morning, mostly off of lifts 7 and 4 (the backside).
Requisite PugSki sticker shot, over some lightly tracked area.
The class - Jim, @Weegie McAdams, @Flying Dutchess, and Dave
@Flying Dutchess and Jim at the bottom of lower Japanese Flag Glade... this was a small easy glade, but the first one I've ever skied! And in very nice conditions. I'd wind up skiing a few more the rest of the week, including a couple of black diamond glades.
Heading through some flat untracked, to look for more.
A little instruction
Taos was as crowded as it typically is.
The sun peeked out a bit in the afternoon
I skied the afternoon with @cantunamunch and SO Andrea, and @Jimski ... Andrea coming down Totemoff here
Another view of Highline
Day 5 - Wednesday, 2/6/19
Most mornings, many of us booted up in the newly renovated locker room. If you got there by 8:30 or so (lifts start at 9:00) there was no issue finding a spot for your bag under the benches. Electronic lockers are also rentable.
PugSki corner in the far side of the locker room... @Near Nyquist , @Unpiste , @Sandy_NYC , @ToMMy , and @MegKan ... most mornings that corner was full of PugSkiers.
This day started like the last few... we continued to work on bumps and and technique in the lessons - side slips and short turns and tipping skis. But today it was getting colder, and there was more snow coming...
Snowing at lift 4
Snowing at the Bavarian restaurant near lift 4 during a quick lesson break
@Flying Dutchess trying to get the snow off her boots to click in, with @Dean watching
Sisters! @Weegie McAdams and @Flying Dutchess
View of Moe's... some snow starting to collect
Right around lunch, the snow starting coming down and blowing hard - total whiteout outside so everyone started coming in at once caked in snow... Mamie (Mrs. Grump) came in like an icicle!
After lunch it continued to snow hard, but was clear enough to go ski. We had amazing conditions the rest of the afternoon - total powder day and some free refillage.
Lots of unseen skis in the afternoon
@Dean in the pow
Cool little pitch off lift 4 where the snow piled up. Taos ended up only reporting 7 overnight, but again it was a lot more in places... especially in trees which could have been from all the snow blowing off the trees.
This night there was a nice Apres Ski get together at @KingGrump and Mamie's place... I didn't take any pics, but thanks to the great hosts!
Day 6 - Thursday, 2/7/19
Bluebird powder day! Though they groomed quite a bit, there were some very nice areas.... sides of trails, glades, and the bumps really got a lot nicer with the fresh snow. We had some shin deep trees in my lesson, and there were reports from @mdf of finding more than knee deep in places. It was a very nice day!
We finally saw the sun!
Morning lesson meetup in the sun
Beautiful views on a bluebird day
There was a freestyle competition being held that started on Thursday. This is near the top of lift 8, where Stauffenburg comes down off the ridge. That's a lot of people scoping out the terrain... they'd set up a judging booth at the bottom later. Stauffenburg tops out over 40 degrees.
Finding some deep stuff away from the groomers
Some PugSkiers in the bumps under lift 4 - @android, @ToMMy, @MegKan, @KingGrump, @Dean and someone I can't identify
View of the lower Kachina lift line... it's mostly untouched as it hadn't been open since the avalanche. It opened a couple of days after I left.
Mamie, @Dean, @Jimski, @KingGrump
Wonderful views and snow crusted trees
Day 7 - Friday, 2/8/19
The last lesson day. It was a bright sunny day and the dark goggle lenses came out. We had a good final lesson, but for Jim getting taken out pretty hard as we practiced side slipping.... part of that was the crowds. It got noticeably busier (though still no real lift lines) on a nice Friday with new snow.
On the last day of ski week, there is always a visit to the martini tree, for a story about skiing and martinis, and the chance to have your own drink from a martini pitcher...
Hearing the story
@Weegie McAdams with the pitcher....
... and after drinking
Kachina peak in the brightest sun of the week
Lonestar run... a great blue bump pitch to practice on after the earlier snow. This day was more crowded as it was a Friday with nice conditions.
There had been bombing on Kachina, and you can see a lot of slide debris, and some ski cutting where it didn't slide. Most of it still wasn't open - I think those are all patrol tracks.
Huge sunny views!
At the end of the day, I headed back to Santa Fe, and my Taos week was pretty much over... but it was terrific!!
Day 8 - Saturday, 2/9/19
My day to leave.... as I headed back to the Santa Fe airport... this is the whole waiting area for the airport.
One last note... I don't usually have many pics of me, since I take a lot of them... so I bought one that the on-mountain photographer snagged... Not too bad, bit of an A-frame.
Taos is high, with the base area being at almost 9500 feet. Something to keep in mind if you choose to stay in the village. I got the usual "wake up a few times in the early morning" altitude effect, but worked hard to stay hydrated (no alcohol the first few nights) and handled it OK.
We stayed in Twining condos in the village, which I can recommend (though we had an AirBnB, so they may not all be so nice). Places in the village are a bit pricey but I like being close to the slopes. The other options are to stay a few miles down the road at the small cluster of hotels there, or to stay in town. Some folks did each of these as well - I think the majority of folks were staying in town actually. It's about a 30 minute drive to the canyon, then up the canyon road. There is a bus too if you don't want to drive.
There are several restaurants in the village, most of which are pretty good - at least of the ones I've eaten at. We had a very nice dinner one night that @Pumba set up in the St. Bernard. They have a single seating and single menu each night, all courses included. It's worth doing a night if you're there though a bit pricey. Lunch at the St. Bernard is nice, and cheap, if you choose to do it though I didn't this trip.
I also had lunch at Rhoda's and at the Bavarian - I like the Bavarian more myself. But my favorite restaurant is Tim's Stray Dog Cantina, where we had dinner one night.
Food is pretty pricey, as you'd expect, but not as bad as many other resorts.
Lift Tickets and Ski Week
I had two days on my MCP for the week, and each morning after I just went to a ticket window and bought a half price day ticket. They were $55 this year (meaning the window rate is $110). Most folks had Ikon passes with most of their days included.
The ski week has nearly doubled in price the last 3 years, up to almost $300 now (not including tip). But it remains a great value - having consistent lessons and one instructor over a week can be really beneficial, and I plan to continue to do them.
So I want to thank all the folks who showed up.... @mdf, @Dean, @Pumba, Peter, @Jimski, @Bruuuce, Kathy, @Unpiste, @Weegie McAdams, @Flying Dutchess, @KingGrump, Mamie, @Sandy_NYC, @cantunamunch, Andrea, @android, @MegKan, @ToMMy, @Near Nyquist, @Olesya C, @aveski, @MattSmith, @Tony S, @Brock Tice, @ADKmel, @BillSavage, Meimei... and maybe a couple others I'm forgetting....
Who's in for next year?!?! I know I am.
Arizona/New Mexico Taos - The "Mini" Gathering 2019
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Awesome TR as usual. We feel like proud parents that the kids are grown and out playing unsupervised. Taos is on our bucket list for sure but this is one of the worst weeks for us to attend...but if it is working for the community, do not go changing it on our account, we love seeing everyone out having fun.
Nice write up Dave. I've made a mental note to try and snap a few action shots of you skiing in Big Sky. Your form looks great. After a week of lessons, I still couldn't tell you why an A-frame is bad.
As a 1st timer to Ski Week and lessons in general, I had a positive experience. I definitely took away the fundamentals of skiing "the Taos way" and believe it will greatly improve my technique. That said, there is A LOT that can be improved upon for Ski Week. Granted, the numbers we saw during our week were a-typical, but the "ski-off" approach is ill conceived. The fact I was placed in a group of 5 people who all knew each other and only wanted to ski groomers is the foundation for this argument. It worked out fine for me (after 2 instructors and practically begging to switch groups). I got a lot out of the carving and technique, but given our numbers we could have easily assembled a group of Pug Skiers with equal ability and desire to charge.
Also, what's with the name dropping and cat-calling back and forth between instructors? I get it, you are all professionals in the ski industry and you want us to trust your credentials. Frankly, I don't care who you know, who you skied with, or who you instructed. I care about what you and I are doing, right here and right now. We're living in the present and focusing where we are what we are doing. I don't need you giving (or getting) a shout out to your buddy on the chairlift.
I love you guys and would go back to ski week with you in a minute. Next time I'll want a different strategy for grouping up and being assigned an instructor.
Peace and love...
At the very least they should have had a secondary regrouping.
At the Jackson Hoe Steep and Deep they did not send off groups as they filled. Instead they accumulated everyone and then looked at numbers to decide where to make the dividing lines. And THEN they talked to the people in the same rough grouping to decide how to further split them up.
Matt, you were at a particular disadvantage because they were judging mostly on groomer turn mechanics (the ski off hill was a groomer, after all). Yet int he real world you are a stronger skier than I am.
Taos ski week process is a bit distorted by the large number of frequent flyers that the instuctors already know.
I agree that the ski off is imperfect because takes place on the groomers. My first year I took ski week three years ago I was almost assigned to the expert group because my technique on the groomers was very good. I immediately asked to switch to a different group when I heard abut what terrain the group's instructor wanted to ski. I heard later that group skied Kachina and off the ridge and I was nowhere near ready for Taos double blacks three years ago. I was switched into a much lower group immediately and was placed in a group that was too slow, so I switched again to find a group that was just right.MattSmith likes this.
I think the week we were there, they had trouble getting things sorted as well as they normally do, because they weren't prepared for a larger-than-expected number of ski-week participants. It's just hearsay/gossip, but we did hear that they pulled instructors off of private lessons to do ski weeks, and called up folks who weren't expected to teach that week to fill in.
So perhaps that lead to not getting the groups sorted as well as they would have liked... I know there were a couple of instructor swaps between groups due to injury too, which may have further complicated things. (I know - I sound like a real Taos apologist... but I had a great week, personally.)
Next year, if this comes together again, we should definitely look into the private ski weeks.
Everything I (maybe, sorta) know about A-framing is from Epic and Pug... it's a negative because it mean you aren't tipping your legs equally. That will possibly make you fight to hold the turn shape you want, and means you aren't stacked properly through the turn (so not as balanced as you could be). Or it could point to an alignment issue, but I don't think that's the case for me.
^^^ @Olesya C
Excellent ideas and points. Don't get me wrong, I had a great ski week and am finding myself applying the concepts and techniques that were coached.
Private ski weeks are a good idea. My take away from the regular old ski week is to form up a plan beforehand. Perhaps even influence an instructor or a few instructors to group up your crew. If that doesn't work out focus on the present and work the concepts being taught. Work to move up or down a group by talking to the instructors or ski school in the afternoon.
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