Skiing is a dance and the mountain always leads
By Yvonne Pesquera
Taos Ski Valley celebrates its 60th anniversary this season. We asked Chris Stagg, son-in-law of Ernie Blake (the founder of Taos Ski Valley), to reflect on the success of their long-running “Snowsports Week.” Though it is often referred to by its previous name “Ski Week” –– Snowsports Week is an excellent option for both skiers and snowboarders.
“For such an individual sport, skiing is such a social sport. Ernie Blake said that if you go to ski school, you go home saying ‘that was one of the best ski trips I ever had.’ If you don’t go to ski school, you go home saying ‘the terrain was hard, I couldn’t find the good stuff, and I didn’t meet any new friends,’” Stagg says.
Snowsports Week is an all-inclusive package in which you not only learn how to ski better, but you get to enjoy the mountain so much more. Call the resort for exact details, but here’s an overview of how it works: Snowsports Week begins on a Sunday morning and runs through Friday for six days of instruction. You learn tips and techniques, turns and stops, and how to carve and hold tighter lines. Best of all, you get guided around the mountain by the people who know it best. There is no better way to feel the wind in your face under New Mexico’s incomparable blue sky.
If you’re a beginner, you meet your group and instructor at the Pioneer lift (the beginner “green” runs). All other skiers meet at Lift 5 for an assessment. During this time, the instructor learns of your goals and your motivation. For some it’s “steep and deep” or “cruise and enjoy the sunshine.” For others it is simply “hit the bumps.” So the instructors not only assess your ski level, but understand your motivation level as well.
This assessment and level of instruction is a bonus for any advanced snow enthusiast looking to hike the ridge and access expert terrain.
After the first day, the instructors ask if you are happy. “We have an obligation to find the group that is right for you. But after Monday, we try to keep the group together so that you get to know other people and the instructor,” says Burt Skall, director of Snowsports at Taos Ski Valley.
Skall explains, “What I love is having the opportunity to get the techniques ingrained, to make it a part of you. You start learning on easier terrain and then you take that into more advanced steeper terrain. It becomes a part of who you are.”
It’s important to note that a Taos Ski Valley Snowsports Week does not lock up your whole vacation. Skiers and riders take lessons for about two hours every morning of the week (approximately 10 a.m. to noon). Afterward, you can meet up with your family and friends for lunch and more skiing, as well as take advantage of numerous Taos Ski Valley amenities. This includes shopping and services, as well as the brand-new spa treatments at the new hotel, The Blake at Taos Ski Valley.
Stagg looks back at his arrival in Taos Ski Valley in 1973. Over the years, Skall has worked as a ski instructor supervisor, in the marketing department and as ski school manager before he recently took the helm. Stagg explains the history of Snowsports Week.
“In the early days of Taos Ski Valley, things were different then. Our first season was 1955-1956. The gross revenue of the company in that first year was $1,600. Things were very primitive. The road between Arroyo Seco and Taos Ski Valley was unpaved, it was gravel. So we didn’t have skiers who stayed in town. Basically you stayed here in the lodges or the condos. A busy day back then was 400-500 skiers. Everyone was staying here. So we would have these weeklong stays where everything would be included: meals, lodging, lift tickets and ski school. Everyone was on that program.”
He further explains, “A lot of time you go to a ski resort and you stay with your group. Now you can meet others and all meals are eaten family style.”
Skall says, “It’s the best way to learn to ski better. I’m obligated as an instructor to tell you everything I know in a one-day lesson that’s only 2-3 hours. But with Ski Week, we are spreading that information out over the course of several days, which is a much better way to learn lessons.”
Taos Ski Valley guests have their choice of lodging among Snakedance, St. Bernard, Edelweiss, and the newly built The Blake. The level of repeat guests to Snowsports Week is so high, Taos Ski Valley has literally registered individuals who took their first Ski Week decades ago –– and return every year, even now with their grandchildren.
“A lot of time, people think ‘I don’t need a lesson. I’m a good skier.’ But even the most seasoned athlete has a coach. I have been teaching since 1977 and have worked at other resorts. The staff we have here is one of the most professional and experienced group of instructors I’ve ever seen. I’m an examiner. I know that the culture and the staff here are the best,” says Skall.
Taos Ski Valley Snowsport Weeks is for skiers and boarders of all abilities. After six days of lessons with top instructors and practicing new moves on varied terrain, you’ll head home a much better skier or rider.
Taos Ski Valley Ski Week (runs Dec. 11, 2016 to April 2, 2017). For more information, call
1-800-776-1111 or go online to skitaos.com.