The passion of Dadou Mayer
Iconic teacher and hotelier de Taos Ski Valley
By Robin Martin
Dadou Mayer has been teaching skiing in the United States for more than 60 years, most of them at Taos Ski Valley. Except for stints at Santa Fe, Red River, Sundance in Utah and Snowmass in Colorado, he has led ski classes in the Taos mountains for longer than many of his fellow instructors have been alive.
He said he teaches skiing “because it is my passion.”
Mayer was born into a skiing family in the southern French Alps – les Alpes Maritimes – on Sept. 17, 1939, the day France declared war on Germany in World War II. He was born in Sallanches, about 7 kilometers from the famous ski resort of Chamonix. When he was a child, his parents ran Chalet Mowgly, a school for children who were sent from Paris to be healthy in the mountains.
His father, Charles, served at the front during the war, in a mountain division as a chasseur alpin. He was a fighter with the French Resistance. Later he was ski school director in Combloux.
Charles was from the mountain city of Grenoble. Dadou’s mother, Nicole, came from Normandy. Both were athletic and good skiers. The elder Mayer taught his children, Jean, Chantal, Bernard (Dadou) and Christine (Tiki), to ski when the children were young.
“He told me to dive down the hill,” Dadou said. The young Mayers were also part of a school program that took them to the ski area at Auron every Thursday.
At age 7, Dadou showed a gift for skiing, and the ski club in Nice, the Club Alpin Niçois, sponsored him and brother Jean, paying for lift tickets and equipment rental. The boys ditched Saturday academic classes to race. Trying not to be noticed by their teachers, the boys did not use their real names: Bernard called himself Dadou, a nickname given by his sister – which he uses to this day. Jean also had a nickname: DouDou.
“It was not a nice name in America – it didn’t stick on this side of the Atlantic,” said Dadou.
The quality of the boys’ equipment depended on how well they did at the races. “It was incentive to get good results,” Dadou.
His first pair of skis were hickory, without edges. Then he obtained Rossignols, with metal edges and plastic bottoms. Marker safety bindings with a rotary heel, long thongs and bamboo poles completed the equipment. He began skiing in long woolen golf pants.
His first turns were a stem (what we now call a wedge or a pie), progressing to stem christie and then to parallel. “But if you are a little kid, you don’t stay in a stem very long, especially if you are a racer,” said Dadou.
His coaches were top-notch racers in the ski club. Later, in 1955-56, he trained with coaches provided by the French Ski Federation.
He skied with the junior national ski team, but never with the Olympic team. Those were the days of Jean-Claude Killy when the team was at its best, and extremely competitive to join. Still, Dadou raced with Killy in France and later on the pro circuit in America, but said, “I never got close to him. Killy was probably the best skier there ever was. You should have seen him ski with those long old skis in powder, or cement snow or ice.”
Because he was “not brilliant in school,” as a teenager Mayer was sent to study a trade. He chose the hospitality industry, and with his brother Jean, studied in Nice at the collège Hôtelière et de Tourisme. He trained in the kitchen, dining rooms, guest rooms and at the concierge desk. “It was very demanding,” said Dadou. Part of the curriculum included studying German for two years, then English for two years.
During his last year in France when he was 18, he taught skiing at Club Med, in Leysin, Switzerland. Each week trains came from Paris with skiers, some 150 women and 50 men. Mayer’s classes had 25 students in them.
Elder brother Jean had left for the United States, where he served out his last year of hotel school as a sauce chef at the Hotel Pierre in New York City. Afterward, in 1957, Jean went to Taos to work for Ernie Blake, where Dadou later joined him.
In 1958, Dadou flew with his parents and sister Tiki to the Albuquerque airport, where Ernie and Mickey Blake met him. Ernie drove fast, with Mickey sitting beside him watching for police speed traps. Dadou said it seemed as if Ernie was really speeding, but he looked at the speedometer and it only said 80. He realized later that the dial was in miles, not kilometers, per hour.
He remembers being surprised at the desert near Albuquerque, and finally seeing the mountains when they got closer to Taos. The New Mexico Rocky Mountains were very different from the French Alps.
In Europe, tree line is much lower. Dadou said Taos ski slopes were steeper than what he was used to, and during the winter “there were mountains of snow, snow like I had never seen before.”
Dadou had a written contract with Blake to be a ski instructor. He had not arrived with his equipment, the skis having been delayed in transit. As the ski season began, Ernie wanted to test Dadou’s skills, so he loaned the French racer skis from the rental shop, which were army surplus hickory boards and of inferior quality.
The two rode up a very narrow Al’s Run on the almost-vertical Poma surface lift. Dadou said he did not fall off the lift, but “on my way down I couldn’t make a turn with those skis. Ernie was still doing stem christies and very efficient at it.” After that disastrous test, Ernie told Jean that he could not hire Dadou as a ski instructor, but that he could work on the patrol.
At dinner that night, Harvey Chalker from Santa Fe overheard the French brothers’ conversation, and Dadou was offered a job at the Santa Fe ski area. He was paid $280 per month, with room and board at La Posada. He roomed with Chalker, later the owner of Alpine Sports in Santa Fe, who managed the Santa Fe ski area for Buzz Bainbridge.
The next year Bainbridge took over management of Red River ski area, giving Dadou – who got top results on Professional Ski Instructors of America test – the job of ski school director.
Ernie remembered Dadou’s arrival in an interview published in Rick Richards’ book “Ski Pioneers”: “Jean was just beginning to build the St. Bernard when Dadou and his family arrived … and then we fired [Dadou] right away, and he spent a few years in Santa Fe and in Red River, and then he came back to us. Dadou was a big addition, but we had troubles in the beginning.”
He worked at Red River for two years. Dadou said he then “got a letter from Mr. Blake. ‘Now that you have proven yourself …’.” He told Ernie he would only return to Taos Ski Valley if he could buy land, and Blake arranged for him to purchase a parcel from the people – including doctors Ashley Pond and Al Rosen – who were owners of the Twining Association.
Dadou and his wife, Ilse, whom he married in 1961, built the Edelweiss Lodge in 1964, starting with 16 rooms. Rosen delivered their children: Suzanne, now a masseuse and caregiver for the elderly in Taos; Christian, a bartender at the Hotel St. Bernard in the winter and guide in France during the off-season; Roland who died as an infant; and Sonia, owner of a beauty salon in Taos. Before they divorced, he was married to Ilse for 25 years. They have four grandchildren. Dadou’s second wife was Mary, an EMT and ski patroller. His third was Marie Rose, a shaman from Vietnam. His companion now is Jenny Peterman.
Jean Mayer was technical director of the Taos Ski School from 1958 until his death, Oct. 10, 2020. Last ski season, Dadou taught skiing in the mornings, and helped during meals at the Hotel St. Bernard. He lives in his parents’ house in Arroyo Seco, and in Hawaii.
Dadou misses Ernie Blake’s sense of humor, but is enthusiastic about Taos Ski Valley’s new owner, Louis Bacon: “I l