Taos Ski Valley ski instructor Bernard ‘Dadou’ Mayer remembered
By Geoffrey Plant
Legendary Taos Ski Valley ski instructor Bernard “Dadou” Mayer died in August, 2022. He was 82. Mayer followed his brother, Jean Mayer, another lareger-than-life denizen of the slopes, from the French Alps to the United States in order to take a job at the Taos Ski Valley in 1958. Jean Mayer, who with the help of his family and several other early ski valley legends, built the Hotel St. Bernard and was the technical director of the Taos Ski School, died in October 2020.
After firing Dadou Mayer almost immediately from his promised ski instructor job, Taos Ski Valley founder Ernie Blake subsequently rehired the talented young ski racer, who had meanwhile gone to work at the ski area in Red River.
For the next 50 years, the Mayer brothers were fixtures in the ski valley, where Dadou Mayer built and ran his own business, the original Hotel Edelweiss. Later in life, he spent the warmer months in Hawaii, where he operated a small coffee plantation called Dadou’s Dolphins. After a prolonged illness, Dadou Mayer died peacefully in his sleep at his Hawaii home on Aug. 16, said daughter Sonja Mayer Schreiber. She described her father as “full of life, full of friendships and full of stories. He was a lover of everything good and precious; a healer.”
Dadou’s former wife, Ilse Mayer, landed in Taos Ski Valley in 1961, traveling there after a chance encounter with Ernie Blake. “Ernie was in Switzerland shopping for a chairlift, and my brother was chief engineer for the company, Städeli. They had a party, and that’s where I met Ernie. He immediately invited me to Taos, which no one had heard of at that time.
“He said he was looking for European ski instructors with an accent,” Ilse Mayer recalled, laughing. “A few months later, I was in San Francisco and I sent him a postcard to see if the offer was still good. He wrote back immediately and said ‘Yes, come!'”
The Austrian skier, who had intended to pursue a career in chemistry, met Dadou Mayer shortly after she arrived in the ski valley. The couple married the next fall, in 1962. “After the first winter, we decided to build the Edelweiss,” which the pair went on to own and operate for the next 35 years, a partnership that outlasted their “25 wonderful years” of marriage, she said. A couple of years after they sold it in the mid-1990s, the original Hotel Edelweiss burned in a fire.
Ilse Mayer also noted that Dadou Mayer created the original Taos ski racing team. “He was also a pacesetter for NASTAR,” she said. “He was unbeatable at that time.” Mayer Schreiber said that when her father arrived in 1958, the ski valley was a place of raw beauty — and no amenities.
“It was a different time,” she said, adding that her late-grandparents, Charles and Nicole Mayer, were “so proud” of Dadou’s and Jean’s industriousness. “They started the ski valley from scratch. There were no buildings up there, no road to get there, no electricity or radio — it was all from scratch. “They created a hotel, with a pool, and had an ice skating rink — 50 years ago,” she continued. “It’s so hard to give people the picture, but it was difficult to do anything at that time. It’s really something amazing, what they created.”
Taos Ski Valley, Inc. vice president and Village of Taos Ski Valley councilor Chris Stagg counted 48 years of friendship with Dadou Mayer, with whom he had also worked. “We skied a lot together some times, and some times we worked a lot together,” he said. “Both were fun, but particularly to ski with Dadou. Dadou was very creative with his skiing. He was always trying something new with his technique and with the things he did with his students. He took it seriously, but he also wanted instructors, students and guests to have fun.”
Stagg noted that the sport “wasn’t as organized in the 50s and 60s as it is today, so you really counted on people that had talent and vision and who were able to teach the technique to people. That’s what Jean and Dadou did. They prided themselves on knowing the upper levels of skiing, and they were able to translate that down to mere mortals. And that kept Taos competitive with the other resorts.” The Mayer brothers didn’t just bring skiing expertise from the French Alps — they brought a class of cuisine and hospitality that set Taos Ski Valley apart from other American ski areas in the 1960s.
Louis Bacon purchased Taos Ski Valley, Inc. from Ernie Blake in 2014, and bought the Hotel St. Bernard last year. But the original “ski pioneers” influence still courses through the ski valley. When the resort’s leadership announced in the fall that the original Hotel St. Bernard was slated to be torn down and rebuilt, the company emphasized the importance of retaining the Mayer brother’s legacy: “A painstaking archiving […] will allow us to recreate a replica of the dining room and bar in the new build, utilizing the same hearth, the same timbers and placing art in the same places on the walls.”
Stagg said that, above all, he will miss Dadou Mayer’s sparkling but steady personality. “What I appreciated most with Dadou was his humor,” Stagg said. “He always had a twinkle in his eye. Half the time he was testing you or joking with you, but he was never mean. He always kept you on your toes.”
IF RUNS LONG
Ernie Blake and Dadou Mayer had a somewhat legendary working relationship, the beginnings of which Dadou Mayer described in Rick Richards’ 1992 book, “Ski Pioneers: Ernie Blake, His Friends, and the Making of Taos Ski Valley.”
After Blake (initially unimpressed by Mayer’s talents as a skier) relegated him to snow grooming duty, Mayer told Richards, “That didn’t really go very well with the little cocky Frenchman who came from the National French School teaching at Club Med in Switzerland. I thought I should get what I was promised. I just told him, ‘No, Mr. Blake, I’m not going to go up and pack'” snow.
Within a short time, however, Mayer returned to Taos Ski Valley and secured his promised ski instructor job, which he held for most of the remaining decades of his life.
“Dadou claimed my father fired him more than any other person; he claimed to hold the record for being fired the most,” said Ernie Blake’s son and former TSV president, Mickey Blake. “It wasn’t malevolent. There were a number of competitors.”
Mickey Blake said Dadou Mayer represented the last of the ski valley’s old school alpine skiers who were responsible for popularizing downhill skiing in America.
“His passing is the end of an era,” he said. “Both he and his brother were very good racers; he was absolutely a superb ski instructor. And for many years, Dadou was the best skier in the valley.”
Dadou Mayer (right) and Jean Mayer came to Taos Ski Valley in the 1950s to teach skiing. The hats worn in this photo were typical of those required to be worn by all Taos ski instructors in the 1950s and 1960s.