As I had made last minute plans to be back in Northern New Mexico for a funeral service for a great mentor of mine Mr. Cliff Odom, I felt that a ski tour was in need and with El Nino treating Taos very well thus far this season I figured I would go big and bang out a tour up the legendary Kachina Peak, the 2nd tallest peak in NM.
I called three of my NM friends that have the skills, knowledge and abilities to tour with me on big terrain and all were busy or out of town, thus I had to bust a solo mission, not ideal but felt I could be safe. The valley below Taos Ski Valley was virtually dry and felt like what people think of when you say New Mexico. As I drove up the valley behind three dirt moving trucks working not stop on new construction at Taos it slowly started to feel like mid January with the amount of snow around the road. As I passed through the base and into the access road to the Phoenix base and then putting my father’s truck into 4 wheel drive in order to climb the steep snow covered grade I then realized it was going to be a good day.
After beacon checks, gear checks, and throwing the skins on I ran into a few locals that had just hiked and skied the trees off El Funko, they mentioned good snow and stability, with a few natural slides above the tree line. After progressing up to the catwalk, ran into CEO Gordon Brinier and Jean Mayer and legendary ski instructor. Speaking with them they were very excited for the big early season and I thank them for allowing me to skin and ski at Taos. I asked if any control work was being done to insure my route was safe and they said no, none had been done and also said the highline ridge had some natural slides early in the week after the storm.
After making it the flank of Kachina I dug a snow pit at approx 10,800ft elevation, North West aspect, 35 degree pitch. I measured about 24in of snow total to the ground, with some potential wind loading in this area. 4in below the top surface with was some minimal depth hoar that was somewhat concerning but was first knuckle soft and not super sugary. I then did a vertical column test for all 24in of snow, 10 wrist pats, then 10, pats from the elbow, and it then failed on the 2nd pat from the shoulder, thus I felt fairly confident in the stability of the snow on Kachina face.
I broke trail all the way up the face on the lookers left in the treed area as I felt it was the safest and most efficient route. After reaching the summit, it felt like mid Feb with the coverage and being on the peak was pure magic. On ski down it was bottomless pow and I didn’t even hit a single rock. Taos this is your year.
Taos opens Thanksgiving day for weekends and then daily after December 11.