***UPDATE: Taos Ski Valley has just announced that the Kachina Peak lift is open!! Open Wednesday, the 16th, the lift will run from 10:00AM to 2:45PM.
It’s no wonder why the Freeride World Tour continues to hold America’s longest running qualifying event in NM – Taos is a four letter word for steep. So when a storm lines up with the probability of getting deep, enough said, this is the place to be.
On Thursday, Taos Ski Valley announced the opening of Kachina Peak for hiking. Newly opened terrain paired with a winter weather advisory made for an an easy last minute decision to abandon other plans and head for the Sangre de Christo mountains.
We went for drinks in the village the night we got in where our bartender Sam, dialed us in on the latest conditions, openings and what people had been skiing. And more importantly, what they’d not been skiing.
We started a hike to the peak early the next morning and found ourselves on top of a completely untracked K2… Sam was right. It looked a little thin, but once through the top 100′ (where some rock-hopping was expected) the snow proved to be even deeper and higher quality than it looked. The storm came in wet Friday morning before temperatures dropped dramatically. The SE direction the wind took as the storm passed, although not favored for snowfall in Taos, loaded NW aspects of the peak nicely.
There were a couple inches of cold smoke on top a denser cream cheese layer that was just enough to cover up the harder, slighty baked surface below. Saturday morning, the peak was firing!
Heading directly back toward the Highline Ridge for more, we kept eye’s peeled for the deepest snow we could find. The shorter pitches had hardly been touched, so additional hikes to Patrol Shack and Lift Shack Chute were well rewarded.
Conditions were great in places, but actually quite variable overall, especially as elevation was lost and on the east-facing aspects. You could have a near-bottomless turn followed by another that includes a nice crusty layer from the previous cycle depending how the shade fell.
The mountain looked great and was nearly wide-open for business. The need to double-take each landing, and each untracked pocket that you felt like burying a turn in however, made it easy to fall subject to premature full-sends.
We were excited to get after it early again Sunday, arriving first to the gate accessing the peak, just seconds before Ski Patrol. “Hope I didn’t hold you all up” he told us before dropping the rope and continuing to make small talk. I thought it interesting that Ski Patrol voluntarily take to customer relations mid-route, however it served as another nice reminder as to why we always look forward to visiting. We laid down the bootpack and were the first to reach the peak.
We got into some nice turns to the north of Main Street. The wind had loaded it up nicely, but it was easy to see there were still plenty of rocks not far below the surface.
Traversing over to Hunziker led to another wind loaded bowl, some untracked turns in the trees and some deep corners along the cliffs. Well worth the effort to get to.
Finally, we followed hunch to go check out Twin Tree which had remained closed all weekend. The tributary was open allowing access from the side, but only that day had the gate to Twin Tree proper opened. The entrance was a bit hairy for the first one through, and downright sketchy for anyone after that.
Looking ahead, the next opportunity for snow comes Tuesday, followed by a short mid-week break before the main event later this week and into the weekend. Additionally, the Kachina lift could be opening any day now which is worth keeping an eye on.
At the end of the day, if the skiing and riding doesn’t make you feel good about being here, the people definitely will. This place continues to dish out great turns mixed with great interactions, leaving a question I won’t attempt to answer:
“Are New Mexicans nicer than Canadians?”
“Come ski with us, we’ll show you some good stuff.” “There’s a band playing at the Bernard tonight if you want to join.” “I have extra space in my condo, want to stay?” The offers you may get extended can make you scratch your head and think, what’s the catch? No catch. The rumor are true. The culture and hospitality really does mirror the skiing, and they’re both out of this world!