Archive for the ‘taos’ Tag

Spring riding

Spring riding, warm temps, cloudless skies, mini-ponds, sunscreen, music, beer, long days, soaked gloves, stinky boots, it doesn’t get much better than this. Two days in northern New Mexico, at Taos and Ski Santa Fe:

rubber duckies, lift station, Taos

Dirty mashed potatoes, Taos

Last day of the season, Ski Santa Fe

Looking towards Sandia Crest (50 miles) from Ski Santa Fe

Snowboard boots + no socks = damp, icky boots. Yum.

Slushy!

And in typical Southwest fashion, spring was rudely interrupted by snow the following day, leaving a fresh 20″ of snow up at Taos.

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Colorado and New Mexico, March-April 2010, part 1

Now that I’m unemployed (anyone want to hire a highly qualified biochemist?), I seem to have plenty of time on my hands.

So with the help of an Epic Pass, the string of Colorado resorts along or near the I-70 corridor are within financial reach.

March 30- After a 90 minute drive the night before from Albuquerque to Espanola, I drove the last 60 miles to Taos. This was my first legitimate spring riding day this season, with a cool breeze on the ridgeline, slush at the bottom, and one lousy last run down an icy Al’s run. I got on the road by around 4:30 PM and drove north along the spine of the Sangre de Cristos to Salida, CO. This is the wickedest range in Colorado, a jagged ridgeline rising 6000 feet from the San Luis Valley, somewhat reminiscent of the Sierras and the Owens Valley in California.

The Sangre de Cristos

March 31- Breckenridge, turned out to be the only nice day, packed powder at the top, with moderate winds, a bit icy in the middle and windy, and spring slush and warm temps at the bottom. It was a smooth drive from Salida with great views of the University Range, with the exception of a near wipeout on an icy spot on the hairpin turns of Hoosier Pass. Good times otherwise. They groom the resort perfectly, and the various rollers and hits are fun to bomb down. It’s not a steep mountain overall, though.

Mt. Princeton and Buena Vista, CO

Top of Imperial Express, Breckenridge, looking north

April 1- Beaver Creek, dust on some very rough crust in the morning, which became a whiteout by late morning, and continual snowfall and winds in the afternoon. The snowfall turned a crappy day into a great one, despite a broken binding that needed fixing. The bonus was getting over Vail Pass during that 45 minute window of being open, otherwise I would have been stuck in a shelter in Vail for the night. But the driving was downright hazardous.

Mid-afternoon break in the weather, Beaver Creek

April 2- Breckenridge, powder day in early April. No, not bottomless stuff, but still excellent. It was downright cold, though, luckily I packed the cold weather gear.

April 3- Breckenridge, this time it lived up to its moniker Breckenfridge. Rode the top lifts until it was shut down due to high winds in early afternoon. The crowds were minimal, nobody was riding the top lift, although the snow was excellent. Oh, and I think the reason why was the beerfest in town.

April 4- Keystone, okay half day, since I went all out the past five days. The sun finally came out, although it was still somewhat unsettled. Hooked up with another solo rider who showed me some of the goods in the woods. And he proceeded to take multiple bong hits, Keystoned indeed. Then it was back south towards New Mexico, via Climax, Leadville, Alamosa. . .

Leadville, CO

April 10- An afternoon at Ski Santa Fe, probably my last day this season, nothing exceptional, but it was outstanding snow cover for New Mexico, which had an excellent season, and I hiked the peak behind the top lift. It’s a 15 minute walk or so at 12,000+ feet, and, it looks like excellent backcountry / sidecountry descents back there, but well, I’ll save it for another day and do it with a partner.

Obligatory self-portrait at the summit, showing off my $2 beanie purchased in Morocco

Sangre de Cristos in New Mexico, Santa Fe Baldy and Truchas Peaks

So that’s my season, 21 days. I was hoping for more, but who knows?

Taos weekend

I finally got to Taos mid-season, where everything was open. I chose a fine day to experience it. Last time I was there, the ridges were mostly closed, and it was still early season. Since then, a lot has happened, which has curtailed my snowboarding days by a lot.

At least on this day, it was sunny, the conditions were quite good, the snow was fine, and the winds relatively calm, so I spent most of the day hiking the ridges. The lifts take you to a top elevation of 11819 feet (3603 m), and to access the hard stuff, and a lot of the goods, you need to hike the ridges, accessed from the upper terminus of the top lift. One extends to the right towards the ‘front side’, mostly shorter stuff that involves hiking up about 30-40 feet vertical and about 5-10 minutes, the other ridge goes left towards Kachina Peak, which is the top of the resort, at 12481 feet (3805 m). After doing a few runs on the front side stuff, I decided around 12:30 to hike to Kachina Peak. This hike is a good 45 minutes, and involves the 662 foot vertical difference, and a few ups and downs, so it’s more like 800+ feet up in the process, and more than a mile of hiking. At elevation.

West view from the beginning of the hike

After plenty of huffing and puffing from this sea level dweller, passing a few people, and being passed by others, I made it to the top. I was tired and feeling like a swamp dweller by the time I got there. The views are magnificent, encompassing a wide swath of New Mexico and Colorado, from the Jemez Mountains to the San Juans and Sangre de Cristos.

Yours truly at the peak.

The view from 12500'

Luckily I was rewarded by a fantastic powder descent, and a well-deserved beer at the Bavarian at the bottom. Normally I don’t imbibe on the slopes, but I made an exception for this occasion.

A nice 18 oz. Oktoberfest beer waiting for me.

A note on the origins of the trail names at Taos Ski Valley: you’ll notice from the trail map a mix of German and Spanish names, reflecting the roots of the founder Ernie Blake, and the state of New Mexico. So a couple of the names stand out, Stauffenberg and Tresckow, who were among the people who died in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944.

About to drop in!

To cap it off, I witnessed a very nice sunset as I crossed into Colorado.

Colorado and New Mexico, December 2009

The start of a new season on the snow, Day 1-4. Here’s the lowdown:

13 December 2009, Eldora, Colorado. Never been here before, but as I was staying with my friend Mike and his family in the north suburbs of Denver, we figured that this was the best option. There was a full schedule planned for that Sunday, so we were out early, finished by around 2:30 PM or so, and then headed down to Denver for the Avalanche / Flames hockey game. The conditions were overall fine, with overcast skies, not-so-cold temperatures, and still early season coverage. So no tree stuff, limited runs were open, but the ski area is fun, a telemark magnet, and a short scenic drive up the canyon from Boulder. Mostly, it was bombing the pistes, and I got the chance to take a run on Mike’s new Lib Tech Skate Banana board. Having not ridden a new board in nearly 7 years, this was quite an experience, it felt initially less stable, but was very easy to maneuver and held an edge very well. No doubt, the reverse camber and the Magnetraction had something to do with it. But as I continue to look into a replacement board, I’ll certainly consider this board carefully.

Mike, first day of the season stoke

14 December 2009, Winter Park, Colorado. Now for some big resort action. Again, this was my first trip to Winter Park, and it involved a very slow drive over a snowed-in Berthoud Pass, with all the visibility issues, slick roads, and Denver rush hour traffic. So the 90 mile drive took nearly 2.5 hours to negotiate. I hooked up with WP local Jeff Harper of Adrenaline Garage Productions, who took a break from his busy filming schedule to show me around. Now it was a legitimate powder day, with a good 8 inches or so of snow, and still early season conditions. The runs were pretty bumped up, and being a novice to this place, it’s less-than-ideal for snowboards in places, with plenty of traverses that required me to unstrap and hike/skate to. But I got a good flavor of the area, and hopefully will return.

WP local Jeff of Adrenaline Garage Productions

Continental Divide from Tabernash, CO

North view from Berthoud Pass

Then it was down to New Mexico for business, but I managed to squeeze a couple of days in there.

18 December 2009, Taos, New Mexico. I wrote about Taos in the early life of this blog, and returned for a day trip. It was a more leisurely day than my usual, the slopes were a bit icy from the lack of recent snow, but we got in a good number of runs off of what was open, and also took in a quick trip to Bavaria during lunch. Yes, we had lunch at the Bavarian, an alpine-style house serving you guessed it, German Bavarian specialties. So I indulged in a beer at lunch, soaked in the warm sun, and had a typical sausage and potatoes lunch, under a Freistaat Bayern sign. No green chile sauce in this part of New Mexico, but the smell of pinyon smoke is an instant giveaway that it’s not Bavaria. The ski area is famous for its steep stuff, dry powder, and its long-standing ban on snowboards, lifted in 2008. It looks like the number of snowboarders has increased over last season, which is good news.

Beer, sausage, sauerkraut, and potatoes at the Bavarian, Taos, NM

23 December 2009, Pajarito Mountain, New Mexico. This is the local Los Alamos hill, owned by the lab, and what a nice surprise. The slopes are steep, and coverage was still spotty in places, so I took a few rock shots to my board, and found myself plowing through weeds, small trees, and random bushes, but there was a good helping of fresh dry New Mexico snow. In contrast to the 2005-2006 season, where the mountain didn’t even open due to poor snowfall, the season’s off to an excellent start. It’s about 20 minutes from downtown Los Alamos, so I was able to get a late-ish start, pick up a coffee at Starbucks, and then go through the security checkpoint en route to the base area.

More on the non-snow related stuff in another post.

My new food court gangster steeze

Jemez Mountains and Rio Grande Valley from Pajarito

SERIOUS business

Taos, December 2008

First installment of a few writeups of more memorable trips I’ve taken recently, here goes. . .

This is the first full season Taos has been open to snowboarding. Being the stuff of skiing legend, for its isolation, snow quality, and difficulty, I decided to check it out, since it was a 90 minute drive from where I had been on business. Originally I had intended on flying up to Colorado or Wyoming for a few days, but work-related issues put an end to that, and also allowed me to avoid the bitterly cold temperatures. It was comparatively mild in Taos, and here are some of my observations from a couple days spent in the area.

So is snowboarding welcome? Well, from the people I spoke to on the lift, it was a necessary move, the story was that for the investors to pump in money to keep the place running, that the owners had to agree to allow snowboarding. It’s still a 70-80 % skier / rider ratio, so it will probably be some time (if ever) that snowboarding catches up to the ratio nationwide. At least for right now, it’s a rather awkward relationship. 

The terrain and snow? It’s everything that it’s stacked up to be, luckily the snow for December has been generous, so I got to sample some very nice, but still early season, powder. It’s indeed good, light and dry. This is the blower stuff, you puff on a pile of snow, and it just scatters. The terrain is the very steep stuff, the closest parallel I’ve experienced is Snowbird or Kirkwood. But the double diamonds are relatively short vertical drops, but on the challenging side. Half the mountain was still not open yet, and this included the ridgeline hike beyond the Juarez trail.

 

Feeling good at 12000 feet

Feeling good at 12000 feet

 

Ridgeline view

Ridgeline view

 

Wheeler Peak (13167', 4013 m), one long, difficult hike.

Wheeler Peak (13167', 4013 m), one long, difficult hike.

 

 

 

I briefly demoed the 2009 Custom X with the EST, C60 bindings, and tried out the Ozones (okay, a park boot, but I wanted to give them a test drive). The board is excellent and responsive, the boots were quite comfortable, despite being a bit icky from sitting outside all day in the cold. Putting on my own boots afterwards was even ickier. 

I spent one day mixing it up, snowboarding in the morning, skiing in the afternoon, and had the chance to speak with a couple of the instructors. One voiced her opinion, paraphrased- ” This is a skier’s mountain, lots of flat spots and narrow lanes that are difficult for a snowboard.” What’s a “skier’s mountain”? I found that to be far from the truth, Heavenly is considerably worse in terms of bad traverses, and it is not all that narrow in general. Plus the overall lack of crowds makes it ideal for snowboards and skis. No high-speed lifts, though, a bit like Kirkwood used to be. 

Had one bad set of attitude from the one of the rental staff, who was a bit of an ass about letting me stash my snowboard while I was out skiing. But generally they’ve been pretty mellow about snowboarding, if not completely welcoming. 

 

Looking towards Colorado

Looking towards Colorado

 

I was hoping for another day, but very high winds and lift closures ended that, despite a foot of snow overnight. So I played tourist instead and braved the terrible roads to explore for the day before returning to Santa Fe. Alas, next time. The price for lift tickets, incidentally, is $66 / day, which is good value, although no real discounts are offered. The resort’s rather isolated, being 150 miles from the nearest major airport and 4.5 hours from Denver. 

The town and atmosphere is special. I’ve been here several times before, and have always approached it from the Low Road, it’s an incomparable view once the road veers away from the Rio Grande and you have an airplane-like view of the town and the Wheeler Peak wilderness. Winter is also special, with that mix of fluffy snow and the pervasive smell of pinyon smoke. It’s one of the most spectacular natural settings, mixed in with the distinctive Southwest mix of cultures and people. Plenty of chile, good food, adobe buildings, nifty architecture, endless views, and a special quality to the light. 

 

Low road to Taos. . .

Low road to Taos. . .

San Francisco de Asis, Rancho de Taos

San Francisco de Asis, Rancho de Taos

 

 

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo

 

The hotel / B+B I stayed at was excellent as well, so I’ll give a plug for the San Jeronimo Lodge, located about 2 miles east of the plaza off of U.S. 64. Hard to find, but good lodging, and the price was right. The green chile breakfast casserole was delicious, my only minor gripe was that breakfast started a bit late to make it up to the hill by opening time. 

I’ll hopefully be back.