Taking on Taos – Published Feature Cover Travel Story

Published In: Roads to Adventure Magazine

Feature Article (Cover story):  Taking on Taos: No longer just a mecca for expert skiers and art lovers, tantalizing Taos, New Mexico, boasts four family-friendly ski areas—all within minutes of each other.

Target Audience:  Young families who camp and RV (but not like their parents).

Journalistic Style:  Participatory – First person narrative of beginner-to-intermediate skier’s experiences re-learning to ski after 40. Tone: Conversational, humorous, informative

READ STORY BELOW: – Text-Only version  (Link to downloadable PDF published version at end of article)

Taking on Taos

No longer just a mecca for expert skiers and art lovers, tantalizing Taos, New Mexico, boasts four family-friendly ski areas—all within minutes of each other.

Wedged against me on the chairlift, the silver-haired, over-the-hill ski instructor from Texas smelled heavily of cologne. The Red River Ski Area, just 36 miles north of Taos, New Mexico, was definitely not the big league and that was fine with me. I wasn’t looking to mingle with the bold and the beautiful; all I wanted to do was learn how to parallel ski—without feeling compelled to spend a small fortune just to look like I already knew how.

I had skied only twice, about 20 years before.  A fear of heights had kept me from wanting to try it again, especially since I still retained a vivid memory of being pulled down the mountain in a sled by Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Valley ski patrol, in full view of my peers. No limbs were broken; I was just afraid to ski down the icy slope. As a teenager, this was a mortifying experience, doubly so since members of my family are all skiers.  My late stepfather, Chapman Wentworth, was a ski writer and a candidate for the 1940 Winter Olympics; my younger sister and stepbrother also skied competitively.

Two decades later, far past my teenager years, but not too old to feel humiliated, I stood at the top of a  Red River ski run, hoping that the ski genes that ran so profusely in my Nordic family would kick in, instantly turning me into a fresh-faced Picabo Street, or at least a facsimile. As luck would have it, my face turned out to be even fresher because more often than not, it was planted firmly in the snow.

Red River Ski Area was as non-threatening a place to begin my initiation into schussing as I could find. I had chosen a private lesson because I wasn’t ready to fall all over myself in front of other people. I took a couple of radical snow dives, but was always helped up by my rather over-­ attentive instructor.

“Well, I just love helpin’ up a pretty lady,” he drawled, the heavy, pungent  odor of his after-shave competing with  the smell  of  the  pine trees.  Yep, you could see this urban cowboy comin’ a long way off, but if it took an aging Lonesome Dove wannabe guy in a big hat to teach me how to ski, hey, I guess I could humor him a bit. I blushed appropriately and continued my schussing.

Skiing can be hard (and very cold) work; after a full day of  expending all that mental and  physical energy, skiers descend on lodges and restaurants in search of cozy fires and hot-buttered rum. Apres-ski life in the town of Red River is just the ticket for weary skiers. Because it’s only a five-hour  drive  from Amarillo, Texas and a I0-hour  drive  from  Dallas, Texans  converge on this charming former mining town not just  for skiing, but also because this authentically quaint little town possesses a down-home friendliness that you won’t find at Vail or Aspen. There are no overpriced boutiques with attitude here, just sit-a-spell hospitality with very accommodating locals who treat you like friends.

In the words of one Red River returnee: “You can really escape the big city in Red River. It doesn’t feel like  resort at all. This is a place where you can experience what your grandparents used to tell you about life in a small Western town.”  Another Red River devotee puts it this way: “I’ve been going to Red River ever since I can remember. My parents went there as children themselves. I learned how to ski on that mountain when I was three…now, when I need a break from the real world I can see that little main street and somehow all my troubles seem to go away. I love the little town of Red River and have spent some of the best times in my life there.”

After “graduating” from beginner to intermediate skier in laid-back Red River, I went on to Taos Ski Valley, where I had chosen to make my metamorphosis into a senior Olympic hopeful. (OK, I’m not that old.) This ski area is a great choice for all levels of skiers, including the “real” skiers: those who can schuss their way down 70-degree slopes looking like Baryshnikov in long stainless-steel slippers.  That’s because the Ernie Blake ski school is just about the best anywhere for all levels of skiers. In 1997, Snowcountry magazine rated this regional ski school as No. 1 in the West. Until recently, Taos Ski Valley had almost all advanced-only slopes. Now it has a combination of 50 percent advanced, 25 percent intermediate and 25 percent beginner, which makes this area considerably more family-friendly than it used to be.

Also worthy of mention are two other family-friendly ski areas: Sipapu and Angel Fire. Besides being a lot of fun to say (“SEE-pap-oo”), this “entrance to the underworld” offers snow castles in the air and just about the best deal anywhere on low-cost family ski packages. (Advanced skiers, however, may get a little bored here.) Sipapu also draws the telemarking continent—no,  these are not ski-equipment phone salespeople, but a unique hybrid of downhill and cross-country skiers.

Angel Fire Ski Resort offers the SKIwee program, which, in conjunction with SKI magazine, is designed for youngsters between 3 and 5 years of age.  This popular program is utilized at more than 75 ski areas nationwide and includes a lift ticket, ski equipment rentals, lunch and snacks along with lessons.  It’s a great alternative to the typical day-care experience one often finds at resorts.  Be careful though: kids tend to learn to ski faster than adults so you might find your preschooler bragging to his or her friends how they “beat Mommy down the slopes.”

For campers and RVers, all four ski areas offer several year-round camp grounds in the immediate proximity.  This was important to me because I wanted to come back with my children but didn’t want to go through the hassle of hauling all our ski gear on a plane, then renting a car to go another two hours from Albuquerque.

Skiing can be an expensive sport, so getting there should not take half of your vacation dollars. That’s why combining camping with some of the lowest-priced family ski packages anywhere ( like Red River’s Kids Ski Free/Stay Free program) gives you a very affordable ski vaca­tion for the whole family. (You can rent RVs in Albuquerque.)

For keeping kids entertained in their off-ski time, Red River’s Youth Ski Center and the  Buckaroo Child Care program can’t be beat. New for this season is the Teen Ticket: a specially priced ticket for 13-19-year-olds that makes it even easier to bring your restless youth along. Taos Ski Valley does not, however, allow snowboarders, so your teens may nag you to go elsewhere.

Besides instructors who love teaching families to ski together, Sipapu, Red River and Angel Fire have super-fun extracurricular activities like Sipapu’s aforementioned annual snow-castle event in February, Angel Fire’s famed shovel races where skiers (and non) race down the hill on—you guessed it—shovels, also in February, and Red River’s year-round Monster Mining Camp.  Other annual happenings like Red River’s Feb­ruary Mardi Gras in the Mountains and a Cowboy Christmas at Thanksgiving, are such highly social events that families just might want to plan their skiing vacations around those dates.

For off-the-hill winter-sports fun try cross-country skiing or snowmobiling in the Enchanted Forest near Red River.  My second experience snowmobiling there had me manically flying off hills and speeding around trees like Princess Leia fleeing from the Empire’s storm troopers.

Taos, a sort of mini-Santa Fe (without the crowds) and cultural hub of the four surrounding ski areas, was just what I needed after two days of intense skiing. Searching for a creative, but non-taxing way to work out the lactic acid from decidedly strained muscles, I wandered through artsy downtown Taos, soaking up the local color displayed in its art galleries, museums and eclectic array of furniture and specialty shops. The vivid hues and warm vibrancy of the Southwestern art found inside the building were a welcome contrast to the dreariness of the nondescript adobe brown houses and bare trees that dotted the flat, snow-covered landscape.

Since I didn’t come in an RV this time, I opted to stay at the Taos Mountain B&B.  It’s an unpretentious, but comfortable, accommodation that I preferred to a more upscale environment,  not only because of its reasonable price [at $55 per night double occupancy, it’s a real bargain for  families),  but  for  its  atmosphere. A tepee (in which kids can camp in the summer) and several antiquated horse wagons add to the farm’s charm along with a pea­cock pen, sheep and goats for kids to pet, and  chickens  that are  free  to  “run  and scratch.”  Basically, that means the chick­ens  are  not  hormone-injected  and  can scratch anytime and anywhere they like. (The kind of freedom that you, too, can enjoy at home.)

The farm’s purported mystic quality comes from a view of one of the few sacred mountains in the United States, making it idyllic in a New Age, down-home sort of way. Don’t get me wrong: chocolate mints on the pillow and five-course breakfasts have their place, but where else—besides listening to your spouse snore—can you awaken to the sounds of bleating, crowing and snorting?

The end of my last day at Taos Ski Valley found me accomplishing my goal: learning to parallel ski in just two days. My fear of heights gradually sub­sided as my love of a challenge took over. I’m not sure at what moment it all kicked in, but suddenly I found that the skis I had viewed as I had viewed as clumsy impediments to my fan­tasy of flight,  making  me  feel  awkward and  prepubescent, converged—mysteriously  transforming  me  into  one  lean, mean flying machine.

“No fear! No fear!’” I shouted to no one in particular,  as I barreled  down the hill at full throttle. Suddenly, I was 15 again. Only this  time I didn’t care if I went tumbling down the hill, or if my mascara was plastered across my face a la Tammy Faye, or if that boy I had a crush on would think I was a dolt, a dork or a dweeb. The upside—and this may be the only one—of approaching middle age is that there is no one to impress but yourself. – jenni keast

###

SIDEBAR #1

Mints-on-Pillow Places (aka Leave the Kids in the RV with Aunt Bee)

Fechin Inn (800) 811-2933. Fetchin.  There’s no other word for it.

Hacienda del Sol, (505) 758-0287. Named one of the top-10 most romantic B&Bs in the U.S. by USA Today, this place is a must-stay for parents (or non) looking to leave their RV for a night of joie de vivre. You can sleep in the same bed that D.H. Lawrence did (they have changed the sheets since then), imbibe some literary loveliness while enjoying a blintz soufflé with cranberry sauce, eggs del sol and wild-plum pinion nut bread (made in an outdoor oven at nearby Taos Pueblo Indian reservation). Too highbrow for you?  Then back to your RV for spam and eggs.

SIDEBAR #2

Places to Hunker Down, Family Style

Red River RV Park, (800) 670-3711.  Open year-round.
Sipapu Trailer Park, (505) 587-2240. Campers, trailers, complete hookups.  (Water hookups not available in winter.) Campground: Primitive near pond or stream
Taos Motel & RV Park, (800) 323-6009. Open year-round.
Taos Mountain B&B (in nearby Arroyo Seco), (800) 776-8941
Taos Valley RV Park & Campground, (800) 999-7571. A really lovely location for both campers and Rvers. Open year-round. (Limited services November 1 to March 1.)

SIDEBAR #3, #4 and #5

#1  Books, #2, Need-to-Know Numbers and RV Rental Places

LINK TO PUBLISHED VERSION OF THIS FEATURE ARTICLE:

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I'm a strategic storyteller/copywriter who is divinely wired to be idea-driven, strategic minded & cause motivated.

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