March 10, 2008

Taos, Mexico

In roughly one week, the skiing community will lose one of the three remaining ski areas that have banned snowboarders from their slopes. Taos Ski Valley will no longer be uncrowded and free of 5-foot wide swaths side slipped down the mountain by one-plankers. I have nothing against snowboarders as people, but the lack of crowds and abundance of unskied powder associated with the absence of them is undeniably pleasant. For this reason, Ashley, Melanie, Russ and I drove to Taos, Mexico to enjoy one of the last blissful weekends at Taos Ski Valley.

In case you're finding it odd that I have left the qualifier "New" off in front of "Mexico", please know that this is deliberate. I see no reason to differentiate old and new when the differences between the two geographical regions are so slight.

None of us had skied at Taos prior to this trip. Based on reports from mostly reliable sources, our expectations were high. These expectations were exceeded primarily due to the quality and quantity of the technical terrain, the fact that one has to hike from the top of the lifts to access the best terrain, the severe lack of crowds, and the event our trip happened to coincide with. This event is known as the Solomon Extreme Freeride Championships. Qualifying runs were held on Friday, and the finals were held on Saturday. After skiing hard all day on Friday and not stopping to watch any of the competition, Saturday was ripe for resting and watching people ski down steep terrain at high speeds while hucking off of cliffs.

Perhaps one of the most spectacular stunts we observed during the finals was performed by a skier who happened to be from Boulder, CO. His trajectory through the air roughly followed the path of the red line in the photo above. Skier X did great in the air, but upon landing somehow became unconscious while hanging upside down from a ski stuck in the snow. An hour later, ski patrol had loaded him in a stretcher and safely skied him down from the steep slope on which he had landed. I've so far been unable to find any news of his condition. Seeing this happen helped to reaffirm my decision to stop alpine skiing, mellow out, and convert to telemark skiing.

Other trip highlights include making the drive from Boulder to Taos in less than 5 hours (it typically takes longer than this to return from the much closer Summit County resorts on a weekend day), being pulled over by an irate cop who, minutes later, told me I was lucky he had more urgent matters to attend to before speeding off, and being handed a large jug of protein powder and a few pounds of venison from a strange man in the Taos parking lot.

This closing video is of me skiing a run called "Juarez". After flailing like a wounded fawn down the first part of the run, I realized I had forgotten to fully buckle my boots.

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