With its towering snow-capped peaks to Bavarian-style lodges where beer steins are served al fresco, visiting Taos Ski Valley feels as though you’ve been transported to the Alps — but this resort town is distinctly New Mexican. It’s home to Native and Hispanic influences visible in the artistic décor of hotels and the plates of local cuisine swimming in the state’s famed chile sauces.
Hailing from Germany and Switzerland, Ernie Blake founded Taos Ski Valley in 1954 after spotting the big snow basin north of Wheeler Peak during a flight over the southern range of the Rocky Mountains. He moved his wife, Rhoda, and children to the valley where they created what would become a world-class ski area and infused European culture into the ski valley.
The Blake hotel in Taos Ski Valley sits in the area where the Blake family lived in a camper while building the ski area. A far cry from the family’s sparse beginnings, the well-appointed hotel offers cozy guest rooms that capture a European feel with embroidered snowflake patterned pillows and wrought-iron beds.
The Blakes weren’t the only ones to influence Taos Ski Valley’s unique culture. Ernie Blake invited French-born Jean Mayer, a former service member from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, to the valley to help run the ski school. In 1960, Mayer founded the Hotel St. Bernard, named after the patron saint of skiing. His children continue the hospitality tradition today at the lodge with the addition of condos and a restaurant.
You’ll also get a taste of the Alps at The Bavarian, a boutique inn known for its authentic antiques and ceiling murals painted by Swiss artist Reto Messmer. It’s also popular for its restaurant’s authentic German dishes, such as brats and schnitzel. A similar Alpine ambiance prevails at the Edelweiss Lodge and Spa, which has ski-in/ski-out access.
Just off the mountain, the newly remodeled Austing Haus captures Bavarian character in its architecture and 24 guest rooms. Visitors from Europe often opt for the family feel of the Brownell Chalet, a charming guest house whose owner, Elisabeth Brownell, shares insider tips about navigating the mountain.
New Mexican Culture
Amid these alpine surroundings, New Mexican culture simmers in the valley’s food and décor. Start the day with a breakfast burrito — a tortilla full-to-bursting with eggs, potatoes, cheese, meat, smothered in green chile — at Café Naranja. For lunch, grab a made-to-order burrito to go at Bumps Market. Go three-for-three on New Mexican meals with a plate of green chile chicken enchiladas and a fresh-squeezed margarita — the state’s unofficial signature cocktail — during dinner at Stray Dog Cantina.
Back at your lodging, you’ll spot more New Mexican influences. At The Blake, guest room doors are adorned with Native symbols as a nod to Taos Pueblo influences, and artwork displayed in the lodge pays homage to the Taos art colony founded in the 1920s. At Alpine Village Suites, Native rug patterns and Spanish Colonial furniture decorate the guest rooms.
Blend of Cultures
Taos Ski Valley exudes a European village vibe, where most accommodations are within walking distance and welcoming. Breathe in crisp mountain air on the patio of Hotel St. Bernard while watching skiers and tucking into a German apple strudel. Belly up to the Rathskeller bar at the St. Bernard or The Blond Bear Tavern for a wide selection of international wines, beers, and cocktails. Or, make a reservation at the Hotel St. Bernard’s indulgent four-course, French-influenced evening meal served family-style.
Wander the aptly named Alpine Village for some shopping. It looks fresh off a postcard from the Alps, with its colorful buildings and wood-trimmed decks, yet its stores sell the latest sports gear and globally sourced clothing and accessories. Stop into Boot Doctors or family-owned Le Ski Mastery to find the perfect fit, or get a tune-up on your boots or skis. Family-owned since 1976, Cottam’s Ski Shop offers the perfect gear and clothing for hitting the slopes or sipping hot chocolate at the lodge. Andean Software imports hand-woven jackets, wraps, scarves, and folk art from around the world. Complete your outfit at Mesa’s Edge Jewelry, with its dazzling selection of Native American jewelry, plus Hopi kachinas, Pendleton blankets, and Zuni fetish carvings.
Restaurants in Taos Ski Valley and the surrounding area also reflect global influences. 192 at The Blake serves wood-fired pizzas with locally sourced mozzarella. Located a short drive from Taos Ski Valley, Pizaños specializes in New York-style pizza and deli sandwiches, all with a Taos twist. Aceq features a changing menu highlighting locally grown ingredients, while Common Fire deploys three menus a year, all featuring rustic meat dishes, like roast chicken, and hearty-yet-refined sides. For dishes with bistro flare, visit Medley, which boasts an expansive wine shop with bottles from around the world.
Present and Future
Even with its Old World ambiance, Taos Ski Valley continues to evolve. In recent years, the ski area installed the Kachina Peak Lift, which gives skiers and snowboarders access to the 12,450-foot peak. It’s the nation’s fourth-highest lift-served summit and the highest in New Mexico.
In 2017, Taos Ski Valley opened a completely renovated Children’s Center with new play spaces and a re-graded beginner area. The Children’s Center is reached via a pedestrian gondola that transports families effortlessly from the resort plaza to the facility. In the summer of 2018, the resort installed a new, high-speed quad chairlift to get skiers and snowboarders on the mountain faster than ever.
Even amid these innovations, Taos Ski Valley remains authentic. It retains a sort of Old-World vibe with its European-style buildings, fresh cuisine, and cozy shops. With its unique history and heritage, it seems like a throwback, an ideal village — exactly the kind of place Ernie Blake envisioned as he peered down through window of his plane.
Written by Ashley M. Biggers for RootsRated Media in partnership with New Mexico.