Taos, N.M.: Snow and Sights

Taos, N.M., offers more than skiing magical mountains. Your family will love exploring the history and culture that make this town an artists' paradise.

"Where's the snow?" Charlotte, our seven-year-old daughter, asked on our first morning in Taos. We'd gotten in late the night before. Out our window at the Fechin Inn stretched the landscape we'd traveled 12 hours from Boston to see: the red desert and the turquoise sky.

In the distance, the 13,000-foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range looked like little wrinkles on the horizon. We were in a magical place. Taos combines history and wilderness, spectacular scenery, layers of different cultures and the chance to ski at a world-class resort in the morning and explore one of America's oldest settlements in the afternoon.

It was March. Charlotte, my husband Throop and I pulled on our long underwear, not really sure if we were going to need it, and went to eat. At 7 a.m., the inn's adobe breakfast room was filled, reassuringly, with other families in ski suits.

Skiing Options

Taos sits on a high plateau ringed by mountains; there are four ski areas within 50 miles of town. Avid skiers, we headed for the most famous: Taos Ski Valley (505-776-2291), about 18 miles north of downtown Taos. During the half-hour drive, we crossed the flat Taos plateau and rose into the mountains. The landscape changed from sagebrush to spruce and fir, from sprouting bulbs to snow.

At last, we arrived at the resort. It was small, compact and replete with restaurants, lodges and shops. We parked our car, climbed onto a shuttle truck and strapped on our skis at the base of the lifts.

"At Taos, everybody goes to ski school," friends who've skied Taos for years told us. "Everybody. Parents and kids."

Although Charlotte, a veteran of unhappy classes, was initially skeptical, we soon discovered why Taos's Ernie Blake Ski School is consistently rated top in the country. There were no lines, lots of assistants and, best of all, kids who were comfortable on skis got to take practice runs before class began. Throop and I arranged to pick Charlotte up for lunch, and she hopped on the chair lift.

By noon, Charlotte was glowing; she had made a friend and skied black bumps, and she couldn't wait to show us. At the top of the lift, she tore off down the mountain. Throop and I had to cruise to keep up with her. The snow was perfect. The slopes were divided between groomed runs and hair-raising, steep moguls. In the warm sun, we skied all afternoon.

Artists Inspired

On the drive back to downtown Taos, a few thin clouds gathered, and a rainbow circled the sun. "I love that sky!" exclaimed Charlotte, who wants to be an artist. "I want to paint it." She was in good company. Artists have been coming to Taos for more than a century to paint the red sandstone, the enormous sky and the strata of Native American, Spanish and Anglo cultures.

Throughout the week, we skied at Taos Ski Valley in the morning and returned to downtown Taos in the afternoon. At the Millicent Rogers Museum (505-758-2462), we pored over displays of Navajo and Pueblo jewelry, Hispanic artifacts and Hopi and Zuni kachina dolls.

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