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Taos, New Mexico: Land of enchantment, world-class skiing and high desert hot springs

By Keri Bridgwater  |  February 4, 2021
Image Credit: Ski Taos

With its haunting high desert landscape and distinctive Southwestern heritage, the bohemian town of Taos and neighbouring resort, Taos Ski Valley, offers a magical mix of outdoor adventure, art and culture. While the skiing here is world-class, it’s also well worth spending a few days to sightsee and explore the 56-mile High Road to Taos as it winds its way up from Santa Fe through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Alpine adventure

Local operator Heritage Inspirations run snowshoeing day tours through the ponderosa pines of nearby Amole Canyon. Image credit: Amanda Powell for Heritage Inspirations

Tucked at the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains and considered one of North America’s hidden gem resorts, Taos Ski Valley is an iconic destination. With 1,249 acres of terrain and some of the most extreme in-bounds skiing in the lower 48, it’s nirvana for powder hounds – hike-to aficionados will love Kachina Peak even though it can now be accessed by a triple chair, weather permitting. But there are plenty of easy glades and groomers, too, which means families and first-timers are also well catered to and can learn from some of the best instructors in the business at the Ernie Blake Ski School.

Hitting the slopes undoubtedly looks a little different this year, but David Norden, CEO of Taos Ski Valley, says that while visitors will find fewer skiers this winter, his team developed a thoughtful, socially responsible approach to creating a viable ski environment for the entire season with staff, community, and guests’ health and well-being a top priority. Despite limiting the mountain to 25 percent uphill lift capacity, with indoor gathering areas either reduced or removed, Erin Dolin, publicist for Taos Ski Valley, says it’s been wonderful to see visitors back on the mountain, enjoying the outdoors. “Like all resorts, we look a bit different this year, but the season so far has been terrific so far with great snow conditions and lots of sunshine.”

Off mountain experiences

Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa was opened in 1868

For a slower-paced but still scenic experience off the mountain, local operator Heritage Inspirations run snowshoeing day tours through the ponderosa pines of nearby Amole Canyon that includes a picnic lunch from Manzanita Market, plus transportation to and from Taos. No doubt, after a few days on the skis, soothing tired muscles will be in order, and, as luck would have it, New Mexico is home to plenty of natural hot springs.

If the backcountry pools at Black Rot Hot Springs feel like too much work (located 13 miles north of Taos in Arroyo Hondo, they can be reached after an easy walk along the Rio Grande), one of the oldest natural health resorts in the country is less than an hour away by car. Opened in 1868 and deemed sacred by Native Americans, the sulphur-free waters at historic bathhouse Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa fill a dozen different pools – choose from lithia, iron, soda, and arsenic – each said to offer a range of health benefits for everything from arthritis and depression to indigestion.

Where to stay

Taos Ski Valley’s flagship hotel, The Blake, is located at the base of the mountain. Image credit: The Blake Ski Taos

For prime ski-in, ski-out accommodation Taos Ski Valley’s flagship hotel, The Blake, is located at the base of the mountain. Named for Ernie Blake, the German- Jewish immigrant who founded the resort in the mid-1950s and styled on an alpine guesthouse, the 80-room property features a museum-quality art collection and one and two-bedroom suites. Currently operating at 65 percent capacity, its signature restaurant, 192 at The Blake, and spa are closed for the season but hope to reopen this summer.

Noteworthy options for travellers planning to stay a night or two in town include The Taos Inn, and boutique bed and breakfast, Casa Benavides, both are housed in original adobe buildings, and have charming features throughout like kiva fireplaces. Coming later this year to the historic district is Hotel Willa on Paseo del Pueblo Sur. Plans for the stylish 60-room property from hospitality brand Casetta Group include a restaurant and bar, swimming pool, glamping yurts and three-bedroom Adobe House suite, plus an art gallery in partnership with The Paseo Project.

Where to eat and drink

The Bavarian is built in traditional Gasthäuser style. Image credit: Ski Taos

Built in traditional Gasthäuser style, The Bavarian at the bottom of lift four is something of a Taos institution and the place to refuel while out on the slopes or socialise during the (for now alfresco only) après ski. About halfway between the Taos Ski Valley and Taos, Abe’s Cantina Y Cocina in the village of Arroyo Seco is a local go-to for breakfast burritos, tamales and rolled tacos. In town, drinks (read: margaritas) at the Adobe Bar followed by dinner at Doc Martin’s is a must. Helmed by executive chef Nité Marquez, the menu showcases locally sourced produce such as bison alongside greens from the hotel garden.

While the storied kitchen and bar are currently closed, The Historic Taos Inn hopes to reopen for in-room dining when state mandates allow. Just outside of town, another notable spot for dinner is Medley, whose stellar wine shop carries over 600 labels, and a menu of New American style dishes is currently being served on its outside patio. Grab a coffee at the World Cup Café, a petite-sized espresso bar just off the plaza or stop by craft distillery The Lounge by Rolling Still for beers and cocktails to go.

History, art and culture

Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and National Historic Landmark. Image credit: New Mexico TRUE

Known as ‘the land of enchantment,’ the rugged beauty of New Mexico has long captivated visitors and shaped generations of artists. From the iconic Puebloan and Spanish-influenced architecture to Georgia O’Keeffe’s mid-century desert landscapes, today, Taos is still a haven for artisans and creatives. The Historic Taos Plaza and its surrounding streets are home to numerous galleries, of which The Taos Art Museum is a real highlight.

The Kit Carson Museum is a must for American frontier history buffs, while the Spanish Colonial San Francisco de Asís church in the tiny village of Ranchos de Taos is an iconic can’t-miss landmark. The area’s most notable historic site, though, is Taos Pueblo – one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the U.S. and the only living Native American community designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and National Historic Landmark.

Taos has a treasure trove of boutiques, too, including design cooperative Tres Estrellas which specialises in handmade native and 18th-century Spanish textiles and rugs. Mesa’s Edge carries a good selection of authentic Native American jewellery, while Jones Walker of Taos has wonderful art and home accents. Be sure to stop by Kimosabé where owner Robin Rew has curated a handsome collection of historic objects representing native Navajo and Puebloan cultures of the Southwest, and Cheyenne and Crow beadwork from the Northern Plains, plus gorgeous textiles including a Navajo Third Phase Chiefs blanket.

Be sure to stop by Kimosabé where owner Robin Rew has curated a handsome collection of historic objects. Image credit: Robin Rew

“In the Land of Enchantment, we take great pride in our cultural assets and natural resources, which has made New Mexico a premier destination to slow down, relax and connect with nature,” shares Brianna Gallegos, media relations coordinator at the New Mexico Tourism Department. “Whether you’re an adrenaline junky who loves the outdoors or looking to recharge the mind and soul through health and wellness experiences, New Mexico is a unique destination.”

Factbox

COVID safe practices and safety measures are being implemented across the state, with travellers asked to respectfully follow guidelines and restrictions.