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Taos Ski Valley Is Known as Real Name-Dropper

October 18, 1987|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

TAOS SKI VALLEY, N.M. — Shalako was the Hopi Indian ceremony of life's renewal.

It's also one of the names from legends and history that Ernie Blake has given to the runs of a ski mountain.

Winston Churchill has a run named after him here, and so does Benito Juarez, often called the Abe Lincoln of Mexico.

You can ski the runs of Castor and Pollux, the twin stars of Gemini. The Lorelei nymph of the Rhine has a slope named after her. Nearby is the William Tell run.

Blake has become a living legend since he flew his small Cessna plane into this mountain valley with an Aleut Indian friend in 1954.

At age 74, Blake is still renewing himself in the spirit of Shalako, rising above injuries and illness to prepare for another winter of skiing. Blake was elected to the National Ski Hall of Fame last March. The facilities and services of his Taos Ski Valley are being renewed with a $5.25-million improvement and expansion program.

Adams' Timeless World

The grandeur of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains around this valley is still as it appeared to Ansel Adams: "So enormous and detailed, so precise and exquisite that, wherever you are, you are isolated in a glowing world where the clocks stopped long ago."

The most visible of the 73 runs down Blake's mountain continue to awe even Olympic skiers, but Blake assures skiers of all abilities: "Don't panic--from the base lodges you see only a 30th of the slope system."

He offers a Kinderkafig program for children ages 3 through 6; the only requirement is that they be potty-trained.

Big Season Promised

The three generations of the Blake family in Taos Ski Valley are looking forward to what promises to be the biggest season since Blake opened the slopes in 1955 to begin a Swiss alpine ski village 19 miles from Taos.

Snowfall already on the higher slopes forecast a Taos ski season with at least an average of 300 inches to powder the north and east-facing runs, chutes and bowls. The season opens Nov. 25.

The snow-making system has been expanded this summer, especially on beginner runs. But the main improvements have been on base area facilities in Village Center, including walkways, seating facilities and lockers around the Day Skiers' Lounge.

"Years ago," Blake said, "most of our skiers stayed at the lodges right here at the slopes. Now we also have many who stay in Taos and come for day skiing only. We want to give them more comforts and facilities."

New race-camp programs this winter will follow the format of the popular Taos "Learn to Ski Better" packages. Skiers arrive on Saturday and depart the following Saturday. Race camps are for upper-intermediate skiers and for those with racing ambitions.

The race-camp package price of $952 per person, double occupancy, includes lodging for seven nights, three meals daily, the use of all lifts for instruction and skiing on your own. Evening videotape shows will help to critique your daytime performance.

Money Savings

The Ski Better Week can be a money-saver with Sunday-through-Friday lessons and lift tickets at $252. Regular daily lift- ticket prices will be $27 for adults and $15 for skiers under 12. There will be discounts on multiday tickets for a minimum of three days.

The Yellow Bird program for those who have never skied costs $31 daily for two-hour morning and evening classes and the novice lift ticket. The Kinderkafig for 3- through 6-year-olds will be $28 a day.

Taos' skiing terrain begins at 11,819 feet and drops through a variety of slopes to 9,207 feet at village level.

The Hotel St. Bernard and the Thunderbird Lodge have full-service bars, dining and evening entertainments. All lodges have saunas and Jacuzzis or hot tubs, and there are condos on and near the slopes.

A season highlight will be the Thunderbird's international jazz festival Jan. 6 to Jan. 28, 1988. Holiday festivities include Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve torchlight processions. The most unusual of the races on the slopes will be the April 1-5 national championships of Grand Marnier Chefs Ski Races.

All-Around Package

As an example of a lodging plus meals Ski-Better-Week package, Hotel St. Bernard offers seven nights' lodging, three meals daily, six days of lift tickets and six morning ski lessons for $850 per person double occupancy.

For overnighting and vacationing off the slopes, the town of Taos complements its Sangre de Cristo mountain vistas with traditional adobe architecture, a variety of shopping temptations, more than 50 art galleries, museums, night life with a local flavor and a wide choice of cuisines including native New Mexican.

The St. Francis of Assisi Mission Church at Rancho de Taos is an architectural find. Three miles north of the Taos plaza, the 900-year-old Taos Indian Pueblo is still inhabited by about 1,500 Indians.

As an indication of lodging costs in Taos, the mini-package at Quail Ridge Inn includes four nights' lodging and three days of lift passes at $245 per person, double occupancy, in studio accommodations, or $275 in a one-bedroom unit.

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