Taos Expert Skiing

The expert skiing in Taos is amongst the best in the United States. Taos Ski Valley’s bumps, trees and cliffs can test even expert extreme skiers.

Expert Skiing In Taos 660X260

A skier drops into a run along the West Ridge Basin

Taos Ski Valley’s expert terrain is truly world class. It ranks in a class with other legendary American resorts like Jackson Hole, Squaw Valley and Aspen Highlands. When conditions are favorable, it is often regarded as having the best tree skiing in North America. Skiers can expect steep, well-spaced trees that are fun more than they are terrifying. In fact, unlike some of its peers with regard to expert terrain, Taos stands out for the sheer pleasure skiing its steepest slopes provides. Taos’ expert runs are challenging without being death-defying.

However, that’s not to say Taos’ expert skiing has an undeserved reputation for challenge. Far from it. One element that makes Taos’ expert skiing particularly difficult is the noticeable lack of bailouts. This is a skier’s mountain and Ernie Blake intentionally limited the number of trail junctions to allow uninterrupted fall-line skiing. No green trails cutting across the runs makes for tremendous skiing, but also no where to peel off if a run is too hard.

Another aspect of Taos that makes it unique is its hike-to terrain. To truly exploit all of Taos’ expert options, some hiking and/or traversing is required. Skiers visiting Taos Ski Valley should be prepared to hike a little because much of the best expert terrain is accessible just above the lifts. Despite being at over 11,000’ most of the hikes are reasonably short. The walk is just long enough to discourage a timid or out of shape skier, but short enough to make doing laps manageable for those in reasonable shape.

Perhaps the only area in which Taos’ black diamond terrain comes up short is groomers. Don’t expect to find steep groomed runs. They simply don’t exist at Taos (try Sun Valley instead). Taos leaves its black and double black terrain as nature intended.

One last note on Taos’ expert terrain. While some of the trail names include the word “glade”, Taos does not make a formal distinction between trails and glades. Many of the black and double black runs described below are a mix of trees and open pitches. If skiing a double black run, expect ungroomed trees to pop up at some point.


So steep are the frontside trails that plunge into the village that the resort erected a sign near the base area which reads “Don’t Panic – You’re Looking at Only 1/30th of Taos Ski Valley.” The panic-inducing run that led to the sign remains one of the most iconic bump runs in North American – Al’s Run. Al’s Run inspires terror (and applause) from the lift above as the run plummets down to the main base area. Worse still for the skier in over his head, there’s no bailout. The trails adjoining Al’s Run like Inferno and Rhoda’s are almost as steep and every bit as challenging due to their double fall lines.

A series of steep tree runs to the skier’s left from the top of Chair 2 are also a must. Castor, Pollux and Pipeline are beautiful glades with real, sustained pitch and tremendous snow quality. Across the Bambi trail from these runs is one of the best pods of terrain on the entire mountain. Often overlooked because it cannot be lapped, Pierre’s, R&R and Werner Chute. These runs are all quite steep and empty into Taos’ second most leg-punishing mogul run – Longhorn. Adjoining these runs, but falling on to the other side of the ridgeline near Chair 7 are another trio of difficult tree runs – Lorelei, Sir Arnold Lunn and Walkyries.

Lastly, no visit to the frontside of the resort would be complete with skiing some of Taos’ excellent and long tree runs. Our particular favorite is North American, accessible via a right turn after 100 yards on Al’s Run. One of the longest glades in the West, North American bucks, spins and rolls like a bronco all the way down to the base. On the other side of Al’s Run, Rhoda’s Glade, Jean’s Glade and Edelweiss Glade are all also worth a run. Unlike North American which peters out near the bottom, these glades get steeper as they descend before mercifully crescendoing near the base village.

West Basin Ridge

Just a short traverse from the top of the Al’s Run takes skiers to Chair 2. From the top of Chair 2 skiers can hike up to the top of Taos’ most famous expert runs on the West Basin Ridge. The hike is 5-10 minutes depending on a skier’s level of physical conditioning, but regardless of how long the hike lasts, the payoff is worth the pain. From the top of the short hike, almost the chutes that feed into the basin are downhill – no more hiking required. Many of the runs here feature 5-10’ cornice drops into 35-40 degree sustained steep chutes. Stauffenberg – named in honor of the martyred Prussian colonel who attempted to assassinate Hitler in July 1944 – is perhaps the most intimidating. Several other chutes such as St. Bernard and Thunderbird are almost as steep and also feature trees.

New for 2014-2015, Taos opened 30+ acres of gladed terrain on the far side of the West Ridge Basin called the Wild West Glades. Unfortunately, the glades are not worth the tremendously long hike (this run is one of the few aforementioned runs requiring additional hiking after the ascent to the top of the West Ridge). The glades are tremendously thick and require either some additional cutting or more skiers to knock off the many pine boughs clogging up the run. We did our part and came out bloodied and beaten by the bushwhack.

Highline Ridge

The trails on Highline Ridge are located a short walk above the West Basin. Many tired hikers will skip the extra five to ten minutes required to reach Hidalgo, Juarez and Nino’s Heroes and the other slopes on Highline Ridge. Given the quality of the West Basin trails, one could hardly blame them. However, hiking the additional distance to Highline Ridge is a must for any serious skier.

Compared to the tight lines of the West Basin, the runs on Highline are quite open and less challenging. The skiing is steep, open bowls with more accessible entrances. Juarez is a popular choice because it’s the second one up the ridge (one really can’t hike that far and stop at the first chute…). All of the trails empty out on the Honeysuckle run near the bottom of Lift 7A.

Kachina Peak

For the winter of 2014-2015, Taos installed a new Kachina Peak triple chair to the summit of the resort’s highest point. Formerly solely accessibly be a grueling 30 minute hike, this new black and double black terrain greatly improves the expert skiing at Taos for those who prefer lift-accessed challenge. On the downside, the formerly-empty Kachina runs now get skied out in a day and moguls form where powder used to remain for weeks. On the whole, however, the addition of lift access to Kachina Peak is a game-changer for Taos.

The terrain atop Kachina is amongst the finest high alpine skiing in North America. A variety of runs unfold both to the left and right of the top terminal of the triple. Main Street, directly below the chair, is the most skied run, but moving downhill to the looker’s right the steep bowls of K1 through K5 are far more interesting and nuanced. Wide upper mountain bowls give way to a set of steep and narrow gullies that feed skiers back to the triple chair.  Skiers can choose the difficulty of their descent by either avoiding or seeking out the narrower couloirs in the lower sections of the run.   


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