On Board

Mending the division of skiers vs. snowboarders

After decades of upholding a ski-only policy, Taos Ski Valley’s decision to allow snowboarding proved a major point: we’re all in it for the pow.

In the history of snowboarding, March 19, 2008 at New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley is marked with significance. It was the day that a resort so rooted in ski tradition broke its own customs and opened its terrain to snowboarders—more than 50 years after skiers had first laid claim to its notorious slopes.

But a funny thing happened when the Ski Valley renounced its ski-only reputation: nothing really changed. The terrain was still steep, the culture laid back, Kachina Peak as tantric as ever. On that day, any misgivings of skier vs. snowboarder tensions dissolved into a distant memory, and a new wave of energy washed over the resort.

The symbiotic relationship, however, didn’t come without its friction. For nearly two decades leading up to the announcement, a dedicated group of snowboarders—including longtime local Christof Brownell—had rallied to get snowboarding accepted. While Christof claims to be nothing more than a torchbearer for Taos Ski Valley’s snowboard movement, his stories are forever cemented in the history books. Below, Christof shares some of the most influential anecdotes that led up to the monumental day.

In Support of Free Tacos

The Free Taos movement started in the mid 90s by the shop owners at Experience Snowboards in nearby Angel Fire. Taos was a skier’s mountain, and we were seen as rebels, so it became the slogan for the snowboarders. The guys at Experience ordered stickers that said Free Taos, but somehow there was a typo and they all said Free Tacos. It kind of just stuck and they circulated everywhere. I think they did actually give away free tacos, too.

Sing for Revolution

I’d travel around the Southwest to play music gigs and snowboard. We started a petition at our gigs and wrote songs about snowboarding and Taos. We started getting more active about writing letters to supervisors with the Forest Service and the head of the Forest Service in Washington, DC. My argument was, “Why is the Ski Valley leasing public land and discriminating against the public?” That was a big debate for many years.

Just Switch to Monoskiing Already

When we’d petition the ban, the Ski Valley told us, “Well, you can monoski if you really want to snowboard.” But really, what’s the difference? Just because of the way I’m facing on the board? It made no sense—except for the diehard skiers who didn’t want young punks with baggy pants polluting the mountain with vulgar language and funny-smelling smoke and whatever else is typical of snowboard stereotypes.

Scrape Away the Snow

Taos is renowned for its terrain. People would say, “It’s too steep for snowboarding,” but no, it’s not. If you can ski it, you can board it. They’d also say the snowboarders would mess up the runs and the bumps. In my opinion, the bumps didn’t get any worse with the new short, fat skis and telemark skiers. As far as I know, snowboarders like to stay out of the bumps if they can help it.

Creative Protesting

One night, I hiked up the Mine Slide [a hillside adjacent to Taos Ski Valley] and carved big FREE TAOS letters into the snow with a shovel. The next day, the sun hit the snow and melted the letters down to the rock, making them more visible from the top of the mountain. It pissed the Ski Valley off, and magazines got word of it and published photos in a few issues.

Peace, Love and Powder for All

When Taos opened to snowboarders, it was a non-issue. There was a lot of celebrating and energy, but there was no division anymore. It was just all-inclusive. And that’s how it should be. It’s always been about the mountain, the powder, doing what you love. Not the way you ride it. It gave everyone the freedom to enjoy the terrain and do what they loved the most.