SIGNS OF THE TIMES

A HAND-PAINTED HISTORY LESSON OF TAOS SKI VALLEY

Taos Ski Valley’s reputation for unconventional trail signs and trail names has hung over the mountain for decades. Hand-built signs and foreign phrases practically tell the story of the resort—some more politically incorrect than others.

Over the years, these coveted signs have been replaced, repurposed, or even kept under lock and key, but many still remain tucked away on the mountain. Here, discover the stories behind some of Taos Ski Valley’s most iconic signs.

WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT PANIC

At first glance, Taos Ski Valley is intimidatingly steep. The 1,800-foot vertical drop of Al’s Run—and its Volkswagen-sized moguls—is the first thing that any guest sees. Up until the 1980s, when the parking lot was a few yards from Chair 1, visitors would pull up in their cars, take one look at Al’s Run, and hightail back to town—too terrified by the terrain to even get out of their car. To ease guests’ anxieties, Taos Ski Valley founder Ernie Blake installed this altered trail map at the base of Chair 1, encouraging them to at least get out of their car and have a look around.

CAGE UP THE KIDS

Ernie Blake was notorious for giving trail runs and resort programs German names that sounded exotic but were twisted with a touch of sarcasm. The beginner zone, for instance, was dubbed Idiotenhügel (translation: Idiot Hill) before assuming the less offensive name of Strawberry Hill. And until recently, kids’ programs were held in the Kinderkäfig Children’s Center (translation: Kiddie Cage).

DIY DIRECTIONS

Retired skis take on a new life at Taos Ski Valley. Many skis have been repurposed and remounted to trail signs and used as official on-mountain signage.

NOT A LOADING ZONE

When the original Chair 4 was built, a section of the lift was so close to the ground that the chairs would drag over the snow. Citing an obvious safety hazard, the resort took a bulldozer to the hillside and carved out more ground clearance around the lift. Though still quite low to the ground, Taos Ski Valley added this cautionary sign to alert skiers to the chairlift’s inherent risks, which now hangs in the Martini Tree Bar.

HIDDEN HISTORY LESSONS

A bootpack at the top of Chair 2 leads to what’s referred to simply as “The Ridge,” where some of the ski area’s most challenging terrain exists—and its chutes are layered in history lessons. Hike eastbound toward Kachina Peak and Highline Ridge, where couloir and trail names chronicle historic Mexican and Spanish events. Or turn west toward West Basin Ridge and immerse yourself in European luminaries—specifically war heroes from World War II, one of Ernie Blake’s favorite subjects that dates back to his pre-skiing career as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, interrogating Nazi leaders and working as a German interpreter for General George S. Patton.

LEARN BY EXAMPLE

Slim Slidell is no dummy. The resort’s iconic mannequin is a cheeky reminder for skiers and snowboarders that if you fall, you have to stop—or risk some serious consequences. Dressed in a blue ski suit and a helmet, you’ll find Slim laying face down in the snow underneath Chair 2 with instructions on how to self-arrest. One winter, during a particularly good snow year, Slim didn’t appear under the lift until later in the season. When he finally made his debut, the resort quickly received a 9-1-1 call from a frantic guest that a skier in a blue ski suit had fallen off the chairlift.