Of Mountain and Man
It’s never easy, but that’s the point! Why international mountain guide Dave Hahn calls Taos Ski Valley home.
“I have to blame my dad for introducing me to the mountains,” says Dave Hahn. “He took me on my first backpacking trip, and I carried my own diapers. I was 16 at the time.”
The renowned mountain guide and Taos ski patroller laughs at his own joke—presumably one he’s told before—and admits he was young, around two or three, when he forged his first backpacking memories. From early on, continuous trips into the backcountry with his father introduced him to a new way of thinking, looking at mountains as a fluid objective instead of through a linear lens. But there was a hang-up.
“I didn’t seem to understand how to make the leap from hiking to climbing the world’s greatest mountains,” remembers Hahn.
A few years later, with that thought still swirling around in his mind and a shiny history degree from SUNY-Buffalo in his hands, the wide-eyed college grad found his way to New Mexico—his mother’s home state—and picked up ski instruction at Angel Fire Resort; then at Taos Ski Valley the following year.
Around that time, his father posed a challenge: if Hahn learned to climb glaciers at Mt. Rainier, he would climb Denali with Hahn.
“As soon as I saw the guide service [at Rainier], I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” recalls Hahn.
Within that year, he not only set out for Denali with his father, but embarked on a career in mountain guiding, quickly finding his tempo in life—and helping clients find theirs. To this date, he’s led expeditions to Cho Oyu, Rainier, Vinson Massif, the Shackleton Traverse, and plenty more. And that’s not including his three most popular routes: he’s bagged more Everest summits than any non-Sherpa, 25 on Denali, and loosely 300 on Rainier. All in a day’s work.
But guiding is only half of Hahn’s story. His obligations at Taos Ski Valley—switching to ski patrolling in 1991—continued to bring him back every winter, for physical and mental reasons.
“Leaving the mountaineering world and coming back to the Ski Valley is important for me. It gives me balance and much-needed variety,” says Hahn, who still juggles the seasonal gigs. “Mountaineering can be all-consuming, but what’s worked out well for me is keeping the pattern of guiding and climbing hard in one season, and balancing it with skiing in the other.”
At the same time, he says, “When I’m patrolling at Taos, it’s not a break. It’s full on. When I’m here, I devote myself to this place.”
His answer is surprising. For a man who’s racked up 30+ years of summit ascents, Taos doesn’t get seem to get any easier.
“Taos is a challenging enough mountain that I’ve never been able to coast here on my laurels from elsewhere,” he says. “It’s never a ‘gimmie’ on any given day. There’s nothing like this place to check your ego when you’re skiing the steeps we have. It lets you know everyday right where you belong. Even if you bring a big reputation or big accomplishments into it, you better be up for making good turns.”
And that, he says, is precisely why he’s drawn to this place. Maximum effort—the kind that simultaneously scares him and motivates him at the same time—is a requisite. He hikes the Ridge, for instance, at every chance during a workday. Not for the mandatory patrol sweeps, but the training opportunities it provides.
“People have this idea that training for big climbs and big mountains involves mindless exercise on machines. For me, my whole thing is: play myself into shape,” he says. “My ‘play’ has always been punching the clock and working every week as a ski patroller. I know by virtue how steep and difficult Taos is…and the fact we’re at high altitude. If I keep busy at work and stay outside in the winter, I will be in shape for whatever I’ve got in mind in the spring.”
It would be inaccurate to claim that his career is for selfish endeavors, though. His philosophy—both as a mountain guide and a Taos resident—is a collaborative pursuit. One that thrives on welcoming anyone with a desire to explore the unknown.
“Enjoyment has more value when I see others recognizing it and they get that same good time that I experience [at Taos or when mountain guiding],” says Hahn. “[Taos] is smaller and out of the way. For those who come here, sharing is an important part. And for those who get it, it’s fun.”