Peaks and Playgrounds

Who’s the best skier on the mountain? The one having the most fun.

No matter what mountain you ride or how you ride it, chances are: you’re out to have fun. But that’s where the similarity ends.

The weather, the snow, the terrain, the people of any mountain all contribute to a one-of-a-kind playground that invites you to explore; to interpret a rock or a mound of snow as something other than a physical obstacle.

It can take years to understand how to approach the nuances of a single mountain. Landscapes are complex—as is navigating them on skis or a snowboard. With an intricate mountainside full of hidden secrets, however, comes room for discovery, where riders concoct their own interpretations of a trail and reveal new realms within their imagination.

Such is the philosophy held by Christina Bruno, the Adult Snowsports and Adaptive Manager at Taos Ski Valley.

Bruno—who shepherds a staff of 135 ski and snowboard instructors, coaches a snowboard team in New Zealand in the off-season, and competes in big mountain contests in her spare time—sees the Ski Valley as a canvas for creativity.

A snowboarder with a soft spot for skiing, Bruno began competing and teaching her way through North American ski towns before landing at the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah as an adaptive ski and snowboard instructor. After a five-year tenure, she migrated to Taos and resumed her role as a coach for disabled skiers and riders. The relationship between teaching adaptive programs and exploring Taos was immediate.

“Working with the adaptive program at Taos changed how I looked at the mountain,” says Bruno. “There is such impressive terrain and beauty all around that you want to find a way to explore it deeper…to really feel and see what it is all about—no matter what equipment you’re on.”

In other words: it’s the kind of curiosity that allows skiers and snowboarders to develop a “distinctly Taos” style of riding that exudes confidence and fun. In fact, Bruno would wager that curiosity is an essential requisite for exploring these New Mexican slopes.

“Because of the variety of terrain, you have to learn how to read and approach each part of the mountain with an assortment of skills and tactics,” says Bruno. “The mountain is the best teacher as you begin to explore different movements to adjust to the terrain. And in order to explore what the whole mountain has to offer, you need to open yourself up to learning new skills.”

So what, exactly, are those skills and why are they so crucial at Taos? Bruno shares her top five tips for getting the most playtime out of Taos’ terrain.

1.  Ride with a local partner

If you don’t know the terrain, go with someone that does. The community of Taos skiers and riders have grit and passion that are hard to miss. Whether it’s with an instructor, a local or a newfound chairlift buddy, their insider knowledge can take you to places you’d never venture to on your own. Community is what makes Taos thrive, so find some new friends and ask to join them around the mountain.

2.  Understand the snow conditions

Different aspects of the mountain display different snow characteristics throughout the season—and even throughout the day. Look for parts of the mountain that are exposed to the sun, remain in the shade, hold pockets of sheltered snow, or are scoured by wind. Having a basic knowledge of weather patterns and how they affect terrain and the snow gives you more options to find the best snow stashes on the mountain.

3.  Explore beyond the groomers

There are beautiful groomers to be found in Taos, but the real magic happens off-trail when you can give into adventure and exploration. Taos’ terrain has a lot of depth; there are pockets and gullies and hidden chutes everywhere, if you’re willing to look. Once you venture off the groomed trails, it’s easy to feel like you are deep in the backcountry.

4.  Learn to love moguls

Taos has impressive bump runs: they’re steep, exhausting, never-ending, and they’ll change your attitude on how you approach them. The key is to pick a good line through the bumps and actively absorb and steer the terrain with your legs. It becomes a fun and rhythmic dance—even on a snowboard. Plus, the skills you practice in the bumps directly translate to the steeps, where you need to make turns to control your speed and adjust to varied surfaces.

5.  Know how to self-arrest

Take a page from Taos’ mascot of steep terrain, Slim Slidell, and learn to self-arrest. More than just a handy technique, self-arresting is an essential skill for all levels of skiers and snowboarders at Taos and enables you to stop sliding downhill if you fall. It’s a specialized technique that isn’t widely taught in resorts, but it’s often deconstructed in adult and children’s lessons at Taos because of the mountain’s inherently steep trails. Bruno recommends signing up for a ski or snowboard lesson at Taos, where you’ll learn and practice how to self-arrest.