I never sleep well at altitude. Bleary-eyed, I wander into the dining room of The Blake, Taos Ski Valley’s newly minted hotel. Adorned with woven Pueblo tapestries and leather-studded furniture, the lobby sits at a respectable 9,200 feet above sea level. I live at sea level.
After a cup of coffee, I remember it’s my last ski day and I start shoveling fried potatoes into my mouth before bolting to my room to gear up. It’s my first visit to Taos and I haven’t quite figured out the flow of the place; where to go and when. But I’m supposed to meet a local skier, John, who promises to help.
I grab my skis and head out to the infamous base area. All you can see from the base of Lift 1 is Al’s Run, a fantastically steep and sustained bump run that has the power to intimidate beginner skiers. I walk past the famous “Don’t Panic!” sign—a loving allusion to Douglas Adams and the fact that the Valley is in fact 32 times larger than what you can see—and click in beneath the chair.
Atop the lift, I start down a warmup lap down a long blue groomer. The night before, cloud cover released a dusting of 3 inches of desert-dry snow which fell on top of the prior week’s storm. That powder, on top of fresh cord, provided a platform for some of the most outrageous groomer turns of my life, flying down the empty run lifting spray into the air. I catch my breath at the bottom of the run and reach into my pocket to check my phone for word from John. Wait, that’s not right. It was right there—I had it before I left the hotel. And yet…
I’m now phoneless and on the backside of the mountain, so I sigh and begin the multi-chair journey back to the hotel. I’m not huge on skiing alone—don’t get me wrong, the skiing’s just as good, but it’s harder to maintain the enthusiasm to ski bell-to-bell. I like the energy that comes with skiing with friends, feeding off one another’s drive to be the bigger fun hog.
When I do ski alone, it’s usually with music. I picked this up working at a ski resort, where people traded playlists almost as fast as stomach bugs. As much as I love the natural quiet of the mountains, skiing fast benefits from a soundtrack.
On the chair up to the area between the Highline Ridge and the West Basin Ridge, I meet a man named Mark. With my earbuds tucked safely in my hotel room, I’m able to hear his question. Yes, I tell him, the snow’s amazing in the sheltered trees. Mark’s a physician in Santa Fe and a former mogul skier. At 62, he can still lace a zipper line and he likes them as steep as they come. He tells me we can get back to the front side, but first, we should take the Walkyries Chute—one of the best steep tree runs in a resort that’s known for them.
It’s still early, I think. There’s plenty of time to meet up with John later. Mark skates off toward the unmarked entrance and, in a flash, disappears. I follow his hoots as quickly as I can, diving headlong into the steep trees, dodging spruces in a futile effort to catch Mark. Shooting out of the trees at the bottom, I catch him doubled over laughing near the chair. “Wasn’t that a gas?”
So what’s next, I ask, and he wonders if I’m up for a hike. If the skiing’s as good as what we just found, I’m up for anything. Apparently it’s better.
As we hike out the West Basin, I start to feel like a bum. It’s early January and I’m still beach-tan. My lungs burn hiking above 11,000 feet. Mark drops into Stauffenberg, a steep open chute atop the West Basin ridge (he tells me not to use the full name, the lokes call it “Stauffy”). And, arcing in after him, I completely forget about my phone, about my plans, about anything but powder snow and keeping up with Mark’s lightning-quick turns. I tell him if I ski as well as he does at 62 when I reach 40, I’ll be pretty damn grateful.
I spend the rest of the day chasing Mark all over Taos, and at the end I’m thoroughly wrecked. I amble back to my room and my stomach drops—sitting right there on my bed is my phone. I chalk it up to how things used to be before cell phones, but still feel stupid for not getting in touch. I text John to apologize, but also tell him how warm and welcoming the locals are. He’s lucky to have this place and I’m lucky to visit. More than that, I’m grateful to unplug and meet someone with whom I never would have connected if I’d walled myself in with earbuds.
It was a good lesson for upcoming ski trips—to keep it simple and just pick a meeting time and place. I want to keep my plans, and I also want to leave my phone behind. But more than anything I want to ski bumps like Mark from Santa Fe.
This article originally appeared on Powder.com and was republished with permission.
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