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A thousand years in the making

In Taos, skiing, history, food and art create cool New Mexico vibe

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Kachina Peak, which looms mightily at 3,804 metres, overlooks a site where skiers and snowboarders can experience some of the finest terrain in North America.

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Kachina Peak, which looms mightily at 3,804 metres, overlooks a site where skiers and snowboarders can experience some of the finest terrain in North America.

The ski resort town of Taos, New Mexico is nothing like a ski resort town in Western Canada. Situated in northern New Mexico, Taos is adjacent to Taos Pueblo, which has been occupied for nearly a millennium by Native Americans.

Estimated to have been built between AD 1000 and 1450, Taos Pueblo is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. Compare that genesis story to that of the Whistler townsite, which was first glued onto B.C.'s Coast mountain range in 1966 by Vancouver developers.

The name of Taos (pop. 5,700) is derived from the native Taos language and translates as "place of red willows." Spanish settlers arrived in this high-altitude pueblo (2,118 metres above sea level) 400 years ago.

Thirty minutes up a mountain road is Taos Ski Valley (skitaos.org). Local lore claims founder Ernie Blake climbed a steep ridge of the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains in 1947 and declared the view below to be Taos Ski Valley. This rugged, authentic mountain resort put skiing first and all else second until 2008, when it finally allowed knuckle-dragging snowboarders like me to warm chairlift seats.

Kachina Peak, which looms mightily at 3,804 metres, overlooks a site where skiers and riders can experience some of the finest terrain in North America.

This Southern Rockies resort can deliver powder shots on expert runs, but it also features steep chutes and glades for every level of slider. To absorb the Taos vibe and fully experience this cultural burg, stay in Taos instead of the ski resort. The Chile Line, a $2 round-trip shuttle to the resort, is available right outside your door.

The shuttle ride is part of the Taos experience, which includes passing through Arroyo Seco ("dry stream"), a 200-year-old Spanish village-turned-funky tourist trap.

The Sagebrush Inn (sagebrushinn.com; $89 to $149 US) on Paseo Del Pueblo Sur, a main artery, was built in 1930 to accommodate easterners who travelled West for the winter. Ask to stay in Room 301, where painter Georgia O'Keeffe, one of those easterners, resided and painted during the 1930s.

The modest Sagebrush is no tony Hilton, yet it exudes Taos character -- pueblo mission architecture with thick adobe walls, arches and old brick walkways surrounding large courtyards. The rooms feature Southwestern decor such as handmade furniture, local art and kiva (beehive-shaped) fireplaces stocked with juniper firewood.

There's also a complimentary hot breakfast in the Los Vaqueros dining room, two indoor hot tubs and the Cantina watering hole with music and dancing.

Another established Taos choice is the Hotel La Fonda de Taos (lafondataos.com), first opened in 1820 as a mercantile store that rented rooms. The recently renovated hotel now features luxury amenities, yet a basic room rate is still competitive ($119 queen to $1,419 penthouse).

La Fonda ("the inn") is the only hotel on Taos Plaza in the historic central district. This classic Taos stay is just footfalls from dining, shopping, galleries, museums, theatre and other attractions.

The D.H. Lawrence Forbidden Art Gallery is right inside La Fonda de Taos. The controversial English novelist (Lady Chatterley's Lover, The Rainbow) lived in Taos for two years in the early 1920s with his wife, Frieda.

Nine of Lawrence's oil paintings, deemed obscene in Victorian England, were banned and confiscated from a London gallery by police and almost destroyed. Lawrence, who was living in Italy at the time, agreed to remove them from English soil. After his death in 1930, they were eventually sold to La Fonda's owner in 1956.

Artists first began to settle in Taos in 1899 and eventually created an artist colony.

If you plan to immerse yourself in cultural activities during a Taos stay, check out Mabel Dodge Luhan House (mabeldodgeluhan.com), a historic inn with "creative reflection" workshops (artistic, literary and personal growth) in a retreat-style environment.

The 80-year-old New Mexico icon is named after the East Coast art patroness who hosted many artists and intellectuals, including Georgia O'Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence, photographer Ansel Adams, American modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham and Carl Jung, the father of analytical psychology.

Sustenance in New Mexico is replete with the native green and red chiles. (New Mexicans spell the pepper "chile" not "chili.") The dried, large red variety can be seen everywhere, hanging from entrances to hotels and homes in large bunches, like elongated grapes.

When you're dining in one of the numerous family-run Hispanic eateries that serve enchiladas, chile rellenos and posole, try them with the local chile, green or red, hot or mild.

Or go "Christmas," the New Mexican word for a chile combination.

Taos has more than 50 restaurants, with offerings ranging from sophisticated dishes in fine dining spots to green-chile burgers in family restaurants to food-truck tamales. Local, and especially organic, is key here; Taos folks like to brag that they were organic before organic was cool. Check out taos.org for a full list of Taos food choices.

Flights to the closest major city, Albuquerque, are available via Los Angeles and Denver from WestJet, Air Canada and U.S. airlines such as United and US Airways. From Albuquerque airport, it's a 235-kilometre rental-car drive to Taos. Or try the Soul Sisters Shuttle (soulsistersshuttle.com) and view the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as you roll by.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 4, 2014 E3

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