Taos, New Mexico: Rank 21 West, 1997

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Taos is an advocate of tough love for skiers. If you're tough enough to ski it, you'll never stray far. Theresort offers challenges wherever you click in: from drop-off-the-table trails like Fabian and Spitfire to the famously bumped, 1,700-foot free-fall of Al's Run, the resort's signature slope visible from the parking area and responsible for more than a few U-turns. "Get your legs ready," a reader wisely advises. One benefit here is that you still see woods, not condos, when you take in the views. Another is the brilliant South-western sun. And when the snow comes, as it does for days on end, there is no finer place to do powder eights. If you can get here, of course¿the perennial downside of Taos is that it's so far from wherever you are. You may want to slap some duct tape on your Bogner to fit in. Laid-back is the mood, shopping is an afterthought, and nachos are a separate food group. The rustic St. Bernard is a time line warp back to the magical beginnings of the valley. Its deck is now legendary. The Inn at Snakedance comes the closest to upscale. Downtown, the Fechin Inn draws those who need their creature comforts.

What's New Bravo, an affordable and casual restaurant thoughtfully located in Taos' best wine shop.
A Good Deal "Ski Taos," with three nights at the Fechin Inn, lift tickets, full gourmet breakfast daily, $199/person;(800) 811-2933.
Medals Gold Snow Quality, Terrain, Challenge, Weather;Silver Value, Service.
High/Low Rank Weather (6); Accessibility (59).
Don't Miss Dinner at the Trading Post Cafe, where nouvelle New Mexican reigns.
Reader Remarks "Best ski school. Great mountain. Love Taos for pure skiing." "Too difficult. Expensive shops.Over-rated."