2002 Number 27 Resort In North America: Taos Ski Valley, N.M.

Number 4 Resort in North America: Taos Ski Valley

Tradition rules at Taos, and that's precisely why its fans love it. One of the quintessential skier's mountains, Taos holds firmly to founder Ernie Blake's philosophy of preserving the sport's adventurous spirit rather than just providing a posh winter getaway. With its legendary steeps (gold medals in Terrain and Challenge), dry New Mexico powder (which returned last season after a few seriously thin years) and flavorful Southwest patina, Taos comes through with a ski experience unlike any other. The resort's purist image is reinforced by its decision not to install lifts to the magnificent summit terrain of Highline Ridge. This allows the powder to linger and preserves the kind of hike-to ski adventure that's long gone at other American resorts. "Taos is serious about skiing," a reader cheers. Those who brave the even longer climb to Kachina Peak are rewarded with stunning vistas. Taos insures that it's never overcrowded by limiting ticket sales to 4,800 (a quota rarely reached). And, to the delight of a majority of its customers, the resort continues to stick to its snowboard ban. "No snowboarders...cool!" applauds one reader, echoing many. Some readers complain about the sparse resort nightlife and the 18-mile drive to Taos. "If you stay at the Ski Valley, entertainment and dining options are somewhat limited." But visitors can stay in town, which offers great restaurants, intriguing bars and numerous galleries. And where else can you take a break from plunging down vertical chutes to visit an ancient adobe village, the Taos Pueblo.

WHAT'S NEW Glade skiing between Al's Run and Inferno; a paved parking lot, eliminating the annual spring mud bowls.

A GOOD DEAL Before Dec. 1, tickets for three days or more can be purchased for $37 a day.

MEDALS GOLD Terrain, Challenge, Value, Weather; SILVER Snow, Service, Scenery.

HIGH/LOW RANK Challenge (5), Weather (8), Terrain (10); Family Programs (54), Lifts (58), Access (67).

DON'T MISS Soaking in the hot springs on the Rio Grande, which are about seven miles outside of town.

READER REMARKS (+) "A mountain that skis bigger than its vertical, especially if you hike." "Skiing off the Ridge is bliss!"
(-) "When it doesn't snow, it gets small." "Snobby old skiers think they're too good to allow boarders."