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We were halfway down the rolling forest on North American, a classically long, north-facing bump run at Taos Ski Valley. It was nearing 3 o’clock on a Wednesday in February. Our entire group stopped, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but today we were 10 skiers deep. Before my sore knee could say ‘thanks,’ there were four conversations going at once. I looked around and grinned as adults mingled like teens at a party. No one was in a hurry to start skiing again. Somehow the alternative—talking, laughing, standing still—was more attractive than ripping the steeps many of us had driven hours to reach.
The group’s makeup was impromptu, but not quite random. My wife and I had left life’s daily tethers in Breckenridge for a rare midwinter getaway. So had a handful of other Colorado friends, it turned out. After figuring out who was in town, we all met up with a pair of Taos locals in the parking lot, where we took our time booting up to reconnect or get acquainted for the first time. It was almost noon by the time we boarded the lift. The mountain was empty. The snow was dry and grippy. We were excited to ski.
The two locals in our group quickly picked up another skier, bringing us to double digits. We wore masks on the lift, but all the other hassles of this season suddenly seemed irrelevant. For almost four hours, in the middle of a pandemic, starved for social interaction, a bunch of 40- and 50-somethings skied en masse like kids: hooting, leapfrogging, gathering at the bottom, then mobbing back to the lift for more.
I didn’t realize how much I missed this version of skiing, the basic rite of winter that is on-slope socialization. I ski most days from November to May, but the majority are solo experiences. It’s too hard to schedule a group outing—too frustrating to try and keep everyone together, to manage the dynamics of different abilities and speeds. When it works, it’s magic; but it doesn’t always work.
This time it did. As the sun sank toward the desert horizon, the Sangre de Cristo steeps kept giving. On the lift, we complained about our aching knees and backs, then ripped down Stauffenberg or Zdarsky as if we’d never felt better. Within a couple of hours, we’d become more like an amoeba than 10 individual skiers, bouncing down the fall line in a glob of glee.
No one wanted it to end. The turns were too good. As was the conversation. This past year has changed our world and threatened our society. But if you live near snowy mountains, you’ve probably still been able to ski. What I’ve been missing more than maskless lift lines is the connection that this sport brings. Until I got to Taos, I hadn’t skied in a group for longer than I could recall. No hut trips. No spontaneous locals’ days. And yet, no place was better suited to end that streak.
Taos is the ultimate social ski experience. I fell in love with it in 2008, had my bachelor party there the next year, and have enjoyed several memorable days while on assignments. Everyone bumps into everyone at the top of Chair 2, the unhurried epicenter of the mountains’ universe. You catch up on life while trudging up the just-long-enough bootpack to the alpine ridges, where the fast fun begins.
We finally stopped skiing around 3:45. That night, still buzzing, we reconvened around a firepit in town and made plans to meet again the next morning. Amazingly, almost everyone showed up. The group fluctuated a bit more, but as people gave in to weary legs and fell off, others joined. We still had exactly 10 members for much of the day—three of whom made it to the last chair.
Driving home, I couldn’t help but wish I skied in a group more often. Not on a powder day, mind you, but I kept thinking about the vibe. Despite average snow and nothing special to celebrate, I hadn’t felt that fulfilled in a long time.