When I was a kid in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we played in the snow outside during the winter. If you've ever been a parent, you would know how much you want the kids to get out of the house in the winter, especially on weekends. Somewhere, we got a pair of skis with "bear trap" cable bindings and metal edges screwed on. That's the way skis were made in those days. We didn't have proper ski boots, so we just stepped into them with our rubber snow boots. We used to go sledding down at Snake Hill, so named because it had a lovely "S" curve in it. When we got the skis, we built a ski jump on the steep slope. When you would take air off the ski jump, more often than not, the skis would fall off of your rubber boots and drop away. This left one flying through the air - with the greatest of ease. There were quite a few bone-crunching landings. Miraculously, I don't remember anyone getting seriously injured. Nevertheless, I developed a love of both skiing and flying..........
Pay It Forward - My parents took me on my (and their) first ski trip when I was 16 years old - to Crystal Mountain, in Michigan. This was the first and last time my parents ever skied. My mother broke both thigh bones in her left leg on the last hour of the last day, simply by sitting down when she was over-terrained on a steeper slope and fearful of another fast moving skier not actually near her. I know, I was right behind her. Nevertheless, I was hooked immediately. From that very first weekend I was inspired by my first ski instructor - an older man. Somehow the light bulb went off, and I had the thought that it would be really neat to be a ski instructor someday when I became an elder myself.
At college I joined the ski club and trained to be on the ski patrol. I served on the ski patrol at Boyne Mountain, Michigan's primary ski resort, so I could ski for free. I started teaching beginner's for the ski club. Another season, I ski-bummed, entertaining with my guitar, vocals, and harmonica in the bar at Nub's Knob Ski resort in Michigan. I kept my skis and guitar in a storeroom at the lodge, and hitchiked 250 miles after my Friday morning class to arrive and entertain in the bar. I skied all weekend, and hitchhiked 250 miles back to college on Sunday evening. I never had to pay for lodging, I just went home with someone I would meet in the bar!
A friend and I drove out to ski bum for spring skiing at Arapahoe Basin in Colorado after college was out for the summer, in 1968 at age 23. I worked at night until 11 PM as a dishwasher and short order cook at the only cafe in Frisco, Colorado (now a mega-resort). I remember the waitress sent me out to clear the dishes at table number 6, so I coild view the first hippie I had ever seen. After work I would stagger out to the parking lot, fall over the tailgate of the station wagon and be asleep by the time I touched down in my sleeping bag. As soon as the sun rose the next morning, I would buckle on my boots, ski all day in shorts and a t-shirt, go to work that night, and get up the next day and do it all over again.
I drove further west to experience Taos Ski Valley (TSV). It was already a legend. At that time, the downtown plaza in Taos was dirt, the streets had not yet been paved. The road to get up to the mountain thru Arroyo Seco (where I now live) was mud also. The one day I skied there it was a full-on blizzard. I rode to the top on the lifts and skied down the mountain. It took me 3 hours to get down traversing through the forest. I never saw another skier or even found a trail, it was snowing so hard the visibility was only about 10 feet. But I experienced enough to know I wanted to come back.
I saw Ernie Blake, the founder of TSV, a skiing legend, skiing at 74 years old, about three weeks before I attended his funeral in 1989. When asked once by an interviewer if he believed in reincarnation, he replied, ""I pray there is no such thing as reincarnation. Nothing could equal the journey I’ve had. And everything else would be a boring encore." That's me, brother. I also had the good fortune to ski a run with Pete Totemoff, the Aluetian Indian that hiked to the top and skied the first run ever at TSV with Ernie. Reportedly, Pete looked down at the super steep slopes and told Ernie he was crazy to try to build a ski area there. But Ernie had a vision.
I had always dreamed about being a ski instructor. After my design & build company in Las Cruces went bankrupt, we moved to Santa Fe and my wife mentioned seeing an ad in the paper for ski instructor tryouts. I was so excited thinking about it I couldn't sleep that night. I was 45 years old and my dream was about to come true! I went to the tryouts, surrounded by young adults 25 years old, made the cut, and became a full-time ski instructor at Santa Fe Ski Basin. The next year I moved on to Taos to be closer to the good skiing.
My son, Samsunshine, skied with me as soon as he was able to walk. He used to hold onto my knees and ride down the slopes between my legs, once even taking an unexpected boulder jump that way. My daughter, Alanna Nevada, skied with me before she could walk. She used to ride in a backpack like a papoose down the expert slopes. Usually, she fell asleep from the rhythm of the the swaying turns. The insurance companies would never allow that today. When she was 12 years old she hiked with me, with her brother carrying her skis, to the top of Kachina peak (12,481 ft.), and jumped the cornice, free-falling 20 feet to ski the piste below.
I moved to Taos with my 19 year old son, Samsunshine, after the divorce, and together we ran a gourmet meal delivery service to TSV for one season. We skied every morning in Chef's jackets and floppy hats, stenciled with "GOURMET EXPRESS" and our logo on the back, and cooked all afternoon. We used to schuss up to tourists on the slopes and hand them a business card that said, "Free Dessert With Entree". Sam was the Chef and my boss. I was the prep cook, dishwasher and delivery boy. He had his 'powder enlightenment' skiing behind me that season. The last time we raced the NASTAR course against each other was in 2001. He beat me by 0.3 second. Nowadays, I am having a great time teaching my 9 year old Grandson, Adensunset, how to beat me and enjoy skiing the powder and trees!
I had always wanted to experience heli-skiing. It seemed like the last frontier. My Australian second family went on a ski trip to New Zealand in the year 2000. I booked a heli-ski excursion for myself. After thinking about it for a month, I knew I would enjoy the experience by myself, yet it seemed it would be four times as good if I had someone to remember it with. One morning I woke up and knew who I wanted that person to be. I called my son in the USA and sent him an airline ticket to meet us in Queenstown.
After returning in 2006 from Australia to Taos, it was time to take up serious Mountain skiing again. In 2008, at the age of 63, I applied, and was again accepted as an instructor in the Taos Ski School. This time, I got smart, and elected to teach children in the Junior Elite II program. I find children easier to teach, and a heck of a lot more fun to be with than the all too serious adults.
I love the high country, the views, the unsurpassed beauty, the exhiliration, the largest Aspen trees in the world, the multi-hued Snowgum bark, and the untarnished pure mountain air. I love finding my own limitations in the alpine wilderness. I really know I'm alive when it's steep and deep through the trees, or down a chute, hopefully on a powder day. I guess that childhood ski jump made me love no brakes, no speed limit, and no air bags!
The simple facts about Taos remain unchanged. The terrain is varied and often challenging, the sunny weather is a kick, and there probably isnt a better place in the country to learn to ski. Although its harder to get to than many other Rocky Mountain venues, Taos Ski Valley is consistently rated the best downhill ski resort in New Mexico, and one of the best in the entire United States. The slopes receive an average of 320 inches of white stuff each winter (plus artificial snow), and there is something for skiers of every ability.
Taos Ski Valley stands apart from other resorts in substance and character. Its unique ambiance is a mingling of its Swiss/French/Austrian founders' roots with the traditions and customs of the local Hispanic and Pueblo Indian cultures. As for the mountain, it was here that extreme skiing in the U.S was first officially encouraged, prompted by the tough terrain as well as the mindset of founder Ernie Blake who championed the concept of challenging skiers.
But, it is not just a resort for experts, having heaps of beginner and intermediate runs, and the nation's number 1 rated ski school. It also has an excellent children's daycare and ski facility, some superb lodges, and beautiful scenery. Its hike-to terrain is world-famous, but don't come to party all night - most people are too tired after a day on the slopes to rock 'n' roll after sunset, though the venerable charms of the Hotel St. Bernard's bar always await.
The symbolism of the Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, is that they should not think small, they should always leave a big footprint in life. Or, to quote Marianne Williamson, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do." In teaching children, I strive to impart my love of skiing (and life) to them.
Comment follows from my son, Samsunshine:
"Nice! I think I've done the same thing on the same run... though unfortunately not with as much powder.
I arrested my fall before completing my 180 by hitting those trees 30' downslope with my left shoulder (just missing my head).
I decided to get back at the run, by hitting it again - to solidify my confidence.
The second time I dug in and twisted over at the same spot, freed myself and went downhill to hit the same other tree with the same shoulder.
was the end of that ski day." - Samsunshine
SKI VALLEY, NEW MEXICO, USA
JOHN SALMON, MY SKI BUDDY DR. JOHN ON 'BILLY SOL'
From Albury, VIC, Australia - Visits Taos
photography and graphics by Michael Levy
Michael T. Levy
HCR 74 Box 24508
El Prado, NM 87529-9546
Ph/Fax: (575) 776-2230
Mobile: (575) 613-5007