Beginners get a boost at Taos Ski Valley

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At Taos Ski Valley, beginner skiers (and now snowboarders) have learned the ropes on the two hills between the main lodge and the children’s center – Strawberry Hill and Rueggli.

But these two teaching areas merge awkwardly, with modest Rueggli sloping off the one direction while slightly steeper Strawberry Hill taking a perpendicular route.

Even after the resort installed the Pioneer Lift and a magic carpet for adults to the south of the main lodge several years ago, resort managers had their eye on reworking the Strawberry Hill-Rueggli layout.

So after nearly 50 years in this configuration, the beginner area at Taos Ski Valley has undergone a radical facelift this summer. Earth-movers eliminated the double-fall line and bulldozed a new teaching, skiing, and snowboarding area at the Northern New Mexico resort. A new chairlift serves beginners, and a European-style, commuter gondola will slide overhead.

“The old layout had different fall lines and was, in parts, steeper than normal beginner terrain,” said Dash Hegeman, marketing manager at the resort. “The new area flows easily from east to west with sections of different gradients on the same slope.”

Graduated instruction will be the call of the day, beginning on the flats near the Children’s Center, and then moving to a magic carpet on a 6 percent grade, then to modest rollers to familiarize with varying terrains. Once comfortable there, skiers and riders hit the 8-10 percent grade under the new lift, completed with banked turns (known as “terrain-based instruction”) to get them comfortable with getting up on an edge.

From there, it’s time to slide down to Lift 1 and head up for an inaugural on-mountain run on gentle Whitefeather and then a progression down more challenging runs.

This regrading meant that the venerable Strawberry Hill chairlift, built in 1970, and the younger Rueggli chair are gone. In their place is be a new fixed-grip triple chair that runs essentially on the same west-to-east line as the old Rueggli, except it extends to about where the Strawberry Hill chair disgorged its passengers.

Running parallel to that will be the “pulse gondola.” With three enclosed gondolas on each cable, the gondola makes a 48-second trip from the Children’s Center to the base area for parents who drop off their kids at the ski school.

“The gondola will end just below Mogul Medical near the entrance to the Blake Hotel,” Hegeman said. “We envision our employees will use it to and from the parking lots, and non-skiers to use it to get back up to the hotel and base area.”

Also this summer, the Children’s Center has undergone a complete makeover. A new layout will guide folks through the registration process on the ground floor. At that point, they move upstairs, sans any parents, into an “adult-free zone” for equipment fitting, complete with kid-friendly features like notches on an aspen tree to mark height and a suspended old lift chair to weigh them.

In all, it’s another effort at Taos Ski Valley to encourage beginners to come to what has been known as an “experts’ mountain” and learn the techniques that will allow them to get up on the hill and become an expert.

“The entire remake is a detailed, intentional process with a smooth flow from sign-up to lesson on the hill,” Hegeman said. “From there, the whole mountain awaits.”

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