O.E. Pattison left his mark on the Taos Ski Valley long before the first skier arrived. A loop road bears his name. His family still owns more than 1,200 acres in the high country that includes hiking and biking trails and several peaks, most notably Fraser Mountain.
Pattison is reportedly the first person that Ernie Blake talked to when he thought about establishing a ski resort in the Taos area. And it may have been Pattison’s extensive mountain property that Blake first saw in his legendary flyover of the area when he decided that this was the right place for a ski resort.
Who was O.E. Pattison and how did he come to own a huge parcel of mountain land that is now a private recreation area surrounded by the Carson National Forest (CNF)?
History of O.E. Pattison
Orville Edward (O.E.) Pattison lived in Indiana as a young man. His family came to Artesia, New Mexico, so his mother could receive treatment for tuberculosis. She passed away soon afterward. His father, William, remarried and moved to Clovis where he ran a cream and egg business known as a “cow, sow and hen” operation.
William Pattison loved the mountains. “It was hot in Clovis in the summer and the family came to Red River to spend the summers camping out beginning around 1908. It made a big impression on O.E.” says Roger Pattison, grandson of O.E. Pattison.
After becoming a successful wheat farmer in Clovis during the 1940s, O.E. Pattison wanted to buy some mountain land for his family to visit during the summers. When O.E. Pattison returned to Red River, he didn’t like how it had evolved. “He was a strong Christian man and felt like Red River had become too much of a partying town,” according to Roger Pattison.
An old miner named Joe Canard told O.E. Pattison about land on the other side of the mountains. O.E. Pattison took his Hudson sedan up the old toll road built by William Fraser that crossed the Río Hondo 12 times. The area that would later become known as Taos Ski Valley (TSV) was called Twining. All that remained from the height of Twining’s gold mining days were the ruins of the hotel that had burned down and a disabled mill.
O.E. Pattison purchased 1,500 acres just east of the Lake Fork branch of the Río Hondo in 1945. He acquired the land from the state of New Mexico for back taxes. It had been previously owned by a local family who purchased it from Fraser, owner of the Fraser Mountain Copper Company. There was already an easement in place from 1935, which guaranteed public access through the property for the Wheeler Peak Trail.
O.E. Pattison began a process to clear the title from all the past claims on the land. From the days of the Fraser Mountain Copper Company, there were many miners’ claims and investors who may have had an interest in the land. It took 10 years before all the issues were resolved and the title was clear.
According to Carrie Leven, archaeologist for the Questa District of CNF. “Most of the land near Taos Ski Valley originally came from the Antoine Leroux Grant and was exchanged with the U.S. beginning in 1906, which was the founding of the Taos Forest Reserve, which became the Carson National Forest in 1908.” Other parcels were acquired and exchanged all the way through the 1950s. Through all this time, the Pattison family retained their land.
The Pattisons spent most of the first summer in the mountains in an army tent. Later, a stone cabin was built near the current location of the Pizza Shack with other cabins built over time.
O.E. Pattison's second wife, Luciester, received a master’s degree in education from Brown University in 1936. She studied to be a missionary, which was an unusual path for a woman to take at that time. She was working in a music store in Clovis when she met the widower O.E. Pattison who had five children. According to Roger Pattison, “Luciester gave up her idea of what she thought God wanted her to do by being a missionary in a foreign country, in order to be a missionary to those kids.”
She had an enormous influence over the family. During the four months of the summer, she helped pack up the entire farm operation from Clovis and move it to the mountains. Roger says, “What I remember most is how she was able to do so much with so little and never expected any more.”
Most of the information that the family has about their history came from the careful notes recorded by Luciester.
Using wood from his own sawmill, O.E. Pattison built the old Thunderbird Lodge on the foundation of the former Twining ore smelter. The lodge, later owned by the Brownells, was demolished in 2007. The Pattison family, however, was able to salvage some of the wood in hopes of using it for future building projects. After Blake arrived and began to establish TSV in 1955, the Pattison family subdivided and sold off some parcels for homes and commercial businesses.
Over the years, the Pattisons have dedicated land for roads and donated other parcels, including the land used for the Williams Lake hiking trail parking lot. In 1963, the Pattison family realized that to make it possible for people to enjoy recreation at TSV, more water rights would be needed. They purchased some water rights in the Río Hondo watershed and transferred them to the village.
Over time, the management of the land passed on to other family members. In 1996, Roger Pattison came to learn about the management of the land from his Uncle Buell. Roger Pattison also assisted with the efforts to incorporate TSV into its own village. He then took over management of the land on behalf of the almost 100 heirs who have an interest in the property.
Seeing the demand for mountain recreation, Northside at TSV was established in 2006 and is overseen by Roger Pattison and his wife, Kerrie. The area was named for its north-facing mountains, but coincidentally there was a mining claim called Northside on that land during the prospecting era, which the Pattisons did not know about at the time the recreation area was named.
Mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners come from all over the country to use the area. There are more than 18 miles of reclaimed mining roads used for trails and 4 new miles of single track have been added by the Pattisons, working with volunteers from the local community. Organizations like the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps have helped improve forest health and decrease fire risk by undertaking forest-thinning projects. Through online resources like the MTB project (mtbproject.com) sponsored by REI, the Northside trails are becoming well known in the mountain biking community. A fee for use is charged to maintain the area, pay for liability insurance and potentially establish new recreational activities, as well.
Now surrounded by CNF and TSV, the land has potential for many outdoor uses. In the past, the Pattisons have considered establishing a ski area here because the terrain lends itself to downhill skiing.
For now, the area is open for summer and winter recreation. Guided snowshoe and snowmobile tours are offered during the winter. Summer horseback trail rides are available with Al Johnson of AA Wilderness Adventures. This was the second year for the Bull-of-the-Woods trail run, which took place on Sept. 16.
Two new activities are coming. One is touring by electric-assisted bikes. Working with a local contractor, Northside will host fat electric bike guided tours. There are also plans to create some backcountry rental cabins that would allow hikers to stay overnight and be able to hike Wheeler Peak Trail the next day. Although accommodations will be rustic, they will feature amenities such as composting toilets. Future adventures on the land could include things like zip-lining and alpine slides.
Kerrie Pattison says, “People don’t want us to stop allowing the recreational uses. Every week someone thanks us for the great mountain-biking experiences here.”
The vision for Northside is consistent with O.E. Pattisons' wish for the land to be utilized as an area of relaxation and recreation. “The future is bright for Northside,” says Roger Pattison. “With new ownership in the Taos Ski Valley, as a village we are maturing. There has been an influx of positive change and Northside has a lot to add. There are endless possibilities for recreation and we are excited to be part of it.”
For more information about Northside, call (575) 776-3233 visit ridenorthside.com.