On the River with Emily

(Story by Emily Roley / Photos by Emily Roley and Christopher Howard) 

In October of 2014, I found myself sitting in a boat on a deep and lazy stretch of the Colorado River, a few miles from the entrance of the Grand Canyon. On either side, deep red cliffs towered a thousand feet up, ending in a small sliver of sky that ferried a soft light down onto my shoulders. It was my 35th birthday, and I had spent the last week chasing trout up and down this river alongside my two best friends. The engine was gently idling and we were all sipping whiskey, laughing at our good fortune, when our guide suddenly cut the motor. Instantly, we all fell silent, and a profound stillness invaded. In that moment, my life changed forever. I heard a voice as crystal clear as the waters below me. Go become a fly fishing guide.

For some, to simply pack up and shelve a seemingly normal life in exchange for an uncertain one would be insane. For me, however, it was inevitable. I was living in my hometown, Nashville, Tenn., working a normal job, living in a house I owned, surrounded by family and lifelong friends. It was a good life, safe and predictable. I would go about my day as my familiar self, thinking repetitive thoughts, performing predictable tasks, laying out plans and expecting the sun to inevitably rise. But below the monotony, there was something brewing.

Fly fishing has been an integral part of my life since childhood. I was introduced to the sport by my father, a man equal parts Southern preacher, poet, musician and trout bum. He held the belief that life was wide, deep and full of wonder, and it was on our weekly trips to the river that I learned to look for magic in everything. Selecting which fly to fish became a devotion on the freedom of choice. Getting skunked was a lesson on temperance. The sound of the river was the most ancient song. What was catching trout? Well, that was the greatest gift from the gods. As I stumbled through my teens and limped through my 20s, the river became the place where I would go, wade through the turmoil of youth and eventually, find peace. Flash forward to a woman halfway through her 30s, adrift in life, as on a boat, in the middle of the Colorado, with a metaphorical lightning strike still smoldering at her feet.

What happened after the lightning strike? That magical moment turned instantly into practical planning, a laundry list of tying loose ends. Becoming a fly fishing guide would take tenacity, a lot of luck and a complete overhaul of my life. So, immediately upon returning home to Nashville, I began sprinting toward this goal. I did research, made phone calls, heard myself again and again trying to explain my epiphany to deaf ears. Finally, in a mix of determination and fate, I found a job with the Taos Fly Shop, and six months later had boxed all that was important, sold all that was not, told my family I loved them and headed West.

From the outside, the fly-fishing-guide life is romantic, it is barely a job at all. Ultimately, we get paid to go fishing, right? Not exactly. As newly minted adults must learn how to fend for themselves their first year of college, so must first-year guides adjust to the reality of what the job entails. My first season was eye-opening. Yes, there is romance to be found, but mostly, there are impossible tangles, errant casts, hooks in trees, hooks in your clothes, hooks in your skin, sunburn, swift currents, loose rocks, mosquitoes and rattle snakes. However, if you can handle these challenges and happen to be on the river when the fish are feeding, it’s the greatest job in the world. I am four years in, and I can say, without exaggeration, that guiding a beginner into their first fish on a fly rod produces a feeling that has, so far, been unmatched in my professional life.

This is due, in part, to the holistic essence of the experience. Fly fishing is not only about catching fish. It is about the ritual, the ceremony. Laying all your gear out the night before, making sure you have everything. Waking before the sun, warming the car, pressing the coffee and checking the map. It’s about solitude. Being alone on the river, carrying everything you need and leaving all else behind, spending hours with the sound of the current as your only companion. It’s about friendship and family, taking time out from the day-to-day to make new memories and perhaps establish new traditions. It’s about nature. Knowing a river so intimately you can walk it with your eyes closed. Spending every season on the same stretch, observing what changes and what stays the same, identifying the flora and fauna. And yes, it’s about catching trout, whether your first or your 10,000th. As a guide, I get to foster this experience, and as I said before, it gives me a reward that is unparalleled.

My most memorable trip to date was in my first year guiding. The clients were a mother and young, teenage daughter. The first thing I observed upon meeting them was their contagious enthusiasm. They were fulfilling a dream, checking a box on the bucket list. The second thing I noted was the transparent, playful and entirely unique nature of their relationship. They would alternate between stinging jabs and sincere compliments. It was only an hour into the trip when the mother grabbed my arm as we were walking up the river and said, “I can’t tell you how special this is for us.” I remember that we caught fish, although I can’t tell you how many. What I can tell you is that a deeper bond was created between mother and daughter that day, a bond that will bless them both for the rest of their lives. In the intervening four years, I have guided these women eight times and had the privilege of watching that teenage girl turn into a young woman.

This mother-and-daughter story is not uncommon. Time and time again, I watch as the river becomes a conduit, reconnecting you and me to one another by tethering us for a few short hours to nature. It truly is something to watch. If you are reading this and find yourself curious, I urge you to give it a try. Maybe you have passed by the river for your entire life and always wondered what it would be like to learn how to fly fish, but never knew where to start. Perhaps, like me, this is your adopted home and you find yourself in a limitless landscape and are craving adventure. We have no time but the present. After all, the days are long but the years are short. The river, however, is ancient.

As I’ve told my story over the years, I’ve often been asked, “Why Taos?” The simplest answer? Taos picked me. It is vast and full of magic. In April of 2015, I pulled my travel trailer up from the south on NM-68. There was construction, and I was halted just below the crest of the mesa. As I sat mashing on my brakes, I could see the very tip of Wheeler Peak, and felt my heart start to thrum in my chest. The traffic started to inch forward, slowly, and I was treated to a tempered reveal of the landscape like the unfolding of a scroll, inch by inch. The Sangre de Cristo range came down from the sky and met the sage-covered mesa into which the Rio Grande had cut a giant, jagged slash. I was instantly in love. Years later, I can still feel the gravity of that moment. I had followed the river, and it had finally brought me home.

In addition to writing for Local Flavor, Emily can be found at her day job at the Taos Fly Shop at 338 Paseo del Pueblo Sur. 575.751.1312. taosflyshop.com.

Wildcrafting

(Story by Michael Dax / Photographs by Stephen Lang)

Most simply, wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting wild plants that are typically intended for medicines, foods or other practical uses. But for Tomas Enos, who founded Milagro Herbs nearly 30 years ago, this relatively simple explanation only scratches the surface. For Tomas, he more aptly describes his life’s work as the “sustainable harvest of wild foods.”

“We’re not only gatherers, but we also study the plants and how ecosystems are doing, how they’re growing, what their populations look like and what impacts there are,” he says. “So it’s a little more involved than just harvesting.” It is this perspective that helps Tomas stand out. It’s not just about making a living, but rather, teaching people to interact with and integrate themselves into their environment while providing an opportunity for them to better understand the cultures that have shaped Northern New Mexico for more than a thousand years.

More than ever before, Americans have become wholly disconnected from the natural world, and as the impacts of climate change, as well as residential development, roads, overgrazing and other human impacts have degraded our natural landscapes, we are less and less equipped to understand and combat this ecological deterioration. So although outdoor recreation is experiencing a historic boom, people are not necessarily engaging in deep observation or forming the kind of meaningful relationships with the plant and animal communities around them.

This is where Tomas comes in. Sixty percent of his products, which include hair and skin care, nutritional supplements, pain relievers and dried herbs, are locally harvested. But for him, this is just the first step. More than anything, he hopes these products will help spark an interest and inspire people to learn more about the native plants and herbs growing from the Rio Grande to the highest ridges of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And with this curiosity for knowing how to harvest, process and use these plants in a responsible and sustainable manner comes a deeper appreciation and understanding for the natural world and humankind’s place in it.

Like many people, Tomas’s initial interest in wildcrafting began with spending time outside and wanting to learn the names, applications and cultural histories of the plants around him. But soon, his hobby became a passion and as he studied more, his interest grew beyond just knowing when and how to use these plants, but also, as he puts it, “how to live at the level that all other living things can tolerate.”

Part of this process is knowing when and when not to harvest, and for Tomas, his joy comes not from harvesting, but rather the opportunity to be out in the woods gaining knowledge. “Each time, it’s like a pilgrimage just to see what’s going on, maybe with the intent to harvest, but certainly with the intent to be in that environment,” he says. “It’s listening and the environment communicating.”

Perhaps no example better illustrates how seriously Tomas takes this ethic than the dilemma he faced during 2018’s historic drought.  “Last year, we had an incredibly dry year and things weren’t as viable and the plants were stressed, so it wasn’t an optimal time to do much collecting, and I had to adapt my business and life activities around that,” he says. “I’ve made a pact that if I’m going to live this kind of life, I have to live according to the natural ways. I can’t let business practices dictate my activities in the forest or else it will negatively impact the plants.”

As much as he laments how climate change and other human impacts have altered our natural landscapes, making certain plants increasingly hard to find, for Tomas, adjusting to those new realities is part of the point. Nothing in nature is ever static. Although the idea of living “sustainably” has become increasingly fashionable, often manifesting in such actions as installing home solar, driving an electric car or using recycled products, for Tomas, many of these efforts largely miss the mark. “Technology doesn’t provide the deeper answers to sustainable living,” he says.

More than anything else, Tomas views our fundamental disconnect from the environment as the largest overarching threat, and in many ways, wildcrafting both as practice and process offers a path forward. “We can’t take it for granted that those things are going to be there,” he says. “We have to be on our toes about what’s the right thing to do and our relationship with the natural world—finding our place and being aware and sensitive to that.”

While the impacts of climate change may have made last year particularly difficult, they have also engendered a growing interest in wildcrafting and the larger ethic of self-reliance that it represents. To meet this demand, Tomas offers a variety of classes and workshops focused on topics like herbalism, the cultural contexts of healing and making herbal medicines. He even has a six-month certification course in the foundations of herbal medicine.

While some of the classes can be fairly intensive, Tomas also leads a series of casual two-hour walks that provide a softer introduction to some of the fundamental principles of wildcrafting. In addition to what he describes as “a beautiful walk in the forest,” these classes also include overviews of identifying plants as well as when and how to harvest plants and herbs in order to promote future growth and not damage the plant. In the spring, these walks take place at lower elevations where participants might find commonly used medicinal plants like yerba mansa, which has a variety of uses, from reducing inflammation to easing stomach pain to curing common skin ailments.

As summer approaches, Tomas’s walks move up into the Santa Fe Ski Basin where people might find plants like osha, which Indigenous tribes have used for centuries to treat a variety of different aches and pains. Tomas will even lead walks around town to help demonstrate how many common plants we see growing as weeds can actually be quite useful. Yerba de negrita, also known as globe mallow, is a particular favorite. Blooming in July and known for its beautiful orange blooms, both the root and the leaves have long been used to treat sore stomachs, cover insect bites and condition hair and skin.

No matter the course, it’s not merely about teaching students about the plants and their uses, but about instilling an understanding and appreciation of how we, as humans, employ them in a respectful and ecologically responsible manner. Tomas is aware that in the wrong hands, certain herbs and plants can be overexploited and harvested at unsustainable levels. “We teach it very carefully,” he says. “It’s sacred information and we don’t want people using the knowledge and over extracting.”

To this end, he makes a point of incorporating plants’ cultural and human histories to better contextualize their practical applications. “We can’t always predict how people are going to use the information, and yet it is really important to get [that knowledge] out there, so along with teaching about the information, we have to work with people’s state of understand and being,” he says. “Without cultural meaning, the plants become just a commodity.”

Despite the mounting impacts of climate change and our increasing dependence on technology, he has found reason for hope. More and more, young people have become especially interested in wildcrafting and all the principles of self-reliance it embodies. “People are feeling a strong sense of wanting to reconnect with the natural world and wanting to know what all the uses are for plants,” he says.

In this movement, he sees a growing sense of community and shared experience among people who value that foundational connection to open spaces, biodiversity and healthy ecosystems he considers so essential. Wildcrafting’s prevalence may still be relatively small, but for Tomas Enos and his fellow enthusiasts, its potential to imbue a deeper sense of reverence for the plants that have sustained us for centuries is boundless.

Milagro Herbs is located at 1500 5th St. in Santa Fe, 505.820.6321, milagroherbs.com.

 

 

Homesteading in Taos

(Story and photographs by Gabriella Marks)

It starts with a dream. In this one, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s words transport a young Chrissy Streit from her family ranch in Hawaii to a small house on a thing called “a prairie,” something she’d never seen before, where the land was level, there were no trees and the grasses grew in tall waves. That little girl would one day become a homesteader in her own right with her family in Taos, but until then, her imagination was illuminated by the adventures of another young girl, just about Chrissy’s age, but out of the fabled Western past—a girl and her family, who braved the elements and hardships to cultivate a life for themselves on the frontier, living with a sense of purpose off the land as best they could in the late 1800s.

And then there is the everyday. For young Chrissy, it meant dining daily on the fruits and produce of her mother’s prolific garden. Her

Courtesy of Streit family

mother was a committed and accomplished gardener—“she could grow anything, year round”—an abundance Chrissy simply grew up with, took for granted. It wasn’t until years later, as she tried to reproduce that tradition in Taos, that she truly recognized the craft and value of that garden, and began to make her own connections between it and her dreams of raising a family in a homestead on the frontier.

Those dreams were relatively quiet, hibernating in a childhood past, by the time Chrissy met her future husband Nick Streit through mutual friends at the University of New Mexico. She was studying elementary education, and he had left school for “bigger and better things at the end of a fly rod,” she says. A New Mexico native, Nick grew up in the embrace of his own parent’s dreams. His father arrived in Taos in the late ’60s, where he joined in with the New Buffalo Commune, a small yet infamous collective farm of hippies in Arroyo Hondo. There, in the adobe house his father built (but to which he didn’t add internal plumbing), Nick grew up a mountain boy—exploring, fishing, hunting, skiing, hiking.

Courtesy of Streit family

“When I met Nick, I had no idea about this world of hunting and gathering your own firewood, and the outdoors being such a big part of your life, because it was so different in Hawaii—there are no public lands,” Chrissy says of the cultural divide she experienced at the beginning of their relationship. At the time, Chrissy didn’t really even eat meat. She was what she jokingly refers to as a “bacon-a-tarian”: she did not eat red meat but could not resist the temptations of bacon. To mark her own transition since that time—just last year, she successfully completed her first hunt.

Although Chrissy and Nick were young, 22 and 24 respectively, they knew early on that they wanted to be together, and to live out in the country. In 2004, they opened the Taos Fly Shop, and were married shortly after. But the idea of “homesteading” per se was less an articulated mission than a gradual journey that drew from what came naturally and was inspired by the re-emergence of those childhood dreams.

“In Northern New Mexico, you grow up culturally with some level of understanding of the outdoors. You know, everyone around here gets their own firewood and fishes and that’s just a part of life,” Nick explains. In complement to the fish and game that Nick brought home, Chrissy started her garden. “It was funny, people assumed because of my mom that it would just come naturally to me, but it was hard, and where we live, it’s really difficult.”

The sun, or lack thereof in the cozy canyon just outside Taos proper, where they now live, is the key determinant of an abbreviated growing season. At that elevation, frosts last later into spring—sometimes as early as the first week in June—and arrive earlier in the fall. Chrissy describes being caught off guard by a sudden frost mid-summer, running out into the night like a woman possessed, arms laden with blankets and sheets to protect her still-thriving garden.

What she doesn’t grow, she sources locally within her community, trading eggs and produce for fruit. But her true passion is foraging, sometimes for berries, sometimes for wild onions, but most of all, for wild mushrooms. “I’m a little obsessed,” she confesses. Mushrooms aren’t hard to come by in the forests around Taos—there are hundreds, if not thousands of varieties. Yet only a mere handful are suitable for human consumption, and it takes the trained eye of a mycologist to identify the right ones. Nick and Chrissy have learned over the years which are the ones to bring home. And bring them home they do, by the poundful. “We pick morels, starting in the spring, we pick bolete (porcinis), chanterelles, lobster, oyster, hedgehog mushrooms, and we discovered cauliflower mushrooms this year.” After the particularly parched and sparse conditions for foraging last year, Chrissy and Nick are enthusiastically bursting-at-the-seams in anticipation of this year’s haul. They bring them home, and cover every inch of the entire long dining table with mushrooms, slicing them in preparation for dehydrating in batches for use all year round.

And this is one place where the the Streits go about their own brand of homesteading in a manner that both differs from that original inspirational literary fantasy and sets an example for what is possible when there is both the will and the imagination to create your own way. When they first began as foraging novices, Chrissy and Nick hiked with a friend who helped them learn how to see and discover edible mushrooms in the wild. And now they have their very own little fungi sighter, who has a knack for finding the mushrooms—their son Christian.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at an early age, this unlikely mushroom detective sights small outcroppings from the special backpack his mother wears. His older sister Tess, who

Courtesy of Streit family

received her very own pocket knife for the first time this past Christmas, helps collect them. The Streits are a close-knit team committed to maximizing their outdoor opportunities together as a family. So that might mean building the egg boxes on the chicken hutch at a height Christian can collect from in his wheelchair, and it mostly means that creative troubleshooting—the true tenant of any homesteading ethic—is perhaps the most valuable tool in their toolbox.

Over time, Chrissy’s dreamy aspirations of the prairie frontier have turned into a passionate commitment to raise and feed her family with a deep appreciation for the value of knowing exactly where their food comes from—grown, hunted or foraged. Hunting is central to their senses both of ethics and aesthetics. Each year, Nick applies for a draw license to hunt elk, deer and turkey. Because permits are awarded by blind lottery, his strategy is to apply for less popular hunts, to increase his odds of getting a tag. After a successful hunt, Chrissy and Nick process and package the meat at home, and with the occasional exception of store-bought chicken, it’s the only meat they have in their home.

And together, they’ve managed to carve a life from the woods that balances the pragmatic needs of working in the “real world”—earning a living, having health insurance—with a healthy resourcefulness and relationship to their environment. Nick sums it up well with characteristic clarity: “The main thing for us—we’re not trying to be 100-percent perfect—we’re very much a part of society. I’ve got two businesses in town, the kids go to school, Chrissy teaches. We’re still going to the store to buy milk.”

Ultimately, this is the story of one family living an enthusiastic and resourceful life engaged to the fullest extent they’re able with the land on which they live. But from another perspective, it’s a story for us all, about how the little decisions we make every day can bring us closer to the lives we dream of. Not unlike those Laura Ingalls Wilder stories Chrissy read once upon a time as young girl.

Follow their adventures on Chrissys blog: forestandfarm.blogspot.com.

Ski Pioneers

Story by Daniel Gibson

For a state most commonly associated with deserts and mesas, New Mexico actually is among the ski pioneering centers of the American West, and in an average winter enjoys some of the best skiing in the world. Our snow is among the lightest on Earth, and it often rests under a clear, deep-blue sky. There aren’t too many skiers, and there’s a tremendous variety of terrain—from above-timberline rock-lined chutes and couloirs of Taos Ski Valley to sublime forest runs, nice mogul drops and miles-long cruisers. But if it were for the snow and slopes alone, New Mexico would not be world-renowned.

The essence of the people who founded skiing here, a mix of American entrepreneurs and European professionals—including many unusual women—working alongside local Hispanic and Pueblo laborers, lives on, giving New Mexico skiing a distinctive character. It remains today “the skiing different” scene, with all locally owned and operated ski areas in an era of resort corporatization, driven by a rare blend of people who live and breathe the high-alpine life.

Courtesy of Nordhaus family

Bob Nordhaus

To many people’s surprise, New Mexico has one of the oldest ski scenes in the West, as the predecessor to today’s Sandia Peak was launched in 1937. Steering this endeavor was Robert “Bob” Nordhaus, born in Las Vegas in 1909. A good athlete and outdoors enthusiast, when his wife Virginia suggested they try out this new sport called skiing, Bob jumped right in. The bindings, he told me in an interview in 1995, consisted of toe straps and rubber stripes cut from bicycle inner tubes.

In 1936, he was elected as the unpaid president of the Albuquerque Ski Club. In 1937, they installed the first rope tow at La Madera in the Sandias, and in 1938, the Civilian Conservation Corps built one of their typically modest but quite comfortable and enduring log day-lodges. I can still recall as a kid sitting around its warm orange glow drying out my sopping-wet wool clothing.

Nordhaus served in the famed 10th Mountain Division, in World War II, and returned in 1945 to form La Madera Ski Co., buying up the assets of the ski club. He soon strung up a 4,600-foot T-bar lift. Two rides up cost 50 cents; a day pass set you back a buck. Meanwhile, he was also directing operations outside of Santa Fe, where he’d overseen installation of the state’s first rope tow in 1936, powered by a Packard car engine.

In 1962, Nordhaus installed the first chairlift at La Madera, and renamed it Sandia Peak Ski Area, part of a larger seemingly impossible plan he and his partner Ben Abruzzo proposed: to install an aerial cable car up the rugged west face of the Sandias, linking the summit of the ski area with the foot of the mountains on Albuquerque’s east edge. Though the job included completing the longest span between any two cable car towers in the world, the duo pulled it off and Sandia Peak Tramway was dedicated in 1964. Nordhaus skied until age 90, and passed away in 2007 at 97 years old.

Ernie Blake/Courtesy of NM Ski Museum and Ski Hall of Hall

Ernie Blake

The Godfather of Skiing in New Mexico, Ernie Blake hovers over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains like a snowflake that refuses to come down. Ernie (as he was widely known), put the state on the world’s skiing destination map with the founding of Taos Ski Valley. He left for skiing on a heavenly plane in 1989.

Of Swiss-German ancestry, Ernie’s love of skiing first emerged in the winter of 1917-18 in St. Moritz, Switzerland. After his family immigrated to the United States in 1938, he secured a plum job as a ski instructor on the famous “ski trains” run by Saks Fifth Avenue out of New York City to fledgling ski areas in New England.

In 1940, Ernie met Rhoda Limburg while skiing at Stowe, Vermont. In 1949, following service in World War II, Ernie and Rhoda arrived in New Mexico, where he had signed on as manager of the newly named and relocated Santa Fe Ski Basin, which opened on Feb. 4, 1950. Here, he oversaw installation of the state’s first chairlift, which included a primary cable scavenged from an old mining operation and seats from old B-24 bombers!

Simultaneously managing a ski area near Glenwood Springs, Colo., Ernie commuted back and forth in his own small plane, scouting locations in the Sangres where he could launch his own ski area. In March of 1954, he resigned from both jobs and hiked and skied into what would become Taos Ski Valley. Most people figured he was nuts to consider the location for a resort: the mountain was too steep, and it was too remote. One had to ford the Hondo Creek some 12 times to reach the base area. But Ernie bulled on and opened for business in the winter of 1955-56, hauling skiers uphill with an ancient snowcat and a ski-kuli lift.

A Taos Pueblo crew cut the infamous long poma lift line up the front mountain, creating Al’s Run. Electricity arrived in 1963 (prior to that everything ran on oil and diesel), phone lines in 1964, and a chairlift in 1965 that topped out at 11,819 feet in elevation. Along with the infrastructure came a cadre of unusual European friends and associates of the Blakes, and iconoclastic Americans, who mixed with the local people to create a ski community unlike any in the nation, or the world. Even today, Taos Ski Valley—both the ski resort and the tight-knit town that has grown at the foot of the ski lifts—exudes a unique charm, style and joie de vivre one can trace back to its founders.

Courtesy of Taos SKi Valley & Blake Family

Rhoda Blake

Women were also at the forefront of New Mexico’s early skiing years. Most prominent was Rhoda Blake. Without her, Taos Ski Valley would not exist. Though overshadowed by the towering personality of her husband, Ernie, together, they carved a world-class ski resort out of the remote mountains of Northern New Mexico. Securing a permit from the National Forest Service, in the summer of 1955, the family, with three children, moved into a 12-foot trailer with a temperamental generator and no running water high in the Hondo Valley and went to work. Rhoda served in many capacities, from driving heavy trucks to cooking for staff and workers, running the rental shop to designing and laying out new runs—including one that bears her name.

In an interview for a tribute to his mother I wrote at her passing on Nov. 3, 2015, at the age of 97, Rhoda’s son Peter Blake noted, “She had a huge amount of courage. Fear wasn’t a factor in her life, from the way she drove to anything she did. She had a very sharp personality and was every bit as strong, or stronger, than my father.”

 

Courtesy of Bainbridge Family

Buzz and Jean Bainbridge

Buzz Bainbridge of Santa Fe first came to New Mexico as a sales representative for Northland Ski Co. in the winter of 1946-47. Bob Nordhaus soon asked him to manage the Hyde Park and Big Tesuque operations. “I’d leave Jean (his wife) at Hyde Park running things and head up to Big Tesuque,” he once told me. “I would fire up the torch used to warm that old Cadillac engine we used for the lift, get it warming up and then head back down to check on Jean.” Good help was hard to find.

He spent the next winter working at La Madera, then returned to Santa Fe for the winter of 1949-50 to run the ski school. After serving in the Korean War, Buzz ran the Santa Fe Ski Basin for five years as general manager. “All I wanted was bodies on the slopes, and so I was always working the lift lines forming ski clubs. I’d ask where a group was from, and say I’d give them each a 50-cent discount if they were a club,” ensuring the state a steady flow of Tejano two-plankers for the next few decades. He also helped launch Red River Ski Area, and spent time at Sierra Blanca and Snowbowl in Arizona. From 1987 to 1991, he served as the state director of tourism. He continued to ski the slopes of his hometown mountain until his passing in 2015 at age 93.

At his side all those years was his wife Jean. She was instrumental in helping to form the ski clubs and keep them going. She assisted in the mountain operations, and was often called on to lend her superb skills as a writer to craft promotional literature for the state’s fledgling ski community.

Abruzzo & Norhaus/Courtesy of Sandia Peak Ski Area

Ben Abruzzo

Ben Abruzzo assumed the role of manager at La Madera in 1957, and a year later, he became half-owner of the area and the lifelong business partner of Robert Nordhaus.

Together they undertook major improvements to the renamed Sandia Peak Ski Area, and oversaw construction of the ambitious and spectacular Sandia Peak Tramway. In 1984, Ben bought the assets of the Santa Fe Ski Basin, but he died with his wife, Pat, the very next year in a plane crash—a tragic and ironic end for the man who co-piloted the first hot air balloon crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1978. His children—Louis and Benny—and grandson Ben continue to direct Ski Santa Fe and Sandia Peak today, maintaining the vision of small but quality ski areas their father foresaw decades ago.

 

 

Peter Totemoff, Ernie Blake, Robert Nordhaus, and Buzz Bainbridge_Courtesy of Santa Fe Ski Basin

Other Leading New Mexico Ski Pioneers

Other important and colorful figures in New Mexico’s ski history include Robert O. Anderson, the Roswell-born oil tycoon who financed and launched Sierra Blanca Ski Area near Ruidoso in 1961; Harvey and Reserl Chalker, who ran the rental shop at the Santa Fe Ski Basin in the 1957-58 season, then served as general managers from 1960-1966, followed by their operation of acclaimed Alpine Sports in Santa Fe; Roy Parker, who managed Sierra Blanca for almost 40 years; Kingsbury Pitcher, who played a major role in the development of the Santa Fe Ski Basin and went on to buy and grow Wolf Creek Ski Area in Pagosa Springs, Colo.; Jean Mayer, who arrived at Taos Ski Valley on Christmas Eve, 1957 to open the valley’s first guest accommodations, the still-charming Hotel St. Bernard; and Pete Totemoff, the exuberant Aleut from Alaska, who held many roles at Santa Fe, Taos and Sandia over several decades.T

Winter-Up

Photo by Gabriella Marks

Items Courtesy by Alpine Sports / Photo by Gabriella Marks

(Story by Michael Dax; Photos by Gabriella Marks)

This summer, after a few years of hemming and hawing—my standard process leading up to any big-ticket gear purchase—I finally decided to buy my first alpine touring skis. Swapping out my old, heavy telemark skis for new a light-weight set-up that includes skis, boots and bindings would finally allow me keep up with the legions of other locals doing morning and moonlight uphill laps at Ski Santa Fe.

Like many people, I started my search online by looking at endless pairs of skis, boots and bindings in a litany of colors and graphic designs, but I quickly became overwhelmed. What exactly does a 19-meter turn radius mean? Does it matter if the cores are constructed from balsa or poplar? How much range of motion in my boot would I need? Is six pounds considered heavy or light for a pair of skis?

It’s no secret that new ski and snowboard gear is expensive, and if I was going to spend the money, I wanted to make sure that what I ended up with was right for me. And while there is a time and place to patronize national retailers, I desired the kind of personal service and attention to detail that only a local, community-based shop could provide.

Not only do stores like the ones listed below care deeply about their customers, but often, their management and staff have decades of experience to draw upon and are able to tailor their advice to your interest and ability level. “With our employees and our customers, I feel like we have become more of a family,” Linda Mogetz of BootDoctors in Taos Ski Valley says.

This was exactly the kind of service I was looking for, and on top of that, supporting stores like this can be essential to maintaining local economies. “When you move away from local businesses, you lose some of the personal touch,” Matt McDanel, the new owner of Ski Tech in Santa Fe, says. Luckily, Northern New Mexico is replete with a mix of shops with varying specialties to meet a range of needs, from renting to buying. Here are a few stores from Albuquerque to Taos worthy of your trust and money this winter season.

WInterUplogoAdventure Ski Shops

Moises Martinez started working at Taos Ski Valley under Ernie Blake—the ski area’s legendary founder—when he was just 17. He spent a few years in the rental shop as he learned to ski on the mountain’s notoriously steep slopes before becoming a ski instructor, where he remained for a few years more until a friend convinced him to open up a shop of his own.

Thirty-five years later, Adventure Ski Shops has two locations on both ends of Taos’s main drag. The shops do both rental and retail business, and for Martinez, the personal service he and his employees—some of whom have been with the shops since the beginning, is unparalleled.

Although Taos Ski Valley once was skier only, since the mountain has opened to snowboards, Martinez has adjusted with the times. He is particularly excited about their line of snowboards from the Denver-based company, Never Summer. Considering last year’s abysmal winter, Martinez is encouraged by the early snow and eager for a big winter this year. Either way, he and his staff are ready to show off the kind of service that has kept them in business for nearly four decades.

Adventure Ski Shops has two locations in Taos: 1337 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur, 575.758.1167; and 303 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte, 575.758.9744, adventureskishops.com.

Alpine SportsWinterUpalpine

Jeremy Cole grew-up working in bike and ski shops and always wanted to own and operate a ski shop of his own. Three years ago, he and his wife Shirlee traded the dense, wet snow of the Pacific Northwest for Santa Fe’s dry, light powder when they purchased Alpine Sports, a staple of Santa Fe’s downtown for more than 50 years. Since then, the Coles have dedicated themselves to maintaining Alpine Sports’ reputation for excellence. More than anything, Jeremy takes pride in their meticulous boot fittings. “I really enjoy fitting boots and making sure people are happy,” he says. He warns people that a boot fitting will regularly take at least two hours and to better accommodate customers, they have started taking appointments.

Jeremy acknowledges that someone might be able to buy a ski or snowboard online, but when it comes to boots, it’s different. “You cannot buy a pair of ski or snowboard boots appropriate for you online. You need to have a fitter,” Jeremy notes, adding that his attention to detail is the benefit of shopping local. In addition to the hard goods—skis and snowboards, boots and bindings—Jeremy’s also excited for some of the “soft goods” they’re carrying this year. For goggles, he’s especially excited for the Julbo Aerospace, which include a photochromatic lens that pops out to avoid fogging.

Alpine Sports is located at 121 Sandoval St. in Santa Fe, alpinesportsonline.com, 505.983.5155.

WinterUpbootdoctors-telluride-taos-skiing-biking-bootfitting-rafting-gear-1BootDoctors

“The boot is the most important piece of equipment,” says Linda Mogetz, one of the original owners of BootDoctors in Taos, which has been in business for more than 30 years. “It makes or breaks your skiing.” Not surprisingly, BootDoctors takes their ski boots seriously. In addition to carrying more than 50 models to ensure their customers will be able to find one with the right fit, all their boot fitters undergo training with Masterfit University–a boot-fitting certification course. And some of their fitters are instructors as well.

In addition to boots, BootDoctors offers a range of skis and other soft goods. Linda’s particularly proud of their line of Picture Organic Clothing. The French company makes clothing that ranges from base layers to hard shells, all constructed from recycled goods, especially used water bottles.

Last November, Linda, along with co-owners Bob Remiger and Bob Gleason sold the business to Christy Sports, another outdoor retailer based in Lakewood, Colo. But fear not, part of their decision to sell was predicated on the idea that BootDoctors would retain its local charm, with former owners and long-time staff staying on, it has done just that.

BootDoctors is located at 103 Sutton Place at the Taos Ski Valley, 575.776.2489, bootdoctors.com/taos-adventures.

 WinterUp68143_134098153315730_8300367_nSki Tech

While its main focus is rental equipment, Ski Tech is the only retailer in the state offering skis and snowboards from Just Point It—a New Mexico-based ski manufacturer that opened last year. Their twin-tip skis feature bases emblazoned with the classic Zia symbol, and each year, they contract with a different local artist to design a unique top sheet.

In addition to having a small stock for sale, Ski Tech also keeps a few pairs of Just Point It skis in their rental fleet. Ski Tech’s also the only shop in Santa Fe that offers season-long rentals. New owner, Matt McDanel, who bought the store last February, explains that, for kids who might grow out of a pair of boots in less than a season, renting can be a really attractive option, and their program allows renters to trade up sizes mid-season for just such an occasion.

For Matt, part of owning a ski shop is being a resource for his customers. “We do a great job with customer service—just understanding what each customer needs,” he says. “We’re here to guide the consumer and point them in the right direction.”

Ski Tech is located at 905 S. St. Francis Dr. in Santa Fe, 505.983.5512, skitechsantafe.com.

WInterUp10168190_10152736155093525_7406714569054563179_nSport Systems

For more than 30 years, Sport Systems has been one of Duke City’s leading high-end retailers for everything from skiing and snowboarding equipment to gear for biking, swimming and running. Despite its broad focus, Sport Systems is highly committed to each of its disciplines, especially skiing and snowboarding. “Some of the best skiing in the world is right here in New Mexico,” Founder and Owner Duane Kinsley says.

Despite its long tenure, though, 18 months ago, Duane came close to closing the doors. The store was losing out to online retailers and national chains whose prices it couldn’t match. “Everyone knows the reasons they should shop local,” he says, noting the disconnect between wanting to shop local and actually buying from local stores. Understanding the draw of lower prices often found online, Duane developed Best Deal Retailer—a system that allows him to beat prices by offering goods and services to close the gap. For someone buying a new pair of skis, Sport Systems is able to make up the difference with services internet retailers can’t match. For someone buying a new pair of skis, for example, Sport Systems can include mounting bindings, tuning, waxing and even lift tickets to local mountains. “We can’t compete with them on price,” Duane says, referring to online and national retailers. “They can’t complete with us on value.”

Sports Systems is located at 6915 Montgomery Blvd NE in Albuquerque, 505.837.9400, nmsportsystems.com.

Items Courtesy of Alpine Sports / Photo by Gabriella Marks

Items Courtesy of Alpine Sports / Photo by Gabriella Marks

In stark contrast to last year, snows came early this year, and like moths to a flame, local skiers flocked to the slopes to enjoy the first powder turns of the season early in November. And I was among them with my shiny new skis and boots that had been waiting patiently in my garage all summer and fall. As expected, my carefully fitted boots felt great as I slowly plodded uphill to the top of Ski Santa Fe.

When I stripped my skins and pointed my skis downhill for the first time into fields of untouched powder, the smile that spread across my face was not only in response to the unparalleled joy of floating atop New Mexico’s signature powder, but also to the knowledge that I had contributed to my community in the process.

Acoma City in the Sky

Image by Dan Shaffer

Image by Dan Shaffer

(Story by Ashley M. Biggers / Photographs by Dan Shaffer)

Acoma Pueblo’s Sky City reveals itself slowly. On my first visit to the village, I traveled south of Interstate 40 along N.M. 23 as it stretched its single asphalt limb through high-desert mesas. Just as I thought I’d sail off a ridge into a limitless blue sky, I caught a glimpse of the village. Although it was still miles away across a sun-dappled basin, I began to distinguish the village’s rounded adobe forms. I picked out a few doorways among the earthen wash of color shared between building and butte. Here stood a citadel—as aged as Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and older still than Peru’s Machu Picchu—in my backyard.

Sky City perches on a sheer-walled mesa some 360-feet above the valley floor an hour’s drive west of New Mexico’s metropolis. (It’s an easy day trip for intrepid Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta visitors.) That short drive had transported me far from the urban landscape and seemingly, back in time. Members of Acoma Pueblo have inhabited this place since around 1150 A.D., making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America. Today, it’s a stalwart fortress of traditional Pueblo culture, yet the people living and working within its 250 dwellings evolve daily as they have for generations. Sky City hovers between past and present. It symbolizes continuity and endurance in a digital age when culture is shaped and disappears as quickly as a mouse click.

I followed the roadway dipping into the valley and past towering rock monoliths standing sentinel to the Sky City Cultural Center & Haak’u Museum. After a short film that delivered an abbreviated Pueblo history, I joined a tour (the only way to visit Sky City on non-feast days) and rode a shuttle to the mesa top.

I stepped onto the edges of Haa’ku—the “place prepared”—as the slap of screen doors occasionally punctuated the rambling village’s hush. I took in my surrounds as our guide related the story of the Acoma’s journey here. They rose from the Shipapu (the place within the earth where they were created) and migrated to this butte—a place predestined to be their home. Here, the Acomas dry-farmed corn in the valley, domesticated turkeys, hunted deer and buffalo, and marked the passing seasons with dances along wide avenues between stacked adobe homes, similar to the ones I meander on my first visit.

The homes that stand today are only 400 years old, rebuilt after the Spanish destroyed the original buildings. Although the Acoma people’s first encounter with the Spanish in 1540 was peaceful, the peace didn’t last. In 1599, Juan de Oñate tried to force them to submit to Spanish rule. During the fierce three-day battle, canon fire destroyed the original structures as the Spanish barraged what their historic records described as the greatest stronghold in the world. Eventually, the Spanish discovered and ascended the hidden passageway the Acoma used to reach their home and overtook the villagers, killing hundreds and leaving many more maimed and enslaved as Oñate punished the Acoma for their

Image by Dan Shaffer

Image by Dan Shaffer

insubordination.

As I strolled the wide lanes, I spotted the wide white ladders that mark the presence of kivas (ceremonial chambers). Although I as a visitor and outsider can never fully delve into the rites within those sacred walls, I marveled at the tribal members’ religious devotion. The tour guide explained that they carried on their practices in secret through the Spanish rule, risking their very lives if they were discovered doing so, especially in the shadow of the 1629 San Esteban del Rey mission church.

I imagined the villagers tenacity, too, as the guide detailed the Pueblo Revolt, when, in 1680, they and Pueblos across what is now New Mexico rebelled against the oppressive Spanish rule. Although some Pueblo members adopted Roman Catholic beliefs, Acoma beliefs prevailed, too. Often, the two faiths weave together in today’s practices, as the red and white carvings around the mission church’s altar attest. The grand adobe cathedral is now a National Historical Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places (as is the Pueblo). Acoma people’s hands built these walls—100-feet-long and 35-feet-high. Men carried the vigas (wooden beams) for the ceiling from Mount Taylor, nearly 50 miles away, without letting the trunks touch the ground. For today’s Acoma people, the mission is a testament to perseverance.

Although the mission church and surrounding village have remained relatively unchanged for centuries, the Acoma’s lives have changed greatly as each generation has adapted to Spanish, Mexican and American influences amid their own culture. Of the 4,800 tribal members, only 10 families live year-round on the mesa-top village. Most families live elsewhere on the Pueblo’s lands, closer to the bustle of the Sky City Casino Hotel, one of several tribal enterprises Acoma Pueblo operates. Only the families of the tribe’s elected officials live in Sky City and are entrusted to carry on the pueblo’s cultural traditions. Yet, this honor comes with challenges. The village maintains its traditional lifeways, meaning it doesn’t have running water, electricity or indoor plumbing; generators have made daily living more convenient. The village’s numbers swell over holidays and feast days as extended family return for ceremonial observances and elaborate meals.

Image by Dan Shaffer

Image by Dan Shaffer

As we explored the village, a few of the village’s resident artists greeted us with Acoma Pueblo’s signature thin-walled, geometric pottery—another tradition that endures today. Some potters follow the method handed down for generations, hand-coiling and firing the pottery, while others use molds and kilns. The hand-painted designs are as unique as the artists that create them. On some pots, black and brown parrots flutter along, while others bear intricate geometric designs with each line as fine as the single hair or yucca fiber that painted it.

At the tour’s conclusion, we could choose to return via the shuttle or descend on foot. I opted for the latter option, clambering down the ancient staircase that was once the only way to and from the mesa top. As I climbed, I struggled to find purchase in the slippery steps and handholds worn slick over the centuries as many fingers and feet grasped the earth here.

A few years after this initial first visit, I returned for San Esteban Feast Day, honoring the Pueblo’s patron saint on September Sept. 2. Tents and folding tables popped up and down each lane and residents laughed with tribal members and visitors alike as they sold everything from hand-carved knives to Kool-Aid pickles. I stepped inside the mission church, standing shoulder to shoulder with the worshippers on the dirt floor as incense wafted through the sanctuary. Outside, the sound of drums and songs beckoned me to the plaza, where two rows of dancers stepped, their moccasin-clad feet kicking up puffs of dust.

As the sun beat down, I scouted for a place to escape it for a few minutes. I spotted an elder sitting on a folding chair in a home’s narrow shadow. I weaved through the crowd to this slip of respite and asked if I could stand for a few minutes. He nodded his ascent. For a while, we remained silent, watching the dancers as they turned to face us with rattles and pine boughs in hand. Then, without prompting, he spoke.. “I used to be up there, you know,” he said.

“Yeah?” I asked, unsure of what else to say.

“I used to sing,” he said, as a handful of male singers in ribbon shirts revealed themselves amid the dancers.

“What was that like?”

“My father taught me, and I taught my son. They’ll be here singing long after I’m gone,” he laughed, not quite answering the question and answering it just the same.

Whether you are a lifelong resident or a first-time visitor to New Mexico we encourage you to experience the wonder of Acoma. acomaskycity.org.