The Taos Freeride Championships

Yesterday kicked off the 10th freeride comp at Taos Ski Valley. It’s been dumping here (!!!), so visibility was pretty low, and there were delays.

But the judges, organizers, and athletes were able to complete day 1 of the women’s Snowboarding & Skiing portion of the comp out on West Basin—Emily Weer is currently leading on the snowboard side, and Charlotte Percle is sitting in first place for skiing.

Weather permitting (it’s still snowing right now!!!), the guys will take the stage today.

This Taos comp is a great event and a pretty big deal. To help explain why, we talked to a number of past and present competitors who have made their way to and through this event.

(To watch the live feed, go here:


Elyse Saugstad

A number of exceptional female skiers have competed in the event—Angel Collinson has podiumed here; Lynsey Dyer won the first event in 2005; and the Taos comp holds particular significance for one of our favorite big mountain skiers, Elyse Saugstad.

Elyse happened to be back in Taos this week, so in addition to getting to ski some pow together (bonus: she was on the 15/16 Bibby Pro, I was on my Blister Pros), we got to talk a lot about Taos in general, and the freeride comp in particular:

Elyse Saugstad, Taos Freeride Comp, Blister Gear Review
Elyse Saugstad, Taos Ski Valley. (photo by Ryan Heffernan)

“Taos is a magical gem in the southwest,” Elyse said. “It has such good, varied terrain that it caters to all types of freeride skiers, making it a perfect place to hold freeride competitions. You can find everything from technical lines, to huge cliffs to drop, to fast and flowy lines.

And Taos holds a special place in my heart because it is the event that kickstarted my professional skiing career. By winning the event it put my name on the map, and a year later, I won the Freeride World Tour Overall Title.”

Colin Boyd

Blister reviewer Colin Boyd just grabbed 2nd place at the most recent FWT stop in Andorra, and this Taos comp holds a special place for him, too:

“I competed in 2013, and finished 1st in the finals venue on Kachina Peak, and 4th overall. Taos certainly lived up to its reputation as being steep and technical. I remember being immediately floored at the options in both the 2013 venues at Taos. I just wish I had more than 3 runs!

Colin Body, Taos Freeride Comp, Blister Gear Review
Colin Boyd, Taos Freeride Comp. (photo by Tess Carney)

“The US has struggled to provide a complete circuit for athletes attempting to qualify for the FWT, and Taos has certainly been a staple event for those trying to qualify. It was my 4th place result that secured my seat in the 2014 FWT, and I definitely recommend any rider looking to qualify to do this event.”

Colin Boyd, Taos Freeride Comp, Blister Gear Review
Colin Boyd, airing to 1st place in the finals at Taos.

Garrett Altmann

Blister’s Garrett Altmann is also back again on the Freeride World Tour, and just took 5th place in Andorra. Garrett has competed in a lot of places around the world, and I asked him if anything stood out about Taos as a comp venue.

Garrett Altmann, Taos Freeride Comp, Blister Gear Review
Garrett Altmann on Winston, Taos Ski Valley.

“The West Basin and Kachina provide some of the more rowdy terrain presented in North American freeride venues. West Basin features several tree-ridden chutes and cliff bands typical of Taos, while Kachina Peak presents a more open face with big mountain features. The two venues complement each other nicely since they each cater to different riding styles.”

“And given that a competitor’s three best results are tallied for a season’s rankings, and given that there are only four 4-star competitions in North America, Taos is one of the best opportunities to gain points if you’re looking to qualify for the FWT.”

FWT Andorra Trip Report, Blister Gear Review
Garrett at the Vallnord Arcalis – Andorra stop of the FWT.

Q: Do you have a favorite memory from one of the Taos comps?

In 2012, I injured my ankle early in the season, and wasn’t able to compete before March. So Taos was my only event. I remember being so ill-conditioned that on day one of the comp, I stopped to rest on my poles while traversing through the trees. Needless to say, that move didn’t score well, and I finished 24th—barely making the cut for finals.

But when finals came around, I managed to pull off a perfect 10—the only ’10’ to this day on Kachina—and I finished 7th for the event. It wasn’t my best placing at Taos, but it is definitely my favorite competitive moment.

6 comments on “The Taos Freeride Championships”

  1. How about posting the complete results from today? It seems to be well beyond the capabilities of the organizers of the event to do that.

  2. Was at Taos during the freeride comp to ski not compete. Unfortunately, visibility and unstable snow pack hampered the comp. Attitude, communication, competence need improvement. Posted sign at top of Chair 2 Saturday in greasepaint, ” Chair 4 will not open. Stop bothering the lifties.” Excuse me for asking. Signage is a joke. What is open, what is not? But don’t ask. Sunday Chair 2 did not open till about 1:30 pm. There was a 45 minute delay on Chair 1. Saturday and Sunday they turned people away, record crowds, but they could not get the mountain open. Great mountain, great snow. What a shame! I met people from Portland, OR, Denver, locals all complaining about signage, communication, and getting the mountain open. Long, long lift lines on Sunday on Chair I till after lunch when Chair 2 finally opened. Locals joke. What do you call Taos on a powder Day? “CLOSED” I understand safety comes first. But, is it a staffing issue, is the new Kachina lift too much added work for ski patrol, can it get better?
    If Taos wants to compete, which the new investment signals they do, drop the attitude, invest in high tech signage, get high tech scanners and get the mountain open on an epic powder day. Great and friendly people work there. Direction from the top needs serious improvement.

  3. Thanks for the comments regarding the snowy Sunday. I would love to respond only to clear up the confusion regarding what actually was going on – I am a ski patroller at Taos and have a very clear idea of what goes into opening the mountain. From our perspective, it came down to trying to control 74 inches of snow with 4 inches of water that mostly fell Saturday night. All of that new snow fell on top of rotten, faceted snow. This was a 10 year cycle. It was absolutely crucial to take the time that Sunday to hit all of the spots that suddenly and unexpectedly needed attention. Once the skies cleared, we could see the extent of the natural slides in the backcountry, and they were extensive and quite destructive. It is certainly nice to have terrain open on a powder day, but it should never feel like it is a guarantee. Each storm is different, and more goes into opening a mountain like Taos than most people understand.

    Perspective: I was recently in Fernie, BC and noticed that when they get large amounts of moisture in their snowpack with bad visibility, they just shut the mountain down and let things sit until it clears and they can assess how to control the storm. It’s the sense of entitlement that alters the perspective on what should be open and when.

    I agree with you that the signs should be updated, and Yes, we could use a few more patrollers. But again, this was a ten year storm and certainly not the normal scene. It’s amazing to me how many complaints came from one of the ONLY days with lift lines at Taos. This place on any given day offers the best, least crowded skiing in the country.

    I also feel confident in saying that any other mountain that hosts an abundance of avalanche terrain with 74″ of heavy, new snow would have also been mostly shut down.


  4. Hey Justin,

    I want to comment specifically on your statement that folks only complain about Taos, and about the attitude of staff in the Ski Valley, on the day after a 10-year storm cycle. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth.

    I ski with several semi-locals, by that I mean folks mostly from Albuquerque and Santa Fe but some of whom have been coming to the Ski Valley since they closed the lifts for lunch, and there have been many, many complaints about the hospitality out of that crew. In particular, on the poor social skills of some on the ski patrol. Want to know if they’re going to open something soon? Ask a patroller, and you’re pretty darn likely to get a smart ass non-answer. Sorry to be harsh, but that’s life from the other side. The week before the 10 year storm? Seven inches of snow overnight meant Chair 2 didn’t open till noon-ish. That’s frustrating for the locals, because they don’t remember that as common before the past few years. You get the picture.

    I don’t mean to rail, I can see the SPers’ point of view: You guys are pros who you are very, very committed and skilled at what you do. I have direct, recent experience with that. Two of your crew hauled me off the mountain with a broken tib/fib on Thanksgiving weekend 2013. I am infinitely grateful for the ultra-professionalism they exhibited on that day. Later that same ski year, they dragged another buddy of mine off either Treskow or Corner, can’t remember which, after breaking his kneecap on a tree. Since whoever that was manning the front of the sled was on a snowboard, that might’ve been you. :) All of that doesn’t even get at how well you guys do with avy control, albeit constrained with your current short-staffing situation.

    But, if you guys are understaffed, and the mountain management isn’t paying you enough, etc, while that’s on management, you still have to understand that you are at the front lines representing the Ski Valley. Have a competition cluster (the weekend before was a kids’ freeride comp), with the attending entourages and show shitty attitude, then, well, that’s going to start to stick. Flip folks off while loading on Chair 1 because they were pitching you shit, however undeserved, that’s going to stick too. Ultimately, management will pay for it through the impacts that result from acquiring a bad reputation. Either way, like it or not, you guys are not doing a great PR job for yourselves at the same time.

    Again, sorry for the long-winded complaint-o-rama, but the feedback you heard from competition folks is precisely in line with the feedback I hear week-to-week from locals. Your response begged a counter discussion.


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