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It is quite possible that a vacationing skier at Vail, Colo. might drift by mistake onto Riva Ridge, then quit his job, sell house and car, abandon family, mail back the key to the men's room and never go home again. For Riva Ridge, full of humps, hollows and one tender trap, may be the best single ski run in the U.S.
Ever since that quiet gentleman, Peter Seibert, began to develop the area five years and about $25 million ago, Riva has been Vail's answer to Aspen. And with reason. It starts high on a backbone of the Rockies—at 11,250 feet—and drops off in gentle giant steps, 3,050 vertical feet and roughly four miles into the village. Through all this it swings easily, in silence and clean air, and there may not be a more scenic spot in the country in which to test all your skeletal structures.
Seibert named it Riva Ridge because his wartime regiment of the Tenth Mountain Division once captured a similar ridge in the Italian Apennines. Yet the run is full of peaceful intent. In fact, "it is all things to all skiers," says Bob Parker, Vail's marketing manager. "In its high slopes you can let your skis go and break the world land-speed record. Or you can ski along easily and build your ego. You set your own pace."
Whatever the pace, Riva carries you quickly—or lazily—down a 450-foot vertical drop across clear, polished snowfields. Then, with major swoop and minor G-force, it eases across the first step (the smart left turn shown at the top of the accompanying map) and drops off again. The pitch grows steeper for the next 500 vertical feet, but the mountain opens up, suddenly, to more than 400 yards of vast, flying hillside, a 150-foot-wide trail with the mood of a tilted ballroom.
Ahead, and far below, lies the village with its toy inns and chalets. Also ahead, and now directly under your feet, lies the Tourist Trap, Riva's great compressor. Everything you know about skiing is neatly squeezed into a quick, punishing 250-vertical-foot drop in 130 short yards. It is steep—45� in spots—and pocked with moguls, each one the size and shape of the Houston Astrodome. This is country you can fly over—like Olympic Medalist and Ski Instructor Roger Staub in the picture at left—or it is a section where you stem your uphill ski, kidney, rib, shoulder and ear just to stay on the hill.
I should not tell you this, but there is a way to avoid the Trap, around a shameful dogleg called Compromise, through the obscurity of thick trees. If they see you take it, they banish you to Aspen.
But the Trap is worth the trial—to ski it is to love it. Beyond it lie the Rolls, a series of mild, bottom-of-the-mountain bounces. And then Mill Creek, an easy catwalk that will take you back to the village, proudly swinging your tails.
AL'S RUN, TAOS
Give a thought-association test on Taos, N. Mex. and people will say: "Uh, pueblos. D. H. Lawrence. Deserts. Cracked red clay. Indian blankets. Silver belt buckles. Turquoise jewelry." It is a shame about that. They ought to be thinking: "Dry, unpackable powder snow. Steepest ski resort in North America. Giant conifers sheltering the snow all the way to the 12,000-foot peaks. No lift lines. Shirtsleeve skiing in stinging sunshine. Martini Trees."
A half-hour drive from Taos (which, incidentally, also is all of those things you first think about) is the world's most relaxed ski resort. Levi's are fine, white Levi's are formal. It is the personal preserve of Ernie Blake, a wry, handsome, benign tyrant who is being inexorably stalked by success.