Blake has kept Taos Ski Valley, which can sleep only 600 skiers, a marvel of the ski age. He found the place in 1953 by flying his own plane in ever-diminishing circles over Colorado and New Mexico, and contrary to ski-area-operator motivation, intends to keep it uncommercial. He has cut 28 ski runs down this high, dry land—the vertical drop is 2,600 feet—and installed six ski lifts. "There is still almost one acre of untouched powder snow for every skier at Taos," says Blake.
Blake named the runs as the moods moved him and tagged most of them superexpert. There are such swingers as R�bezahl, Zagava, Longhorn, Snake Dance and, simply, Al's Run. And why Al? Because Dr. Al Rosen, who is a cardiac patient and a brave man, was warned to stay off that lofty elevation. Not Dr. Rosen; he skis it every day in an oxygen mask. Which is good enough inspiration for Ernie Blake.
In its simplicity, falling straight down the No. 1 lift line, the run is typical of Taos skiing life. Spotted along the trails are Blake's famous Martini Trees, selected pines where Ernie and his friends have cached glass beakers of gin with a breath of vermouth (finders keepers). Martini Tree to Martini Tree, the run is 80 feet wide at the top, 80 feet at the base and fatly moguled in the middle. Al's Run also is a chute: a 1,800-vertical-foot drop along this bumping, 4,000-foot-long ride, one of the steepest in ski country. It feels at times as if you are certain to ski directly down Blake's chimney far below.
Al's Run is not for the vertiginous, but it is a jump-turning, heel-kicking delight for experts, like the swinging team at left. Because the lift is overhead you will feel the need to ski your very best; every chair contains critics watching you. Blake planned it that way. Once down, looking back up, you will feel wonderfully disheveled, knee-weary—and superexpert. After I skied Al's Run last March, Blake, who had bumped along with me, led me to the Martini Tree.
THE GLADES, SUGARBUSH
From its opening season of 1958-59, Sugar-bush, Vt. has had the reputation of being a place of ferocious chic and, in sheer stylishness, a sort of Sun Valley East. On clear days at Sugarbush the air is touched with a wisp of Diorissimo, from the trail of stunning girls flashing by, and in the lodge after dark the bartender will take an order for, say, a Negroni, and never flinch. Still, mink parkas do not a mountain make (Sugarbush is only 4,013 feet high). Sugarbush also has The Glades.
Fittingly in such a setting, of all the top ski runs in the U.S. The Glades is easily the most elegant. There is assuredly not another run like it, and everyone in the country should, just once, have the joy of taking a morning run through The Glades in about eight inches of light, new snow.
The charm of the run is uncomplicated. Each of the 10 superski runs stands for something: for example, conquering the deep powder at Warm Springs in Sun Valley, staying alive and intact while hurtling down the lift line at Taos Ski Valley. But The Glades has a more direct mystique. It is, simply, dancing down through stands of silver birch trees, punctuated with a few beeches, some spruces and an occasional lightning-charred stump. It is 1,200 feet of wide, wooded giant slalom, set to your own pace, where there are no moguls because nobody can ski the same path twice.
Its creation was a happy accident. "We cut the trail in 1958," says Jack Murphy, Sugarbush general manager, "and we wanted a certain glade effect. But it is hard to know when to stop cutting trees. One day, we simply took a chance and said, 'All right, stop,' and we had it."
Murphy's quarter mile, starting at about the 3,000-foot level, is one of the man-made wonders of eastern skiing. It is, he admits, one of the shortest runs around. No matter. The thing changes, magically, with every nuance of winter lighting: mornings, after a chill gondola ride to the top, The Glades is often hoarfrosted and coldly aglitter, as though stage-set by Van Cleef & Arpels. By midday, shafts of sun pour corridors of light into the trees, and by afternoon the scene changes again, into one of stark, etched shadows. The effect is visually striking: there are enough trees to let in the diffused light, but not enough trees to shut out the sky. Thus skiers around you seem to flicker from tree to tree, as though you are seeing them in an old silent movie. After heady stuff such as this, all else at Sugarbush pales. "Skiing through The Glades in this light," says one Sugarbush veteran, "is so damned poetic it gets embarrassing."