Most of us stand atop ski runs such as Niños Heroes (one of the first few double blacks of the ridge in Taos Ski Valley) and think to ourselves – “How do I drop in and not die?” But there are those few, possibly feeling the effects of oxygen deprivation, who think to themselves – “Who were these tiny heroes, and what made them so rad?” This article is for the latter group.
Well, oxygen-deprived double diamond ripper, the Niños Heroes were a group of six young cadets at the Mexico Military Academy who were killed defending the academy from invading American forces during the Mexican- American war.
Taos Ski Valley’s founder, Ernie Blake, was an intelligence officer during WWII. He apparently had a fascination with martyrs such as the Niños Heros that shows in his ski run names. Stauffenberg, Oster, Treskow, and Fabian are all named after people who tried to assassinate Hitler. Hidalgo was named after Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, another martyr of the Mexican American war. Winkelreid is Arthur von Winkelreid, a Swiss martyr from a Hapsburg conflict. Taos even has a run called Patton, after General Patton – Ernie Blake’s general during the war.
Red River Ski Area has a bit of a theme as well, albeit less violent, but still explosive. Many of the runs are throwbacks to the town’s mining roots. Some are obvious, with names like Powder Keg, Prospector’s Lane, Tailings, and Miners Alley. The less obvious are names of actual mines in the Red River area – Golden Treasure, Buffalo, and Purkapile. Linton’s Leap is named after the owner’s son and the family that owns the ski area, Linton Judycki. It is one of the steepest runs at Red River, and looks as if the world drops out from the top.
Sipapu Ski Resort developed a Bambi theme, but it was not planned. Flower starts out as a gentle green but then quickly turns into a black diamond, so it was known as a “little stinker” – a thickly veiled reference to a scene in Bambi. Sipapu then named another run Thumper after a family of rabbits were found while cutting the run. The classic ski run name Bambi was used for a gentle green. The trend was recognized, and keeping with tradition, Sipapu is opening a new run for the upcoming season and calling it Faline.
The Bolander family (Sipapu’s owners) also has a tradition of naming runs after family dogs, many of which are buried near the runs they are named after as a way to commemorate them. Sassafras and Razmatazz were both family Airedales, Candi and Brandy were St. Bernards, and Howdy was a Springer Spaniel.
Wolf Creek Ski Area, like Sipapu, also has a dog theme. The dog chutes – Zia, Chi, Jiri, Eliott and Max’s, are all named after Avalanche Dogs that have served Wolf Creek. Patina was named after an Airedale, Bernard, and Mastiff mix that belonged to the Pitcher family (the Wolf Creek owners), who actually called her Tina. Rockin’ Robin was another family dog, a black lab with huge paws who liked to race the family kids up the mountain as they rode the Treasure lift – and usually beat them.
Wolf Creek, like most ski areas, has some family-owned references as well. Pitcher’s gate was named because it was the favorite route of the original owner, Kingsberry Pitcher, when he was headed to the waterfall area. Blueberry Hill is not actually named for the fruit, but rather the first name of one of Kings- berry’s grandchildren.
Angel Fire has a few mining references as well, seen in trail names like Nitro, Detonator, Sluice Box (also a run at Red River), and Prospector. Prospector, however, was originally called Tucker Doubt, a reference to a bet made by Ray Tucker and Bill Burgess. Tucker was a former GM of Angel Fire Resort. Burgess is a long-time instructor and NM ski hall of fame inductee.The bet was on the length of time it would take for Tucker to cut the run, creating the fantastic double entendre, Tucker Doubt.
You also may notice that Angel Fire has many runs that start with the letter H, such as Hell’s Bells, Highway, Heading Home, Humpty Dumpty, and Heck No. This is no mistake – the H runs were named in honor of Roy H. Lebus, the original developer of the resort.
Minder Binder was originally called Jaspers, after Jasper Hicks, a ski patrol director who was killed in a motorcycle accident in the 70s. Minder Binder was not actually named after the Catch-22 character, but a bar in Tempe, AZ. Free Flight stirs up feelings of a wide open, fast run, devoid of other skiers. But it is actually named after the American Jazz Ensemble, who played at the annual Music From Angel Fire festival. The story goes that Free Flight agreed to make a song called Angel Fire, and Angel Fire agreed to name a run after them.
So the next time you are about to drop into a run – and you start to wonder why on earth anyone would choose this name for a run – there is probably more history underfoot than you think.
— Gustav Herold is a Colorado-based writer and skier who grew up in Taos, NM.
This story appeared in SkiCountry 2016.