Visitors who choose the winter months for a trip to Taos will enjoy a quieter vacation with fewer crowds than on summer days but still plenty of things to do – even off the ski slopes.
Taos has a long history as an art colony, and snowy days are perfect for browsing galleries and museums, enrolling in a workshop or taking in an indie film. There even are some art performances – such as Taos Chamber Music Group concerts and New York Metropolitan Opera live broadcasts – that are offered only during the winter.
“There’s always something going on,” says Deborah Sherman, a fourth-generation Taoseño and owner of the Monet’s Kitchen shop near the plaza.
Other options include snowshoeing, a soak at a hot springs or afternoon of spa pampering, hot-air ballooning over the Rio Grande Gorge and, of course, shopping at the multitude of independent stores.
“The stores are really unique in Taos. … You’ll find things that you’re not going to see anywhere else,” says Joan Griffin, a media consultant to the town of Taos. “Other than Walmart, I don’t think we have any national chains.”
Allyn Sanchez of the Taos Visitor Center says winter in Taos definitely has a different vibe than summer. Most visitors go for the skiing and other snow sports, there aren’t as many out-of-state tourists and it’s quieter.
That makes winter a good time for “good ‘ol R&R,” Griffin says, adding that Taos has plenty of bed-and-breakfast inns, fine dining and spas that make for great relaxation and pampering.
One big draw is what’s known as Yuletide in Taos. The season – which runs from Thanksgiving to New Year’s – is filled with special events such as a craft fair featuring local artists, tax-free holiday shopping at many downtown stores starting on Black Friday, winter concerts by the Taos Community Chorus and bonfires on Bent Street.
Northern New Mexico traditions of candle-lit farolitos lining the streets in front of old adobe shops and homes and Las Posadas re-enactments outside the church in Ranchos de Taos also make the holiday season special.
“Over the holidays, it’s completely magical,” Griffin says.
Sanchez agrees and says many families come and stay a week or two for the holiday experience.
“People really just love the holidays here,” she says. “It’s a very unique place to come – the atmosphere and the people.”
The people are another thing that makes Taos special, specifically the mix of Native American, Hispanic and Anglo cultures, Sherman says.
“That blend of people has no season,” she says.
The popularity of holiday events at Taos Pueblo, particularly the Christmas Eve procession and Christmas Day deer or “matachines” dances, are testament to that widespread interest in cultures.
At sunset on Christmas Eve, the pueblo lights massive bonfires and signals the procession of the Virgin with rifle salutes from the rooftops of the 1,000-year-old adobe buildings. The next afternoon, ceremonial dancers and drummers honor the depths of winter.
Even on other winter days, the pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been continuously occupied for more than 1,000 years, is a treat to see with snow dusting the buildings. But visitors should make sure they aren’t trying to go during the pueblo’s quiet time when the public is not allowed, Sherman advises.
What to do
There are plenty of other things to see and do in and around Taos during the winter.
Two big draws for wine and beer lovers are the 7th annual Brew Master’s Festival on Dec. 21 and the Taos Winter Wine Festival, which runs Jan. 29 through Feb. 1. The adults-only brew fest is held in Tenderfoot Katie’s and the Martini Tree at Taos Ski Valley. The wine event includes seminars, wine tastings and wine dinners hosted by vintners paired with Taos chefs.
Skiers make their way down the mountains in the dark with flares as their only means of light during beautiful torchlight parades on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve at the local ski areas. Fireworks displays add to the excitement at New Year’s.
Ice skating at the Taos Youth & Family Center rink is popular with families.
Concerts are offered by the Taos Chamber Music Group and live, high-definition broadcast of New York Met operas attract audiences to the Taos Center for the Arts on Saturday mornings.
Hands-on classes and workshops are available at many locations, including the Cooking Studio of Taos where Chef Chris Maher teaches various cuisines and students enjoy a beautiful, seated meal paired with wines at the end of each class. At Taos Clay & Wannamaker Pottery Gallery, students learn to throw pots on a wheel and participate in a raku firing during each 2½-hour session and then take home two pots.
Art lovers will enjoy visits to the Millicent Rogers Museum, Nicolai Fechin’s house and paintings from D.H. Lawrence’s “forbidden” collection at the Hotel La Fonda.
Taos also has plenty for history buffs in any season. La Hacienda de los Martinez, an early 19th-century adobe, gives visitors a glimpse into the rugged frontier life of the region.