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About Those German Trail Names at Taos

By: Jamesj
Posted 7/7/14  Last updated 7/12/14  1,310 views  5 comments


About Those German Trail Names at Taos

by Jim Kenney (Jamesj)

Northern New Mexico's Taos Ski Valley (TSV) features one of the more eclectic sets of trail names that you'll find at a U. S. ski area. There are over 100 runs and slopes at Taos with names drawn from many sources including Mexican influences, ancient mythology, tributes to local figures, and random humor. Given our sport's Alpine origins it's not surprising to also see generic German trail labels like Blitz, Edelweiss, and Lorelei. But did you know that several ski trails at Taos are named after the German soldiers who conspired to assassinate Adolph Hitler in the 20 July Plot of 1944?

When I visited Taos in early January 2012 for the first time in many years it was a foursome of bada$$ double black diamond runs bearing what appeared to be German surnames that really piqued (peaked:)) my curiosity. I suppose I had Tom Cruise's fine 2008 film Valkyrie kicking around in the back of my mind, but it wasn't until I did a little post trip digging that I connected these expert hike-to trail names with courageous individuals from Germany's WWII resistance movement: Stauffenberg, Tresckow, Fabian, and Oster. These German soldiers schemed to put Der Fuehrer out of business and bring an early end to WWII. They would have succeeded if not for a heavy wooden table that shielded Hitler from the full brunt of the bomb they exploded 70 years ago this month.

Very cool, but why the arcane German military lesson at Taos and who was the local history buff with trail naming rights? The answer can be found on a page of the TSV website: http://www.skitaos.org/page/trail-names  The local historian was none other than Taos's legendary founder Ernie Blake, a refugee whose family emigrated from Nazi Germany to the U. S. in 1938 because of concerns for their safety based on their Jewish ancestry. Ernie subsequently served with U. S. Army Intelligence in WWII under General George S. Patton when our forces encountered Nazi concentration camps in 1945. Ernie interviewed Hermann Goering, chief of the German Air Force in WWII, from his war crimes cell in his native language. Ernie was a piece of living history himself and knew the dramatic story of the 20 July Plot long before Hollywood brought it to the big screen. Ernie and his wife Rhoda went on to found TSV in 1954. Ernie obviously never forgot his war years and consciously sought to honor men he considered brave German patriots. Very cool.

Details on the four men and photos of the trails named after them:
Claus von Stauffenberg, a key leader of the 20 July plot, also known as Operation Valkyrie. Stauffenberg was a Colonel in the German Army and came from an aristocratic family. It was Stauffenberg who physically planted the bomb that exploded in the meeting room on 20 July 1944, killing four, but only injuring Hitler. Stauffenberg was executed the day after the failed assassination and coup d'état attempt. Wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claus_Schenk_Graf_von_Stauffenberg
Photo of Stauffenberg trail on the West Basin Ridge at Taos (photo by Jim Kenney, click for expanded view):


Henning von Tresckow was a Major General and one of the highest ranking military officers to take a leading role in the 20 July Plot. Tresckow's front line military assignments made it difficult for him to physically assist with the assassination attempt, but he provided advice and support to Stauffenberg and other participants closer to Hitler. Rather than suffer arrest and torture, Tresckow committed suicide on the Russian Front on 21 July. Wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henning_von_Tresckow#Operation_Valkyrie
Photo of Tresckow, the woodsy area in the upper left of this view from Highline Ridge at Taos (photo by Jim Kenney, click for expanded view):


Fabian von Schlabrendorff was adjunct to Tresckow and served as a secret liaison between Tresckow in Russia and Resistance members in Berlin. Previously, Schlabrendorff successfully placed a time bomb on an aircraft carrying Hitler in March 1943, but it failed to detonate. He was jailed after the 20 July Plot, but survived the war and became a high ranking judge in the Constitutional Court of West Germany. Schlabrendorff died in 1980. Wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabian_von_Schlabrendorff

Photo of Fabian trail in the center of this West Basin Ridge view (photo by Jim Kenney, click for expanded view):


Hans Oster was a general in the German military intelligence service and provided important information for the Resistance Movement against Hitler. He was arrested the day after the assassination attempt and executed just a month before Germany's unconditional surrender in May 1945.
Wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Oster
Photo of Oster trail (photo by Jim Kenney, click for expanded view):


I've included a link to a fascinating article by Uriel Heilman from the JTA News Service.  It contains some great details on the life of Ernie Blake and his Jewish roots: http://www.jta.org/2011/12/21/news-opinion/united-states/in-a-remote-new-mexico-valley-a-jewish-skiing-legacy-at-taos
There is one final coincidence in this story. Three additional trails at Taos are named Walkyries Bowl, Walkyries Chute, and Walkyries Glade. It makes you wonder if Tom Cruise's screen writers got inspired by a few heroic ski days at TSV?




Comments (5)

Nice article about Taos and its legendary founder that is informative and entertaining.    
I knew about Stauffenberg, but not the others. As an instructor with the children's ski school I found the stories of Sir Arnold Lunn, Buddy Werner, and the great Mexicans valuable history lessons as well. There are still plenty of mysteries I have yet to figure out. Who was Hunziker? Zagava? And why are there no trees on Tell Glade? Thanks for the WW II history lesson.
Great article about arguably the greatest ski area in North America. 
I always liked the story of why whitefeather was called whitefeather, basically the easiest green run on the mountain. 
I worked and skied at Taos for the better part of two decades (1980-1994 ) and knew much of the history. Thanks for posting and refreshing my memory. I always liked the fact the names have significant meaning.

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