“A classic tour through old and new growth alpine conifers.
— J. Bella
Type: Backcountry or Sidecountry
Wilderness area, no mechanized equipment, drones etc. Yield right of way to rams, and don't stress out the wildlife.
This is the main route into the Lake Fork basin, from Taos Ski Valley. It reaches access points to several high 12,000' peaks and a few 13ers. During winter and spring, the entire basin is surrounded by steep, rugged class 2 and 3 avalanche terrain, ranging from short and steep drainage walls alongside extremely wide, historic slide areas to narrow, long and fast-running chutes between steep faces hidden beneath the tall old growth canopy. The steep nature of these mountains is what the Taos Range is known for among skiers and riders. New Mexico can often have dry conditions and a reactive intercontinental snowpack, being comfortable in avalanche terrain is necessary to ski and ride here. Some years the snowpack is deep and stable enough that the imminent risk of touring in this area is accompanied with abundant opportunities to ride some satisfying lines.
The Williams Lake Trail is 1.7 miles long, and it crosses several avalanche paths along a gradual climb to the lake, beneath New Mexico's highest point. There aren't many technical sections on the actual trail and blaze markers are painted on trees along the entire route. Starting past the Phoenix Grill by Lift 4, follow a groomed ski road for a few hundred feet then turn left where the road makes a switchback. After a half mile, cross the Wheeler Peak Wilderness boundary into the Peace Chute runout, continue across the bottom of the Finger Chutes then climb into the higher alpine terrain to a saddle above the lake.
There are often skin tracks leaving the trail and climbing various routes to different lines—along with abundant avalanche terrain, the Sangre de Cristo mountains are saturated with volcanic cliffs and a handful of dedicated locals who know the terrain and what leads where. It's good to know what you're getting into before following a track just because it's there. Some routes cross cliff bands, and the skiable lines aren't always obvious; some look skiable from the top and lead to 80+ foot drops.
When you get to the lake, notice what's across the basin from the open, rolling chutes on Wheeler's west side. Bighorn Sheep love this area, and there's some awesome potential for alpine ski mountaineering here.