Lake Fork Peak: NE Face Ski Descent

Lake Fork Peak: NE Face Ski Descent

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 36.55020°N / 105.4452°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Apr 20, 2008
Activities Activities: Mountaineering, Skiing
Seasons Season: Spring


Lake Fork Peak (12881') is one of my favorite local peaks to ski, and I ski it about two or three times every year. This TR is from a gorgeous but windy day in spring 2008. We parked at the hikers' parking lot (~10160') near the Bavarian Restaurant and skinned up the Williams Lake Trail and bootpacked up the SE slopes of Lake Fork. Then we skied the NE face of Lake Fork all the way down to Williams Lake (11040'). Then as a bonus, we skinned up the W slopes of Wheeler Peak to about 12100' and finished by skiing down a W facing avalanche chute back down to the Williams Lake Trail and then back to the car. The roundtrip distance was about 6.5 miles, with a total elevation climbed of ~3780'. Our time from the car to the summit of Lake Fork Peak was about 3 hours, and our total car-to-car time was about 6 hours.

Ski routeTopo map and our climb (blue) and ski descents (red).

Trailhead and approach

To get to the hikers' parking area, take NM State Route 150 to the Taos Ski Valley parking area. From the NE corner of the parking area, find and take Twining Rd (dirt road) for about 2 miles to the hikers' parking lot which will be on the right side of the road after some switchbacks. This dirt road gets fairly steep, but normal passenger cars will be OK as long as the road is snow/ice free. From the parking lot, follow a well-beaten path heading S from the SW corner of the parking lot. Shortly you will pass the Bavarian Restaurant (good German beers/grub although they are generally closed from early April through late May) and come to the bottom of a ski lift. In early/mid spring, this is generally where you can start skinning. Head up the slope (past the lodge) and turn left at a small shack called Black Diamond Espresso (too bad it's only open when the lifts are running). This is the start of the Williams Lake Trail.

This is a well-traveled trail all four seasons, so generally it is easy to follow even with snow. So follow it for about 2 miles to a rise just north of Williams Lake. You will pass several avalanche runout zones in the first mile.
Amy skinning along the Williams Lake trailAmy (SP user Nice Axe!) skinning toward the rise just north of Williams Lake.

At the top of the rise, head SW into the forest. Going down to the lake is not necessary. Maintaining a SW course through the forest, we came out into a big clearing and continued skinning past a side valley. You can go up this side valley and ascend the NE slope of Lake Fork, but today we decided to contour around to the SE side of Lake Fork and go up that way.
Amy & PJ skinning above Williams LakeAmy & PJ skinning in the clearing.

Note the prominent couloir in the background of the photo above. This is a fun, exciting snow climb and ski descent when conditions are right. Anyone out there know the name of this couloir?

Climb and summit

We continued skinning around to the SE side of Lake Fork Peak, and eventually we took our skis off and started bootpacking. Sometimes, you can skin all the way to the top, but today the snow was slick and the wind was incredibly strong and blowing us downhill.
Climbing the east ridge of Lake Fork PeakPJ & Amy on the east ridge just steps from the summit.

Wheeler Peak from Lake Fork PeakView down the NE slope of Lake Fork Peak and also the climb (blue) and ski descent (red) for our second lap later.

A quick examination of the snowpackScott cuts out a column of snow for a quick shovel shear test.

Ski descent and second lap

Now the real fun begins!

Scott skiing NE slope of Lake Fork PeakScott skiing NE slope of Lake Fork Peak.

Amy skiing NE slope of Lake Fork PeakAmy skiing NE slope of Lake Fork Peak.

We skied all the way down to Williams Lake, and then PJ and I headed up the west slopes of Wheeler for a bonus run (Amy headed for the car).
PJ skinning west slopes of WheelerPJ skinning up the west slopes of Wheeler Peak, with our previous ascent (blue) and ski descent (red) shown.

PJ skiing avy chutePJ skiing the west-facing avalanche chute, with runs of Taos Ski Valley in the background.

We joined the Williams Lake trail at the bottom of the avalanche chute and skied out with cold beers waiting in the car, a perfect end to a great backcountry ski day!


The NE face is around 40 degrees at the top. The SE slope is a more mellow ski descent, although both slopes are quite manageable for experienced, strong backcountry skiers. The east fin of Lake Fork Peak has many interesting ski lines, off all sides. It would take several trips back there to explore all the lines, not to mention the many seasons worth of lines to ski in the entire basin. Avalanche training/experience is a must for this terrain!

In an average year, conditions are variable in April when you'll often find windblown crust. The spring snow cycle is just beginning, and northern aspects will still be quite wintry. Early to mid May is the best time for spring skiing, when all aspects have turned to compacted spring snow, and the surface will be soft and silky smooth shortly after the sun hits it. Often, the skiing up high remains good into late May and even early June, but you will need to shoulder your skis and hike the first part of the Williams Lake trail. Winter skiing in this area is for highly experienced backcountry experts only as avalanche hazard can often be extreme.

External Links

Northern New Mexico Avalanche Exchange


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