Remember the Hotel St. Bernard

By Seth Masia

The Hotel St. Bernard came down last summer. For 64 years, it served as the center of social life in Taos Ski Valley. The new, larger version, scheduled to open in 2025, will contain a reconstruction of the original dining room, with architect Malcom Brown’s central hearth and the same sun-drenched view to the south.

Jean Mayer and his family—parents Charles and Nicole, twin sister Chantal and brother Dadou—built the dining room in the summer of 1958 to serve as the resort’s first restaurant. Taos founder Ernie Blake had hired Jean as both chef and ski-school supervisor. Mayer’s first responsibility was to feed skiers and staff alike, so for the first five years, the lifts closed at mid-day while everyone ate a lunch prepared by chef Yvon Silvé. Hotel rooms came five years later. In 1962, rancher/instructor/musician Chilton Anderson subsidized the construction of 28 tiny guest rooms—221 square feet each—atop the restaurant, and thus became a partner in the St. Bernard enterprise. A row of six A-frames went up a few years later, for a total of 34 spartan rooms, without telephones, radios or televisions. Mayer didn’t want guests in their rooms: He expected them to retreat only to sleep off the party in the dining room. Eventually, beds outnumbered the 140 restaurant seats, and use of the dining room was restricted to hotel guests.

Generations of Taos skier lunched on the
broad sundeck, with its view up the 
mountain. TSV photo.

Skiers and staff then lunched on the sundeck, which stretched about 100 feet between the main building and the A-frames, with a spectacular view of Al’s Run and the steep woods hiding the rest of the mountain. Any skier worn out by the morning’s adventures could opt to soak up the sun, and the wine, long into après-ski hours.

What really made the dining room sing, aside from the best French cuisine west of the Hudson River, was Ski Week. During his three-year U.S. Army enlistment, Mayer had served as a ski patroller in Garmisch, and he brought to the Taos Ski School the concept of classes staying with the same instructor all week long, lunching and dining together. You could spread the camaraderie like crème épaisse. Mayer himself taught the top class, showing guests how to ski like Gustavo, or Ingemar, or Bode. Beginning 20 years ago, for a few winters Mayer allowed me to ski along with his class. It was a leg-burning, three-hour morning, followed by a long, raucous lunch. A high point of my life came when Mayer leaned across the table and said, in mild surprise, “Hey, you made a good turn up there.”

The new owner of Hotel St. Bernard (and of the resort), Louis Bacon, promised Mayer that he would replicate not only the physical atmosphere but the rituals sympathique of the Mayer style. He seems to be moving heaven and earth to do just that. The new hotel design puts the lunch deck on the east side, in the morning sun. The view is still good up Al’s Run, but we’ll miss the afternoon sunbathing.

As for Ski Week camaraderie? Mayer retired from teaching in March 2018 (he died in October 2020), and Dadou relinquished the top class in March 2021 (he died in August). For this season, Ski Week is still viable, and a bargain. It will be up to a new generation of charismatic Taos instructors to move the dining room tradition forward. 

ISHA president Seth Masia first skied with Jean and Dadou at a PSIA exam in 1976.

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