Instructors Remember Taos Teaching Icon Jean Mayer

Legendary Taos ski instructor and Hotel St. Bernard owner Jean Marie Mayer died Saturday night (Oct. 10) after battling cancer.

Jean was first hired by Taos founder Ernie Blake to get the area’s fledgling ski school off the ground, and was the technical director of Taos Ski Valley Snow Sports School since 1957.

In a Taos News article, which says that many considered Jean “the patron saint of skiers at Taos Ski Valley,” area vice president Chris Stagg said, “He was my coach, my friend, and mentor. A consummate ski instructor, he was always focused on the beauty of being on and part of the spirit of the mountain. Taos was his, as much as anyone’s, mountain. We are so lucky he found his way to Taos in the ’50s and helped to shape what it meant to ski in Taos. Taos will never be the same without him.”

Images and memories of “The Meister” as many knew him, filled social media Sunday as PSIA-AASI members from across the country remembered the impact Mayer had on their technique, their teaching style, and most importantly their enthusiasm for skiing.

“He was so awesome,” said David Oliver, former freestyle specialist on the PSIA Alpine Team, who grew up in Taos, and started his teaching career on the mountain. “He was this ball of power that could be the most intimidating person, and yet at the same time be so friendly and open. He was a hero to me the whole time I knew him.”

Dave, who worked at the St. Bernard as a kid, remembered Jean being as equally passionate about instruction, as he was about Taos Mountain.

“He knew the mountain inside and out, and was always the guy to take you out and just rip with you,” Dave said. “He was also one of the biggest cheerleaders and biggest critics of how to view instruction. I remember when we came out with the 5 Fundamentals, and he said, ‘this new stuff is where you should have been the whole time.’”

Former Alpine Team member and former president of the Northern Rocky Mountain Division of PSIA-AASI Michael Hickey said, “It’s hard to put into words everything I could say about Jean because he was such a wonderful person. One thing is that no matter whether you agreed or disagreed with him, he always wanted to know why. He wanted to hear what you had to say, and if you may or may not change his mind.”

Michael said Jean mentored more people than he could count, from instructors to his students, to those who worked for him.

“He was always a great sounding board, because he always gave you his honest opinion. And he was always looking for ways to make the experience better, and keep improving. I think of him now and see his smile. I don’t remember him not smiling, unless it was a little bit of a grimace for how hard we were skiing.”

Doug DeCoursey, a Taos instructor and Level III alpine examiner who describes himself as a longtime admirer of Jean, said, “We always referred to him as ‘The Meister.’ He was our undisputed technical director. It always impressed me the level of respect that the greatest ski teachers gave to Jean.”

Doug said Jean continuously worked to detect the most current techniques, and was always ready to speak his mind. He added that the technical address Jean gave the snowsports school at the beginning of last season, “was never more clear, cogent, simplistic and elegant. He started out talking about how ‘we move from the feet,’ and how the feet and ankles are key, and then provided an hour of explanation.”

As the news of Jean’s death spread around the snowsports world on Sunday, Doug said he spent half the day on the phone talking “to friends and admirers from around the world. The enduring bottom line of all those conversations was his attention to technical detail, his constant search to improve, and his passion.”

In 2008, Jean was inducted into the New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame. Photo courtesy of NM Ski Hall of Fame.