He is the maker of memories—good memories—of time spent on the snow at Taos Ski Valley. Since 1986, Alain Pinto has been serving as the ski resort's commercial ski photographer. Over these years, Alain's company, Cold Smoke Photography
, has taken tens of thousands of photographs of people skiing and snowboarding where the Rocky Mountains begin as well as shot custom assignments, family portraits, and group shots.
For someone, who at age seven, fell in love with skiing in Virginia and Pennsylvania and later photography, it seems like Alain is living the dream. So, how did it all come about?
“I was a photographer and a skier,” he explained from his office and studio in the village of Taos Ski Valley. “While I was working on my degree in photography (from Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs), I began shooting for a ski photography company in Aspen. They moved me up to Steamboat (CO) to open another branch there, and after a period there, with a partner, we decided to start our own company in Big Sky, Montana.”
That venture proved so successful that he launched operations nationwide, from Jackson Hole (WY), to Stratton Mountain (VT), to Crystal Mountain (WA), Mt. Bachelor (OR), Schweitzer (ID), and Telluride (CO). “Last, but not least, came Taos Ski Valley”
Seeking new terrain, one year he decided to see what Taos
was all about. He bought a lift ticket at the Taos Ski Valley ski resort
and shot a bunch of pictures. He went home and printed more than 20, 20 x 30-inch images, each emblazoned with the Taos Ski Valley logo.
“Then I called and set up an appointment with Ernie (Blake, the founder of the Taos Ski Valley Resort), to meet him and introduce myself. I came down from Montana and we met in his little old apartment. I laid the pictures out all around his place and his jaw just dropped. He appreciated good photography and loved them! But he had people already here doing photography that he had loyalty to. He said he’d be in touch when the opportunity arose, and that he wanted to keep the pictures. Three years later I got a voice mail; 'Alain this is Ernie. My photo people and I are getting a divorce and I want you.’ So, I came back in the summer of 1986 to re-interview and I found my photos framed and hung all over his apartment!”
Needless to say, Alain got the job and opened Cold Smoke in Taos Ski Valley in time for the 1986/1987 ski season. But it was not a typical launch. He notes, “Usually I would open a business and hire a manager, then eventually sell it to that person. But, I decided to come here myself. I wanted to settle down and simplify my life. And, I fell in love with the mountain.”
And he wasn't the only one to buy into the ski valley, literally or figuratively; in 1989, his wife—Louise Pasaka—opened a fine art gallery (Mesa’s Edge) at the base of the mountain and another gallery on the Taos town plaza. Alain directs the town gallery in spring, summer, and fall... but only after ski season!
am here seven days a week, 12 hours a day, from Thanksgiving to Easter. That is the story of my life. And, I get to do a lot of skiing… My role is all about making sure our visitors have a good experience and go home happy, with good memories.”
With moderate pricing and a soft pitch—hard sells don't fly in a laid-back place like Taos—Cold Smoke is the perfect complement to the valley's natural splendor and vacation vibe.
While most of Cold Smoke’s photos are shot as people ski past—a turquoise-jacketed photographer kneeling in the snow, smiling wide, snapping a series of pics as you slid by—Pinto does offer appointments and other custom services. His photographers will accompany groups out on the ski resort's famed, hike-to Highline Ridge as well as set up shoots in cabins and condos. As Taos Ski Valley visitors tend to return year after year, some have photo series showing their growth and changes on the slopes and off over the course of decades.
“But, mostly, it’s a case of someone going by my shooter at the top of Chair 2 or other locations where we set up,” he explains. “We let them [the skier/boarder] know we've got [pictures of] them and then it’s up to them to come by, or not, after they come off the slopes. We try to cover it all, beginner to expert terrain. We are on the mountain from 9:30 a.m. to noon, then download the images and have them ready for viewing from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.” (All daily images are also posted to their web site, so you can go home, view them, order and download them.)
Thirty-two years since he founded it in the ski valley, Cold Smoke is still
the exclusive on-mountain commercial photography company here, providing the resort’s clientele with complete photo services. For 24 years, Alain did all his own film pr
ocessing and overnight printing in an on-site lab. Today; however, Alain and his team shoot digitally and most people buy digital copies. Images can also be printed on photo paper and mailed to clients.
Over the years, Alain has brought many people into the photography realm. “I’ve had a lot of people who have gone on to careers as photographers,” he notes. “But I try to hire people with personalities; I can teach them photography. They have to be able to engage with people, that’s the key.”
Pinto's business partner these days is Ryan Fellows, who grew up in Albuquerque.
And, last but not least, as someone with three decades on the mountain under his belt, you may be wondering what Alain’s favorite runs are.
“Oh, that’s a tough one. If I had to pick just one it would be K3 [a chute off of Kachina Peak], but I also love Hunziker and generally anything off Kachina Peak
. I also love Billy Sol and Corner Chute off Highline and High Somewhere off of the West Basin Ridge.”
He concludes, “This is where I decided to make my life and I’m happy about that. I’ve loved it. It’s one of the most awesome ski areas in the world. Period.”
For details on Cold Smoke Photography, call 575-776-8567 or visit www.coldsmokephoto.com
Thank You Daniel Gibson
for the Merchants of Taos Ski Valley Series.
Thank you Sanda Pecina for your editing and supporting the Ski Valley Businesses.