TAOS — Bernard “Dadou” Mayer followed his brother, Jean Mayer, from the French Alps to the United States to take a job at the Taos Ski Valley in 1958.
Taos Ski Valley founder Ernie Blake fired Mayer almost immediately from his promised ski instructor job but subsequently rehired the young ski racer who had gone to work at a ski area in Red River.
For the next 50 years, the Mayer brothers were fixtures in the ski valley, where Dadou Mayer built and ran his own business, the original Hotel Edelweiss. Later, he spent the warmer months in Hawaii, where he operated a small coffee plantation called Dadou’s Dolphins.
After a prolonged illness, Dadou Mayer died Aug. 16 in his sleep at his Hawaii home, said daughter Sonja Mayer Schreiber. She described her father as “full of life, full of friendships and full of stories. He was a lover of everything good and precious, a healer.”
Jean Mayer, who with the help of his family and several other early ski valley legends, built the Hotel St. Bernard and was the technical director of the Taos Ski School, died in October 2020.
In addition to Mayer Schreiber, Dadou Mayer is survived by daughters, Suzanne Iris Mayer and Christine “Tiki” Mayer Morel; and son, Christian Paul Mayer.
Dado Mayer eventually married Ilse Mayer, who landed in Taos Ski Valley in 1961, traveling there after a chance encounter with Ernie Blake when he was in Switzerland shopping for a chairlift.
“He said he was looking for European ski instructors with an accent,” Ilse Mayer recalled, laughing. “A few months later, I was in San Francisco, and I sent him a postcard to see if the offer was still good. He wrote back immediately and said, ‘Yes, come.’ ”
The Austrian skier, who had intended to pursue a career in chemistry, met Dadou Mayer shortly after she arrived in the ski valley. The couple married in 1962.
“After the first winter, we decided to build the Edelweiss,” she said, which the pair went on to own and operate for the next 35 years, a partnership that outlasted their “25 wonderful years” of marriage.
A couple of years after they sold it in the mid-1990s, Hotel Edelweiss burned in a fire.
Ilse Mayer also noted Dadou Mayer created the first Taos ski racing team.
“He was also a pacesetter for NASTAR,” she said. “He was unbeatable at that time.”
Mayer Schreiber said when her father arrived in 1958, the ski valley was a place of raw beauty — and no amenities.
“It was a different time,” she said, adding her late grandparents, Charles and Nicole Mayer, were “so proud” of her parents’ industriousness. “They started the ski valley from scratch. There were no buildings up there, no road to get there, no electricity or radio — it was all from scratch. They built the first buildings.
“They created a hotel, with a pool, and had an ice skating rink — 50 years ago,” Mayer Schreiber said. “It’s so hard to give people the picture, but it was difficult to do anything at that time. It’s really something amazing, what they created.”
Taos Ski Valley Inc. Vice President and Taos Ski Valley Councilor Chris Stagg counted 48 years of friendship with Dadou Mayer, with whom he had also worked.
“We skied a lot together sometimes, and sometimes we worked a lot together,” he said. “Both were fun but particularly to ski with Dadou. Dadou was very creative with his skiing. He was always trying something new with his technique and with the things he did with his students. He took it seriously, but he also wanted instructors, students and guests to have fun.”
Stagg said the sport “wasn’t as organized in the ’50s and ’60s as it is today, so you really counted on people that had talent and vision and who were able to teach the technique to people. That’s what Jean and Dadou did . They prided themselves on knowing the upper levels of skiing, and they were able to translate that down to mere mortals. And that kept Taos competitive with the other resorts.”
The Mayer brothers didn’t just bring skiing expertise from the French Alps — they brought a class of cuisine and hospitality that set Taos Ski Valley apart from other American ski areas in the 1960s.
“It was very classy, very European; it was a very special vibe,” Mayer Schreiber said. “The Edelweiss was a darling little hotel, and guests would go to the St. Bernard for dinner. Guests would come for a ski week, and it was a wonderful setup. Even growing up, I remember. It was a really personal experience. “
Ralph Barhydt took ski lessons from Dadou and developed a close relationship with both Mayer brothers in the 1970s.
“We always stayed at the Edelweiss, which was just a small place run by Dadou and his wife, Ilsa, and we always ate at the St. Bernard,” Barhydt said. “Except for breakfast; Dadou loved to make breakfast. I remember at noon we’d ski up to the St. Bernard, go in and have boeuf bourguignon and a glass of red wine — and then go skiing again. I’d never eaten like that while skiing.”
Louis Bacon purchased Taos Ski Valley Inc. from Ernie Blake in 2014 and bought the Hotel St. Bernard last year.
Stagg said he will miss Dadou Mayer’s sparkling but steady personality.
“What I appreciated most with Dadou was his humor,” Stagg said. “He always had a twinkle in his eye. Half the time he was testing you or joking with you, but he was never mean. He always kept you on your toes.”
Ernie Blake and Dadou Mayer had a somewhat legendary working relationship, the beginnings of which Dadou Mayer described in Rick Richards’ 1992 book, Ski Pioneers: Ernie Blake, His Friends, and the Making of Taos Ski Valley.
After Blake (initially unimpressed by Mayer’s talents as a skier) relegated him to snow grooming duty, Mayer told Richards, “That didn’t really go very well with the little cocky Frenchman who came from the National French School teaching at Club Med in Switzerland . I thought I should get what I was promised. I just told him, ‘No, Mr. Blake, I’m not going to go up and pack snow.’ ”
Within a short time, however, Mayer returned to Taos Ski Valley and secured his promised ski instructor job, which he held for most of the remaining decades of his life.
“Dadou claimed my father fired him more than any other person. He claimed to hold the record for being fired the most,” said Mickey Blake, Ernie Blake’s son and former TSV president. “It wasn’t malevolent. There were a number of competitors.”
Mickey Blake said Dadou Mayer represented the last of the ski valley’s old school alpine skiers who were responsible for popularizing downhill skiing in America.
“His passing is the end of an era,” Mickey Blake said. “Both he and his brother were very good racers; he was absolutely a superb ski instructor. And for many years, Dadou was the best skier in the valley.”
This story first appeared in, a sister publication of The Santa Fe New Mexican.