Change continues at Taos Ski Valley, a New Mexico mountain resort whose 2013 purchase by billionaire hedge fund manager Louis Bacon had sent a shudder of anxiety rippling through the ski world. Since its founding in 1955 by ski pioneer Ernie Blake, Taos had been owned and managed by the Blake family, first by Ernie and his wife Rhoda and later, after Ernie’s death in 1989, by their son Mickey. Taos Ski Valley’s (TSV) devoted fans shuddered to think what might become of their beloved mountain once the Blakes were no longer in charge.
Those fears intensified soon after the Bacon purchase, when it was announced that a new lift would open to provide access to the top of 12,450-foot Kachina Peak. Previously, its expert ski slopes had been accessible only to those hearty souls willing to undertake a demanding 90-minute plus hike in ski boots along a narrow ridge accessible from the top of Chair 2. That new lift was widely interpreted as a threat to the mountain’s traditions, and Bacon took some heat for it — unfairly.
Welcome Improvements to TSV Infrastructure
It turned out that a lift to Kachina had always been part of Ernie Blake’s overall vision for the mountain, and his heirs had obtained use permits to construct the lift even before Bacon came along. In this case, Bacon simply supplied the $3 million to complete the project, allowing the lift to open late in the 2014/15 season.
Bacon’s involvement had come about organically. He had long vacationed in the valley, where he owned property, and he had become a personal friend of the Blakes. The family trusted him enough to bring him into their discussions about how to improve the experience. They had been looking for ways to arrest the decline in skier days. Those had plummeted from a high of 350,000 to something around 220,000.
The village did not function efficiently. Skiers had to contend with stairs on their way from the parking lot to the base lodge and once they got there they did not find many of the services and amenities available at competing ski areas, particularly in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. But the family would have had to undertake debt in order to pursue their plans, so the most financially prudent solution was for Bacon to purchase the mountain. His ability to provide funding for needed improvements, his reputation as a conservationist, and his desire to keep the Blake family as part of the management team set the stage for revitalizing TSV without alienating its loyal clientele.
Revitalization for Taos Ski Valley
That revitalization — whose first two phases are projected to cost $350 million — is underway, with the goal of making TSV more appealing to a larger number of skiers and snowboarders. The main focus is on bringing order to the jumble of village itself, which had grown haphazardly. When complete, it will have the look and feel of a European ski village.
Among the plans at my visit were renovations to the base lodge, a new 85-room hotel, new and more varied retail shops, better quality and variety in the dining options, and a walkway — without stairs — along the river from the skier dropoff to the heart of the village. Plans called for landmarks like the historic Hotel St. Bernard, to remain untouched. Just in time for the winter 2016-2017 season, The Blake has opened in the base village next to Lift 1. This chic and environmentally sustainable, 80-room alpine guesthouse adjacent to Lift 1 has a tapas /small plates bistro, ideal for young families. Their so-called hausmeisters will be on hand to help gather loose mittens, and propel guests onto the slopes.
Access to Taos Ski Valley Grows
There is more good news for this winter: Taos is part of the Mountain Collective. Its $419 pass (kids 12 and under pay $99) is good for two days at Taos and 13 other ski areas: AltaSnowbird, Aspen Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Stowe, Sun Valley, Telluride; Whistler Blackcomb, Revelstoke, Ski Banff/Lake Louise/Sunshine in Canada; Thredbo in Australia; Ski Queenstown/Coronet Peak/The Remarkables in New Zealand in New Zealand; plus a few extra perks. Additional day lift tickets are 50% less for passholders. Here are some other lodging suggestions; for any other information, visit the website at Ski Taos.
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