Story and photos by Peter Hines – I gazed up at Al’s run. Over 1,800 vertical feet of steep, ungroomed knee-high moguls. It was intimidating. As I looked right, I was relieved to see a sign cautioning the reader not to panic and that Al’s Run only reflects 1/30th of all of the terrain at Taos Ski Valley. Al’s is steep and tough for sure but there are plenty of other runs for all levels of skier.
Taos Ski Valley is located up a windy canyon road about 20 miles from Taos, New Mexico in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Originally opened in the 1950s it was sold by the Blake family in 2014 to New York based conservationist and financier Louis Bacon. Bacon runs the Moore Capital Management hedge fund that oversees many international holdings. Several of these holdings focus on conservation.
Unlike mega resorts owned by corporations like Vail and Alterra, Taos Ski Valley remains independently owned. Under Bacon’s leadership Taos has focused on getting better, not bigger. Bacon has pledged to invest $300 million in the area. There is a focus on warmth and hospitality. The IKON Pass is welcome at Taos Ski Valley.
Bacon’s first major investment after acquiring Taos in 2014 was a chairlift to the summit of Kachina Peak. From there one can look out over the high New Mexican desert to the land of the Taos Pueblo people, one of the oldest in North America. Prior to the installation of this fixed grip triple chair Kachina Peak Lift, skiers and riders had to earn their turns by hiking up the West Basin and Highline Ridges to over 12,480’ before bounding headlong down.
Today the Kachina Peak Lift is widely accepted as one of the seven lifts that service expert terrain. Skiers and riders can now traverse down and over those same ridges to the many chutes and tree runs that challenge those looking for some tough runs.
The steep canyon walls of this portion of the Kit Carson National Forrest make for excellent drops and runs. The topography is prone to snow slides and avalanches though. The ski patrol is proactive and the mountain is equipped with the RECCO rescue system. Out of bounds skiing and riding is dangerous and strictly prohibited.
Even though over half the trails are rated expert it’s not all steeps and deeps. There are many wide-open groomers on the front side and “over the back”.
Lift 1, that rides over the top of Al’s Run, lets you off to good runs back toward the front and the main lodge area. Porcupine is a great blue cruiser run. For an easier, longer run skiers and riders can take White Feather.
Taking Lift 2 enables you to go off the back. There are nice long runs like the green Honeysuckle and blue Lonestar toward the base of Lift 4 and toward the Phoenix Grill and the Bavarian Restaurant. There are plenty of expert trails along this way too. The detachable quad Lift 4 provides access to Kachina Peak Lift.
Before going to the “top” one will find great authentic beers, brats and other German fare at the sun drenched Bavarian Restaurant. Above the restaurant there four rooms for those who plan well ahead and want a chalet ski in – ski out experience.
Getting There on Taos Air
Taos Ski Valley is the first resort in the nation to operate their own airline, Taos Air. Texans comprises the largest percentage of visitors to Taos Ski Valley. Many Texans will drive 12 hours each way for a few days of skiing or riding at Taos. Taos Air operates flights from private airfields in Dallas and Austin to a small private airfield outside of Taos. As an added benefit, fights are not departing from traditional airline terminals, there are no TSA requirements or the need to show up two hours before departure.
Skiers and riders can leave Texas on a Thursday morning on a 30-seat Dornier 328 jet
and after a two-hour flight (travelers go from central to mountain time) be on the mountain by 11:00 am and get four full days on the slopes before returning on Sunday. A booking includes high-end ski/board rentals, ground transportation, and two bags.
Routes were recently added from the southern California cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. Granted it is geared toward a higher end traveler but if time is a concern it is an option.
The European style Blake Hotel, named after the Valley’s founders offers luxury on-mountain accommodations. Another hotel was under construction in January 2020 adding scores more rooms for those looking for close-by lodging.
For those arriving from other distant locations Taos is three-hour drive from Albuquerque or 90 minutes to Santa Fe.
Taos Ski Valley was and remains the only ski area in the United States that is a certified B Corporation. According to the bCorporation.net website certified bCorporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. bCorporations are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. Taos Ski Valley is proud of this certification.
They accomplish this rating by deploying high energy snow making and grooming equipment. One is hard pressed to find any plastic used around the resort. Carbon offset from Taos Air is also used toward the bCorportion certification. Other initiatives, including paying many employees 30% above the New Mexico minimum wage and working with the US Forest Service and Nature Conservancy on thinning forests to make them more resilient to fires and friendly to wildlife.
It has been a trend in recent years for some skiers and riders to choose environmentally friendly destinations. CEO David Norden says “it’s the right thing to do, for the sport and the environment”.
The base elevation of Taos Ski Valley is at 9,200 feet. In order to properly acclimate consider spending a day or two in Taos or Santa Fe. Each has its own southwestern style and charm with several galleries and restaurants. A day or two might not be enough to take in everything there is.
Taos Ski Valley is on the bucket list of many skiers and riders, for good reason.
For more information see https://www.skitaos.com/