Latest improvements focus on instruction areas and Children’s Center
By Andy Dennison
“The best instructor at Taos Ski Valley is the mountain itself.”
— Ernie Blake
The founding father of Taos Ski Valley knew well that a precipitous mountain like Taos would always be a challenge to the less-experienced skier. So he constructed a ski school with ramped-up instruction that has been known to get you on the mountain quicker than any other.
Most of that happened around the base area – between the main lodge and the Children’s Center on either Strawberry Hill or the Rueggli slope. There, instructors pushed their students toward the parallel turns and comfort with speed that was essential to get them onto more challenging slopes and trails of Taos Ski Valley.
But these two teaching areas always merged awkwardly, with Rueggli sloping off to the west while slightly steeper Strawberry Hill took a perpendicular route to the north. A small divide that separated the two aspects was known to confound some newbies.
Even after the resort installed the Pioneer Lift and a magic carpet for adults to the south of the main lodge several years ago, the Strawberry Hill-Rueggli layout remained problematic.
So, after nearly 50 years in this configuration, the beginner area at Taos Ski Valley has undergone a radical face-lift – reshaped to offer five beginner areas, which will allow for a smooth progression for skiers and riders who are just learning. Earth-movers spent the offseason eliminating the double fall line and creating a new dynamic for teaching skiing and snowboarding at the Northern New Mexico resort.
“The old layout had different fall lines and was, in parts, steeper than normal beginner terrain,” said Dash Hegeman, marketing manager at the resort. “The new area flows easily from east to west with sections of different gradients on the same slope.”
Taos Ski Valley has partnered with SNOW Operating to offer terrain-based learning, which uses purpose-built snow features in the beginner area to help assist new skiers and riders by naturally controlling their speed. The shaped snow in the beginner area provides a more fun and efficient on-snow experience and helps new skiers and riders focus on their movements and fundamentals.
Graduated instruction will be begin on the flats near the Children’s Center and then progress to the existing magic carpet serving a 6 percent grade with several modest rollers to familiarize students with changing terrains. Once comfortable there, students move to the 8-10 percent grade under the new lift, completed with banked turns (known as “terrain-based instruction”) to get them comfortable with getting up on an edge.
From there, it’s time to slide down to Lift 1 and head up for an inaugural on-mountain run on gentle Whitefeather – with the rest of the trail map ready for conquering.
This regrading meant that the venerable Strawberry Hill chairlift, built in 1970, and the younger Rueggli chair are gone. In their place is a new fixed-grip triple chair that runs essentially on the same west-to-east line as the old Rueggli, except it extends to about where the Strawberry Hill chair disgorged its passengers.
Running parallel to that will be a European-style “pulse gondola.” With three enclosed gondolas on each wire, the gondola makes a 48-second trip from the Children’s Center to the base area for parents who drop off their kids at the ski school.
“The gondola will end just below Mogul Medical near the entrance to The Blake hotel,” Hegeman said. “We envision our employees will use it to and from the parking lots, and non-skiers will use it to get back up to the hotel and base area.”
Concurrently, the Children’s Center has undergone a complete remodel. A new layout will move students through the registration process. At that point, parents are asked to say “goodbye” as their youngsters move upstairs into an “adult-free zone” for equipment fitting, complete with kid-friendly features like notches on an aspen tree to mark height and a suspended old lift chair to weigh them.
“It’s a detailed, intentional process with a smooth flow from sign-up to the hill,” Hegeman said.
With these highly visible projects, the renaissance of Taos Ski Valley now moves into its fourth year with a number of projects firmly in place, including:
• Vastly improved snowmaking over much of the mountain.
• The above-treeline Kachina Peak chairlift.
• The upscale hotel The Blake.
• Revamped infrastructure, including wider cell service, Wi-Fi and natural gas heating.
• The purchase of the Bavarian Restaurant and Lodge.
• The opening of the Wild West Trees.
Each comes from the $400 million investment made by owner Louis Bacon, a hedge fund manager and longtime Taos Ski Valley skier who bought the resort from the Blake family in 2013.
And, for those who like to look ahead, expect Taos Ski Valley to install its first high-speed quad lift next summer to run from the base to the midmountain drop-off at Lift 5.
Taos Ski Valley is the only ski resort in the world to be named B-Corp certified. A comprehensive and groundbreaking environmental initiative known as Taos Verde (“Green Taos”) has led to a reduction in energy consumption by almost 11 percent in just two years at the ski resort. This year, TSV will continue to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to achieve a goal of 20 percent reduction by 2020. The geothermal heating and cooling system that was an instrumental part of The Blake is part of that effort, as is the improved energy-efficient snowmaking equipment.
Additionally, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy, the resort has restored the Río Hondo, which flows through the ski valley, and has undergone several forest health initiatives while expanding the skiable acreage for the 2017-18 season.