Despite never having lived more than a handful of miles from the ocean, I’m still a sucker for a good mountain town. There’s a distinct charm that’s unique to each one, but also a consistent, back-to-nature appeal that feels like a true escape that’s equally appealing in summer and winter. However, as more popular mountain destinations succumb to the pressures to redevelop and expand, that charm can feel somewhat diminished.
For Taos Ski Valley, located about 70 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, expansion isn’t an option. Surrounded by protected wilderness and land belonging to the Pueblo Tribe of Native Americans, this small but delightful alpine village’s boutique essence is destined to remain just how it is, at least in size, for the foreseeable future. As for redevelopment, the diminutive mountain hamlet is among the most progressive organizations in the country, and is the world’s first ski resort that’s a certified B Corporation.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job establishing what we want to do and what we want to be,” says David Norden, Taos Ski Valley’s CEO. Environmental responsibility is paramount in every facet of its operations, with careful attention to what Norden calls the “quaint nature of the resort with a scale of intimacy.” Essentially, he says, “The motto is ‘Better, not Bigger.’”
Though Taos Ski Valley has been long-renowned among avid skiers seeking challenging terrain — it boasts a peak elevation of 12,481 feet with the drops to go with that kind of dizzying height — Norden says that a lack of reinvestment in the property for about 20 years led Taos to fall out of favor. After its purchase in 2013 by conservationist and investor Louis Bacon, plans to reinvigorate the property centered around refinements and enhancements, including a refresh of the walkable village at the mountain’s base, a new hotel, The Blake, plus luxury residences, dining, and more. Still, nothing is ever too big for the footprint it’s meant to fit within. “Some other mountains have moved from [being] ski towns to ‘ski cities.’ And we don’t want to go there,” says Norden. “That is our number one challenge: How do we preserve the soul and spirit and mystique as we go through a revitalization? And it’s a good challenge. The mandate is to improve everything and change nothing at all.”
Improve they have — and continue to do. The Blake, centrally located in the village of the resort at the base of Lift 1, offers upscale accommodations featuring beautifully appointed rooms with spacious bathrooms, plus deluxe room and suite options as well as a three-bedroom penthouse. Its attentive staff offers personal, friendly, and prompt service, even in this new era of COVID staffing shortages. The hotel’s amenities include a heated outdoor saltwater pool and two hot tubs, a gym, and the Spa & Wellness Center at The Blake. Though the spa menu is currently limited to massages only, the experience is still every bit the indulgence a trip to the spa should be in a beautiful facility that offers a plush lounge, steam room, and sauna. Throughout its floors, The Blake proudly displays a tremendous museum-quality art collection, a reflection of the area’s rich artist community and history. And also throughout, there are reminders of the sustainability ethos that’s at the heart of Taos Ski Valley, like water refill stations and refillable bathroom amenities to replace single-use items.
The Blake Residences at Taos Ski Valley share the amenities that the hotel’s visitors enjoy, with property management provided by The Blake’s “Hausmeister” service staff. One Residences owner I met on my visit raved about her entire experience of buying into Taos Ski Valley, from its master plan to guest and owner services to its environmental responsibility, but there’s one element that really stands out above all the others: “We bought here because of Taos Air,” the Beverly Hills-based owner gushed.
Taos Ski Valley’s own airline, Taos Air, provides limited seasonal service to Taos Regional Airport with a roughly two-hour flight that departs from Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport (with additional regions served including Los Angeles, Dallas, and Austin). San Diego-based visitors are spared the hassles of commercial flights from Lindbergh Field — think TSA, baggage fees, air traffic delays, jammed parking lots — and instead trade up to a semi-private experience on a 30-passenger jet. Guests of The Blake are picked up at the tiny Taos airport by a complimentary shuttle to whisk them up to the resort about 40 short minutes away. This service has the ability to get you on the mountain at Taos Ski Valley faster from San Diego than virtually any other major ski destination, and minus the headaches of major airports, rental cars, or even paying for parking. Tickets on Taos Air also include complimentary ski and snowboard rentals in town, and the entire operation’s carbon output is offset to remain carbon neutral. It almost feels too good to be true. Winter season service begins on December 16 and concludes on April 4, 2022.
A world-class ski resort, Taos Ski Valley boasts 14 lifts and just under 1,300 acres of terrain with about a 50-50 split between beginner/intermediate and expert trails, and a famous snowsports school with skilled pros. But the mountain isn’t just a winter playground; it’s a perfect host for summer activities including mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, and most notably, its guided Via Ferrata climbing experience, a safe-yet-thrilling opportunity to scale portions of Kachina Peak with vast, sweeping views of the valley below and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range stretching all the way to Colorado.
Back at the resort center, the small village has just enough amenities to ensure you get what you need plus charming elements like its new outdoor ice rink and boutiques featuring goods from local artisans. Though small, the dining scene in the village is growing, and rumors that Medley, a popular restaurant off-mountain in nearby
El Prado, is expected to open a restaurant in town soon are met with enthusiasm. Meanwhile, The Blake’s team is ready to assist with reservations at off-property eateries that can otherwise sometimes be hard to come by, and coordinate complimentary transportation via the hotel’s fleet of Volkswagen SUVs.
A long weekend in Taos wows from start to finish, from a stress-free departure in Carlsbad to upscale accommodations and seamless service throughout, with an easy return home to stave off even the slightest case of the departure blues. In just four days, I think I found my favorite new mountain town. skitaos.com