For siblings, Adriana and Alejandro Blake get along as well as you can. And, that’s a good thing for Taos Ski Valley, because things are changing quickly and there’s no time for sibling rivalry.
“We’re still brother and sister, but it’s never really been a problem,” Alejandro said. “The management team we have now keeps us in line, and gives us balance, consensus and lots of new ideas.”
Indeed, the third generation of Blakes at the 53-year-old New Mexico mountain resort is hard at work to bring the guest experience at TSV into the 21st century. Always known as a “skier’s mountain” that bragged more on its steeps than its amenities, Taos now takes aim at broadening its playing field so that a wider range of folks will make the trip up Hondo Canyon and hit the slopes.
In the last five years, upgrades have ranged from the radical to the sublime. Perhaps the Blakes’ most adventurous move was their first: opening the mountain to snowboarders in 2008. Throughout its history, Taos Ski Valley had built an extremely loyal following. Families returned year after year, stayed for a week and hired the same instructor. But, as the generations turned over, snowboarding came into vogue. Many of those families sadly said they couldn’t come because of the snowboard ban. As much as the loss in revenues, the loss of old friends hurt the Blakes.
“How’s that? Let’s take the biggest risk right off the bat,” Adriana said. “Luckily, it worked out great. Thankfully, people came back, because we know all of them so well, like family.”
Now the Blakes’ efforts focus on less revolutionary things, like selling lift tickets online—many still recall leaving cash on the ticket window sill because the ticket-seller was out skiing—and starting up a central reservation system. The resort corporation does not own any overnight lodging, allowing the agents who pick up the phone to give an unbiased, local's assessment of what the lodging options are. And, they can line up equipment rentals, snowboard lessons, dinner reservations and, because they hit the slopes most days, even give out insider tips on where the best powder can be found.
This summer, the base area was regraded in an effort to eliminate some of Taos’ ubiquitous stairways. The new Burroughs beginner area came on line last season, with a magic carpet and ticket window. Clearing has been completed for a new lift that will serve approximately another 1,000 feet of beginner terrain for 2012/2013.
“Really, it’s that you have to walk in ski boots and, especially for beginners, that’s no fun,” Alejandro said. “We are working to overcome the perception that Taos is too steep for beginners to enjoy.”
Adriana and Alejandro Blake represent the third generation of Blakes at the helm of Taos Ski Valley. Photo by Tina Larkin. Courtesy of Taos Ski Valley.
The famed Ernie Blake Snowsports School gets some tweaking this season. Afternoon group lessons for all but beginners are out, but beat-the-crowd 8 a.m. private lessons are in. Groups of any size can custom-design their own ski week—choose instructors, starting times and terrain. It's more like having “a mountain guide than an instructor,” Alejandro said of the new customizable lessons. Four lessons in two days on bumps and steeps ramp up the intensity for the advanced, while beginners will be enticed to overcome first-time fears with multi-day deals.
When skiers and riders finish their day, they will find bars and restaurants that stay open later. In the famed Martini Tree Bar, new flat-screen TVs will entice football fans to watch the big game. Overnight guests can now get food delivered to their rooms and condos until late in the evening. A crepe shack opens this season at the mid-mountain Whistlestop Cafe.
Feels like home
What won’t change at Taos Ski Valley—no matter who’s running the show—is the terrain. Few mountains in the Rockies boast the kind of vertical that Taos does, and the array of bowls, chutes, cliffs and trees that top out with 12,481-foot Kachina Peak is hard to beat.
“In [grandfather] Ernie’s day, skiing was an adventure," Alejandro said. "The steeps aren’t for every guest, but we think everyone can come away from here feeling like they’ve been part of that adventure.”
However, to the Blake family, the most important constant at Taos Ski Valley are the people who work there. A large majority of the 700-member staff has worked there for 20-plus years. It’s a place where the liftee at the base of Lift 4 remembers your face, and the bartender knows what you drink, Adriana said. Season pass holders will even point you toward a powder stash.
“Our guests say they appreciate the hometown feel, and how they are treated by the staff,” Adriana said. “We’re not the only third generation that's working here. We think it gives everyone an authentic, genuine experience.”
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