It may be many years before construction begins on "Phase I" of improvements at Taos Ski Valley, but at least skiers and riders can dream about the possibilities now. They can comment on them, too.

The northern New Mexico resort's first-phase proposal to add lifts to its most extreme terrain, cut new glades, and upgrade existing chairlifts is in at the supervisor's office of the Carson National Forest. Each project will undergo an environmental impact statement that begins with a public comment period ending Jan. 17.

"It's a look at 10 projects we might undertake in the next five years," Administrative Manager Adriana Blake told OnTheSnow. "We still have to count squirrels and go through all the reviews, like archaeology, before anything gets the final OK. That should be at least two years out, and then we have to figure out how to pay for them."

New lift access to alpine Kachina Peak and West Basin Ridge are among the most dramatic elements of the plan. Heretofore, reaching the double-black diamond chutes and faces in these areas has meant hiking for up to an hour or more. The proposals join several recent developments at Taos, including the Blake family's first venture into real estate, expanded beginners areas and an aggressive advertising campaign.

All ski and snowboard areas that sit on U.S. Forest Service land must revise master plans for development on public lands every 30 years or so. Taos Ski Valley's original plan was written in the 1980s. One difference now, said Blake, is the Forest Service's "cost recovery" program that has resorts paying for the NEPA (National Environment Policy Act) review and, in return, getting a guaranteed deadline for a decision.

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