Among New Mexicans, there's a running joke that outsiders don't realize the state is in the U.S. It is a little sad and shockingly common for, say, passport requests when locals are flying home from New York. A popular sticker declares of this place where Europeans have been living for 500 years: "Not exactly new, not exactly Mexico." But while New Mexico is in fact in America, it is undeniably true that it is pretty hard to get to.
That's long been a problem for Taos Ski Valley, the world-class ski resort in the Sangre de Cristos, a subrange of the Rockies in northern New Mexico. The nearest major airport is in Albuquerque, three hours away, while Santa Fe, two hours away, has few regional flights. Denver is a five-hour drive, which, to be fair, is about the amount of time it would take to get from DIA to Vail via I-70 on a given Saturday morning.
Few, if any medium-sized ski resorts are making investments at this level right now. For the most part, they're selling out to Vail or Alterra. Meanwhile, Taos went out and bought a damn jet.
But Taos is finally making headway on its accessibility problem. Recently, the company announced a new airline—Taos Air—that will offer daily direct flights from Dallas and Austin from December through March, to a dusty airstrip 30 minutes from the chairlifts.
"The response has been incredibly positive," says Robb Greer, sales manager at Taos Ski Valley who was recently in Texas promoting the flights. "Taos Air is the fastest, easiest way to ski in the Rockies."
It's a bold move for any ski area, but especially one in a region on the front lines of climate change and water shortages. Taos is coming off its worst winter since 1890; it relied heavily on snowmaking to stay open at all. But the ski area, which is independently owned by the billionaire investor Louis Bacon, is not holding back. The announcement comes in the middle of year four of a 10-year, $300-million renovation that includes a new main chairlift (Taos's first high-speed quad), doubling down on snowmaking, a new luxury hotel, a "gondolita," an upgraded children's center, and makeovers at the Bavarian and Phoenix restaurants. Taos has also pledged a new environmental commitment, becoming the first ski resort designated as a B Corp. Next summer, it's building new mountain biking trails, a via ferrata, and new condos.
Taos is now an anomaly in the ski world. Few, if any medium-sized ski resorts are making investments at this level right now. For the most part, they're selling out to Vail or Alterra (see Stowe, Crested Butte, Stevens Pass, Crystal Mountain, etc.).
Meanwhile, Taos went out and bought a damn jet. Tickets for the 30-passenger chartered flight start around $400, and passengers will land in El Prado, down the valley from the ski area. The price includes one checked bag and complementary Rossignol demos, and passengers staying at the Blake or the Village of Taos Ski Valley will receive free transportation to their hotels. The flight will leave from private terminals and passengers will only need to arrive 30 minutes before takeoff (read: no TSA). Flights will run Thursday through Sunday (and Monday holidays), from December through March.
"I don't think it's going to change the entire equation, but it will make it a little bit easier," says CEO David Norden, who believes Taos' independence is now a unique asset in the ski world. "If we do our job right, it leaves us with a place that is greatly differentiated from the pack, because the pack looks the same, and the pack is getting bigger. We've got the culture, we've got the scale, we have a great mountain."
They just need to get people there.