Ski Report: Taos – Louis Bacon’s Touch on the Unresort Resort

Taos ridge

Taos Ridge 2Taos is an enigma–well known and loved by some, unknown to many. It is unique, beautiful and iconic. First, Taos the city and Taos the mountain resort are two entirely different animals. Taos the city is one of the oldest inhabited areas of the nation, a city of beautiful adobe structures that combines small, intimate views with large, breathtaking landscape views that are difficult to describe in words. Taos has a well-deserved reputation as an artist’s mecca, with numerous galleries and artists calling Taos home. It’s also a bit of a hippy hangout, with earth houses on the outskirts of town, a low key, laid back vibe and the pleasant smell of pinion wafting through the air. It’s an easy one and one-half hour drive from Santa Fe, (or two and a half Albuquerque) to the town of Taos. While there are numerous excellent lodging options in town, if you lean toward the luxurious and are always looking for the best spa, El Monte Sagrado is probably your spot.

Taos InnIf you want to be in the heart of town in a historic structure that houses really nice digs and a great bar, check out the Taos Inn.

So, you’ve made the trip, checked in and now are wondering what to do. While there are many options, don’t move too fast. As one long-time New Mexico land owner and friend once told me, “New Mexico is a lot like old Mexico.” While he was referring to the pace of getting anything done, it is equally applicable to the pace of life in general. I, for one, take this as a positive, as it is a welcome change of pace from Dallas.

taos balloonDepending on the season and one’s desires, Taos is about art, culture, adventure, the landscape and quality food and drink. For those that are more active or daring, in the warmer months, biking, rafting, hiking, fishing and hot air ballooning top the charts. And in the winter, the adventurous take the roughly 30 minute drive from town to Taos Ski Valley, which is exactly what I had the pleasure of doing a few weeks ago with my oldest daughter.

Taos Don't panicApproximately 2,500 vertical feet up a narrow canyon lies Taos Ski Valley. Taos is sometimes described as a four letter word for “steep” and the initial impression certainly reinforces that. The main lift rises straight up the mountain and mogul filled Al’s Run stares menacingly down at first timers. Now, somewhat famously, Taos Ski Valley encourages visitors with a sign that says “Don’t Panic!, You’re looking at only 1/30 of Taos Ski Valley. We have many easy runs too!” While Taos does have excellent intermediate terrain and some beginner areas, it’s “steep” moniker is well earned as fully 1/2 of the runs are black or double black and the pucker factor can be high. The most iconic runs are accessed by a hike that may take anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour. However, Taos also has one of the best ski schools in the country and if you learn to ski at Taos, you will be able to ski anywhere.

Louis BaconTaos has seen only gradual change over its lifetime. However, the pace of change is likely to increase. Last fall, billionaire conservationist Louis Bacon purchased the ski area from the Blake family, the founding family of Taos. A new masterplan for the base area has been developed and improvements are on the way. One of the first improvements appears to be a new lift that will rise up Kachina Peak, which currently can only be accessed by an hour hike. This follows a trend of opening up new, more advanced lift accessed areas, such as Revelation Bowl at Telluride and Peak 6 at Breckenridge. The plans for the base area will create a more walkable environment that makes better use of the Rio Hondo River. There will almost certainly be additional real estate offered and that’s a good thing as the current options are pretty limited and the small overall scale of the area effectively prohibits over-development. Since I’m always looking at how recreational and resort properties are becoming more sustainable, I certainly hope and expect that the current owner will bring a conservation-oriented theme to Taos.

hotel st bernardOne thing that I hope doesn’t change is the Hotel St. Bernard, located directly next to the main lift. It has been a fixture at Taos since 1960, as has its owner, Jean Mayer. The Hotel St. Bernard offers a very European experience, with 3 excellent meals a day included with the lodging, all served family style among the guests. Many of those guests have been coming for decades, lured by the powerful combination of a great mountain, excellent instruction and first-class hospitality. We were lucky enough to spend our time at the St. Bernard, and it was a magical experience (helped no doubt by the almost 30 inches of recent snow).

Taos is unique; it is not Aspen or Vail. In fact, their tag line used to be the “un-resort resort,” which is fitting. For me, that means a special place that shouldn’t be missed.

Dallas Addison is a Dallas-based lawyer who has helped many clients throughout the country buy, sell, develop and manage all types of  real estate over the years, with a  particular focus on recreational and hospitality-based real estate,  such as golf courses, resorts, ranches, second homes, etc. He is also a founding principal of Preservation Land Company. He is a regulator contributor to SecondShelters.com.