The Bacon Effect: A Response to the NYT

By: Bill Whaley
24 February, 2019

 A Vision for TSV

(An apologia re: the opposition)

The best thing the Blakes did, besides develop Taos Ski Valley was sell to Louis Bacon. As Mickey Blake said, “We couldn’t afford the upgrades.” I’ve been skiing in Taos since 1965, first as visitor, then as employee at the St. Bernard, then as peripatetic ski instructor, and skier ever since I first saw the mountain.

For the last twenty years I haven’t skied much until last year when my granddaughter inspired a return to the slopes. Bacon’s purse kept the mountain open with snowmaking during the 2017-18 drought. This year the gods rewarded us all with snow. And I have seen the way he developed the potential of the mountain: grooming, endless glades and tree-skiing in the bumps, over rock and stump, extra lifts for efficient use of the terrain. Above the ski tigers climb up to challenge the chutes diving down between rocky out-crops, dropping into the soft-landing places. The risk, alas, is part of the thrill.

On President’s weekend and yesterday, Feb. 23, the visitor count, thousands stuffing the parking lots (I was also a parking attendant in 1966, 330 cars a day) and the numbers in lift lines reflect the enthusiasm for one of the best, most accessible and challenging ski areas. But the efficient shuttle service quashes the pain. And the new fast chair (as fast as the old Poma 4 to 5 minutes up Al’s run) make the wait almost too short for my aging legs). The soft snow and ramped up bumps truly turn Black diamond slopes into pleasures of the first degree.

In her second year of full-time skiing on weekends my nine-year-old fearless one now wants to hike the ridge. Yesterday I saw a long line of hikers trudging up the ridge to grab their thrills on the steep chutes, I skied long ago, not knowing whether I’d survive. As I rode the chair yesterday, I saw endless numbers of weekenders skiing the steeps, dancing, falling, jumping up, all high on adrenalin under a sky that went from gray to blue in a couple of hours.

The multi-cultural mix of Hispanic, Native American, and Anglo staff reminds me of Taos itself even as the new Blake Hotel juxtaposed to the rustic Hotel St. Bernard speaks to yesterday and today. (There’s a young cook in Katie’s cafeteria, named “Billy,” who smiles and provides a big plate of fries for $4.50. Season pass holders get 10% off.) I once wrote a piece about “1969” (12 first tracks on major runs, not a skier in sight) and how the skiing was the best a skier could imagine. But also yesterday I realized how Bacon, supported by the technical advances in the ski, has transformed a challenging mountain into an experience accessible to every enthusiast.

Native Taosenos, who live in the valley in a marginal economy, rent out family casitas under the Airbnb aegis and welcome the trickle down. The Texans in our midst jam the shuttle from Dallas-Fort Worth. I get a discount (age-break) on my season pass and “good old boy” treatment at Cottam’s, where I rent my skis, which is owned by a local friend I met the winter of 1967. Now my lungs and legs shake on the bumps, but the spirit of the mountain contributes, as you might guess, on the right day despite the maelstrom in this world, to feelings of euphoria. Not man or woman but the mountain measures you fair and square.