Taos Ski Valley will be sold to a billionaire conservationist.
“Our net revenues are not sufficient to fund the improvements needed,” said TSV Chief Executive Officer Mickey Blake. He said construction of a new lift up Kachina Peak would have “eaten up all our cash reserves.”
Blake said that buyer Louis Bacon has the capital to purchase new lifts, rebuild the base area and construct a hotel, all necessary improvements. “They're definitely going to do higher-end stuff,” Blake said.
No employees will lose their jobs, he said, “it will be seamless.” Blake will step down as CEO to be replaced by Gordon Briner, now chief operations officer. Bacon said Blake will retain his seat on the company's board of directors.
During the holidays, the ski area will be at peak employment levels, with 415 full- and 200 part-timers. Blake said 120 employees have more than 20 years of service.
Bacon is founder and CEO of the hedge fund company Moore Capital Management and a resident of New York State.
According to the Forbes magazine's website, Bacon is number 371 of the 400 richest people in America, with a net worth of $1.4 billion as of September 2013.
He has recently been in the news in Colorado because he donated a conservation easement on more than 100,000 acres to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.
The decision to sell TSV was not sudden. “We had long discussions early in the summer that what's needed to be invested is beyond what we can come up with,” Blake said. He approached Bacon and negotiated with the investor himself.
Speaking in his office at the ski valley, Blake said the reaction of the family has been “very mixed emotions — most of us grew up right here.”
Included in the purchase is the Forest Service use permit for about 1,200 acres, the base area of about 100 deeded acres, 20 acres uphill at the Phoenix Restaurant, lifts, snowmaking and grooming equipment, subdivision lots at the Pioneers Glade, “and our fancy parking lot shuttles,” Blake said.
He said the parties have signed a strict confidentiality agreement and will not disclose the price.
The majority of the corporation has been owned by the families of Mickey Blake and Wendy Blake Stagg, children of patriarch Ernie Blake. Minority interests are owned by Rhoda Blake — Ernie Blake's widow, the Pond family in Taos, Mitchell family in Santa Fe, McGuckin family of Albuquerque and Pfister family in Aspen. Ernie Blake founded the ski valley in 1955.
The TSV sale will be completed pending shareholder approval at a January meeting.
Bacon has been a property owner at TSV since 1996. He owns undeveloped acreage near the U.S. Forest Service boundary and TSV uphill of the El Funko ski run.
He will purchase the ski valley through Rio Hondo Holdings. That entity previously bought property to the north of the base area: the site of the Thunderbird Chalet and a parcel belonging to Tony Bryan.
Bacon's director of properties Peter Talty is at TSV this week to meet employees and the Forest Service supervisor. Talty's wife Linda Stabler worked at TSV as a ski instructor.
The Blakes are the only remaining “founding family” of downhill ski area owners in the state. In other parts of New Mexico, Red River, Sipapu, Santa Fe and Sandia ski areas are owned by families, but not by the original developers. Angel Fire belongs to a corporation, Los Alamos to a ski club, and Ski Apache to the Mescalero Apache tribe.
According to Blake, TSV is in the “small-medium” category of ski areas, with 250,000 skier days annually. It compares in size to Durango Mountain and Arapahoe basin in Colorado.
TSV has more than 110 trails and 305 inches of annual snowfall.
It is number 19 of Ski Magazine's best 30 resorts in the West.
Blake said that after the sale is complete, he will “do things I've always wanted to do,” like historical research. His daughter Adriana will continue to work in public relations and marketing in the area, but not with the ski valley. His son Hano Blake is part of a startup online ticket company in Albuquerque. Brother-in-law Chris Stagg will continue to work at the ski school, in real estate and local government. Brother Peter Blake works at the ski school, but had previously sold his interest in the corporation. Ernie Blake's widow is 95 and according to her son, a “retired ski pioneer.”
An interview with buyer Louis Bacon will appear in the Thursday (Dec. 12) print edition of The Taos News.