When Taos Ski Valley announced its operating plan for this winter season, it didn’t take long for your voices to be heard. Our social media, phone lines, and emails were flooded with opinions, questions, compliments, criticisms, and requests. We’re listening, and we hope you are too.
Many area residents are disappointed we’re opening the ski resort at all. Alternatively, our loyal visitors want this ski season to be like every other. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the future, but here’s what we know: we are operating in a pandemic, so all ski resorts need to make significant changes in order to open at all, for the benefit of the skiers and riders, and for the benefit of the local economy, which relies on the annual infusion of ski season.
Setting the stage for the entire winter season is the plan to limit daily visitor capacity. We wholeheartedly support the State of New Mexico’s decision to require capacity limits this year because it will reduce crowding and prevent ski resorts from becoming COVID-19 super spreader epicenters.
Capacity limits, by their very definition, mean there must be fewer people on the mountain at all times. Everyone – from residents, to families visiting from out of state, to our own staff, myself included – will be reducing the amount of skiing they are doing this year. Our goal was to come up with a way to limit capacity so that everyone has the opportunity for some skiing and riding, versus none at all, which would devastate skiers and the Taos community.
After months of conversations with our industry peers in the U.S. and internationally, and with the State, we determined the best way to limit capacity while still enabling as much access to the slopes as possible is by spreading the visits from peak periods to lesser crowded weekdays, and early and late season. To do this, we completely reimagined our pass and ticketing structure to make weekdays and off-peak periods as accessible as possible. Because we operate on U.S. Forest Service land, we cannot sell regional-based pricing, such as a local pass, since it is regarded as discriminatory.
Tickets and passes aren’t the only major change this season. We are the first resort to earn the New Mexico Safe Certification, which means we’ve undertaken extraordinary measures to develop a full set of operating plans, reviewed and certified by State regulators, to ensure our winter operation keeps the well-being of our community, staff, and guests at the forefront. If you visit Taos Ski Valley this winter, you’ll notice many changes, from new parking processes, to extensive outdoor dining, to the elimination of all events and gatherings, including group lessons, to a completely cashless, no-contact resort.
Our staff will undergo stringent health procedures daily, and has been trained in our new distancing and COVID-Safe Practices. All visitors will be asked to take our Taos Pledge with a focus on the well-being of all. We’ve invested over $200,000 in personal protection gear, heaters, tents, de-foggers, signage, and more to enable these changes. We’re in constant communication with regulators, and are vigilantly watching all federal, state, and local health guidelines. Even with all this, we know the health orders may change again, and we’ll need to adjust our operations once more.
It’s unfortunate this year can’t be like every other, and like you, I’m eagerly awaiting the end to this devastating pandemic. Yet despite these frustrations, I’m looking forward to getting outside, taking a few runs on the uncrowded, quiet slopes, and just experiencing the joy of skiing.
David Norden is chief executive officer of Taos Ski Valley.