This story has been updated with corrections.
When Taos Ski Valley announced its season pass offerings last Friday, it was met with backlash from locals over the price increases. This year's Unlimited Pass - with no blackout days on weekends or holidays - costs skiers and riders $1,600, compared to an average around $1,300 for the same pass in years past - although this year's includes an IKON Pass as well.
Perhaps the biggest reason for local disappointment was the lack of a reasonably priced kid's pass. Many locals and previous pass holders said they were going to have to forego the season at Taos Ski Valley because of that.
After a vocal pushback on social media and from the community in general, Taos Ski Valley acknowledged it had made an oversight. "We blew it," said Taos Ski Valley CEO David Norden in a phone interview.
"We agree that you've got to get these kids out on the mountain," he added.
With the new Youth Everyday Pass, young skiers and riders can now purchase an unlimited pass for $625. "We hope that people see that as an appropriate approach."
Controversy started immediately as Taos Ski Valley announced its passes. Complaints ranged from the prices for families, the lack of a discount for locals and what many saw as an astronomical price hike.
Rory Yurkovich, a Taos resident and dentist in Peñasco, said that even though he is in a position where he could afford a pass, he won't be purchasing one this season. "I'm not going to because I just don't think it's fair. Out of principle I don't want to spend $1,600 on a pass so I can ski two days a week."
There was also concern about trying to "price out the locals," Yurkovich said.
"I was their [the ski valley's] biggest proponent last year," he said. "I'm not naive that they had to keep it at that price point, but to quadruple that seems unreasonable to me. It kind of felt less like it was intended to cover costs, and more to intentionally prohibit locals from going to the mountain on weekends."
Tom Duke, a local teacher, said through the years, he has introduced "at least 100 kids to the sport of skiing - most from low-income families," he said. "Now that they are turned on to the sport, they have to come up with that kind of money." Duke also noted that the midweek passes don't work for many families who work and have kids in school Monday through Friday. He also worried that Taos Ski Valley might be "using COVID in a cynical way to set a new high pricing standard."
Norden said that as much as they understand that these prices are high, the decision was made to strategically limit the number of visitors on particularly busy days. With the official COVID-safe practices for ski areas released last week, resorts are only allowed to operate at 25 percent of their uphill lift capacity.
Norden said that Taos Ski Valley has no intention of trying to stop locals and pass holders from skiing on weekends, and said the low capacity is to try to reduce crowding. "Everybody knows how busy it is on weekends and during holiday periods," said Norden . "You've got crowds in the base areas and lift lines, and that could potentially be a superspreader event."
Taos Ski Valley says that it hopes to make a fair price for all user groups and that it is "trying to do it so it's equitable among all," Norden said. "The pricing that you see is trying to move people to the less busy days, and reduce the visitation on those peak days, like weekends and holidays," he said. "We do want pass holders, we do want locals, but it's kind of unfortunate that we have to reduce our visitation," he added.
One thing for sure is that this ski season will be different than any other. "It will be a quieter experience," said Norden. "The goal is really to keep the crowding and congestion down." He said that due to the pandemic, Taos Ski Valley was forced to do a complete remodel of its pass offerings. "Hopefully this goes away and things go back to normal, but we have to manage the visitation."
Concerning passes heading into future seasons, Norden said it's nearly impossible to predict right now, but that Taos Ski Valley's recent structure had been working well for the company. "For the past three or four years running, the pass structure that we created started to work very nicely for us and I think we found that nice balance," he said. "When things are working you don't want to change them too much."
As for what to expect at Taos Ski Valley this year, Norden said it's nearly impossible to predict. "We don't even know if we'll be able to open," he noted. "This is a very unique season. Everything is going to be different. Everything about this year is unique."
One thing Taos Ski Valley is promising this year is a partial refund for all pass holders should the season be cut short.
Norden also pointed out that its Weekday Plus pass includes 10 weekend days throughout the season - a perk that wasn't immediately picked up on, and something that might attract more locals to buy the pass.
- Midweek $450
Monday–Thursday with holiday blackouts. Returning passholders from last season receive $50 off.
- Weekday Plus $695
Monday-Friday, with holiday blackouts. 10 days of weekend and holiday skiing included. Option to purchase tickets for any holiday or weekend for a discounted rate of $85. Returning passholders from last season receive $50 off.
- Unlimited $1,600
Unlimited skiing or riding, any day of the week, no restrictions, (reservations may be required for opening Thanksgiving holiday weekend skiing.) Returning passholders from last season receive $50 off. Purchase during the Early Fall Sale and receive a complimentary Ikon Base Pass.
- Youth Everyday $625
Valid for ages 7-17. Unlimited skiing or riding, any day of the week. (Reservations may be required for opening Thanksgiving holiday weekend skiing.)
Corrections: This story has been updated to correct average season pass pricing from previous years, and to correct the name of the Weekday Plus pass.