A closed ski lift is never a good sign. But in the case of the new Kachina Peak chairlift at Taos Ski Valley, this is something worth celebrating. That’s because the Kachina Peak lift was recently completed in the fall of 2014. And expert skiers and snowboarders eagerly await the right snow conditions to ride up to the highest point of off-piste skiing: the double black diamond run of Kachina Peak (12,450’).
For the past five decades, “hiking the ridge” was the only way to reach Kachina Peak. At the top of Chair 2, you’d take off your helmet, unzip your jacket, put on your wide-brimmed sun hat, and strap your skis on your ski backpack to begin the trek to Kachina. This hike along the ridge takes even the heartiest of athletes a minimum of one hour and more like 90 minutes for the rest of us schmoes.
The peak is so named in honor of the Pueblo Indian cultures that distinguish the Southwest. A “kachina” is a spirit-being. At Taos Ski Valley, it only makes sense that the highest point has an out-of-this-world name because that’s the experience you have up there.
The building of the new lift has received a lot national media attention. That’s because ski lifts don’t come cheap. But in early 2014, Taos Ski Valley was sold to Louis Bacon. Labeled in the press as a “billionaire conservationist,” Bacon is the founder of a hedge fund and an active environmental philanthropist. Flush with cash and/or easy credit, Bacon’s people said they planned to install a new lift –– and did so within six months.
The Kachina Peak lift is also newsworthy because most other ski resorts are maxed out on development with no room to grow. Taos Ski Valley, on the other hand, has long kept a low profile with a focus on skiing, not fur stores. Until the sale to Bacon last year, it was owned for five-plus decades by the family of its founder, Ernie Blake. On busy days, Blake’s son Mickey drove one of the parking lot shuttles, and his grandson Hano shoveled pathways.
Most people don’t think of “New Mexico” for a ski trip, which is why Taos Ski Valley is the perfect locale. Nestled on the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains, it receives the same weather fronts as southern Colorado but without the ensuing crowds.
Yet the popular slogan is: “Taos is a four letter word for steep.” Indeed, the blue runs are roped at the black diamond pitches of most other resorts. And the few green runs at Taos are so isolated near the parking lot entrance you don’t ever have to worry about a sudden trail merging with beginners.