By Kade Krichko
When the Blake family announced they would be selling New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley after nearly 60 years of ownership, a slight collective panic rippled through the ski world. Taos was one of the last great family-owned hills; was this yet another sign of billionaire-induced mega-resort apocalypse?
Well remember this, and remember it good: The Blake family is nobody’s fool. After surviving independently for more than five decades, the clan knows a thing or to about running a ski area and maintaining a culture based on community, soul, and damn good skiing. So even though they did indeed hand the reigns over to a billionaire in New York hedge fund trader Louis Bacon, there was a method to the madness.
Confused as the rest of you, we got a hold of Adriana Blake, the marketing director at Taos and the granddaughter of founder Ernie Blake to see exactly what was going on over there in New Mexico. Here’s what she had to say.
When did this plan to sell Taos materialize?
The family started talking about it late summer. It has to be a family discussion because the family owns a majority of the stock, so we all needed to be in agreement in order for it to go through.
Why is now the time to step back?
I think now is the time because we have all of these approvals for projects on the mountain. We just finished our master development plan with the Forest Service and an approval for our base development project in the same year. We looked at it and saw we now had the ability to do it, but we didn’t have the financial wherewithal.
Is that where Louis Bacon comes in?
Yeah. So he came in because we have been doing a base area redevelopment plan for about five years. So his company bought some land adjacent to our base area, and we’ve been going back and forth with them to do some master planning with roads and sewer lines and everything. He already had a bunch of land and holding in the base area, so when we started talking about how we were going to accomplish these projects, he said he’d be happy to work with us financially. So he just ended up buying the whole thing.
So does he embody the same vision you guys have had for the resort?
He is totally in on the vision. It’s actually something we’ve been working on with his ground guy here, Peter Talty. He’s been sitting through all these meetings about our base area. They came to one meeting with concept drawings for a base area and my brother Alejandro and I looked at each other and said, ‘that’s exactly what we would do.’ They’re just a great fit because it’s not a big corporation that’s going to come in, knock down our buildings, and make us a cookie cutter ski area. They have a good feel for who we are.
Bacon is often referred to as a conservationist, are there any projects in particular that helped you guys realize he was the right choice?
Well it’s interesting. He bought a huge ranch in Southern Colorado called the Trinchera Ranch. They were going to put a pipeline across it, so he bought the whole thing and made it a conservation easement so they couldn’t. That was a giant deal for all the ranchers in the area. As an Easterner (he lives in New York) to come West and do this huge conservation project—he gets huge kudos. That awareness to keep things wild is a big deal for us.
People are still freaked out about a billionaire running Taos, how else can you ease the public’s nerves?
Another thing that I’ve been saying is that this family wasn’t losing the ski area. Taos was not going under. We were having a hard time growing, but we were making money. We were under no pressure to sell, so we sold because we were comfortable with Louis as a partner, not because we had to. If we couldn’t have found a partner that we were all happy about, we wouldn’t have done it.
Are the Blake’s staying on in any capacity?
Mickey [Adriana’s dad] will stay on the board for consulting purposes. His relationship with the National Forest is 50 years old, so it’s important that he stays. That being said, nobody else in the family will be involved.
So, you’re out?
I won’t be working here anymore, but I’ll stay in Taos. One of my sons said recently, ‘So does this mean we can just ski for fun?’ Needless to say, I’m looking forward to it.
What does Taos mean to you?
Everything. It’s just home. The people that work at Taos remember when I was a baby and when I had babies. This is a family in the truest sense of what family is. This is our home, and will continue to be our home. We just won’t be working here anymore.
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