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Open Mic: On the Sale of Taos Ski Valley

Jonathan Ellsworth, Ryan Heffernan, Taos Ski Valley, Blister Gear Review

Jonathan Ellsworth, Taos Ski Valley.

Yesterday morning I got the news: the Blake family was selling Taos Ski Valley.

Word came from Adriana Blake, the granddaughter of Taos founder, Ernie Blake.

For those of us who love TSV more than most things, for a minute, the world felt like it was dropping out from under us.

I decided not to post anything about it yesterday. I needed to process this.

And I still need to process this. I haven’t written an Open Mic piece in a long time, but this now seems like the right time.

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I’ve only been skiing Taos for 13 years. Many Taos employees have worked here for over 20 years.

But over the past 13 years, I have spent most of my Thanksgiving days and Christmas mornings at Taos. Probably, if I asked you where you usually spend those days, your answer would be, Home.

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Blister and Taos go way back, long before Blister was a thing.

Reviewer Will Brown was born and raised in Taos. We still regularly see and ski with Andrea Krejci (coach of Taos’ freeride team) and Michelle Potter, the two women who taught Will to ski.

Will Brown, Taos Ski Valley, Blister Gear Review

Will Brown, Turbinator, Taos Ski Valley.

Telemark reviewer Robin Abeles was born down the road in Santa Fe, and started skiing Taos when he was 5 years old. In the past few years, grad school has taken him out to Utah and Vermont, but you will still rarely catch him without his beat-to-hell Taos trucker hat.

I first met reviewer Jason Hutchins not at Taos, but at a FWT comp at Snowbird. Mutual friends from Taos introduced us. Jason had spent several seasons at Taos and podiumed here at a FWT event before moving to Utah for school. And when I’m not in Utah, I’m usually getting texts from Jason or sending texts to him about the conditions at TSV.

For years, Blister contributor Joe Augusten has split his winters between Little Cottonwood Canyon and Taos, driving like a bat out of hell as he chased storms between the two places. If you want to start a fight, go up to Joe and tell him that you don’t think Taos has the best inbounds terrain in the lower 48.

Blister’s Justin Bobb was the first patroller in TSV’s history who was permitted to patrol on a snowboard. JBobb is basically a Taos living legend.

Justin Bobb, Taos Ski Valley, Blister Gear Review

Justin Bobb, Wonder Bowl, Taos Ski Valley.

And when reviewer Garrett Altmann finished his final run at Snowbird last season to secure his spot on the Freeride World Tour this season, there he was on camera, Blister decal on one side of his helmet, big Taos sticker on the other.

But even before all that, there is a deeper origins story about the history and relationship between Taos, the Blake family, and Blister.

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The idea of Blister was hatched on the fourth of July, 2010, in a conversation with my friend Mike Clarke.

A couple months later, I took the idea to Hano and Adriana Blake, Ernie Blake’s grandchildren who have been involved in the day-to-day operations at Taos since roughly forever.

I didn’t have a finished website, just a mockup. We had less than a handful of reviewers. All I really had was a clear set of principles: we were going to tell the damn truth.

And with little more than that, Hano and Adriana were in. They both instantly got it.

And they got it because they had both participated in ski tests in the past.

In that first meeting, I vividly remember Hano getting animated as he recalled writing down some well-articulated problems with a couple of the skis he’d tested, and how frustrated he was when those criticism never made their way into the published reviews. They knew first hand that Blister would be a good service to people who love to play in the mountains, and they wanted to help make it happen.

So for those of you who have ever written in to thank one of our contributors for an honest, helpful review, you need to know that the Blakes literally helped us get Blister off the ground, and have continued to believe in what we do and why we do it.

I hope you appreciate that. Because it is nearly impossible to imagine Blister without Taos, or the existence of Blister without the Blakes.

For those reasons, you’ll probably understand why I—like everybody who has come to love Taos—froze up when we first heard the news.

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Change is often tricky, and it is always uncertain.

Taos is a place that inspires fierce devotion. As we always say, if for you it’s really about the skiing and the riding, you’ll know why.

And I’m actually optimistic that the new ownership gets this. They’ve been around, and they know the Blakes.

More importantly, it seems that the Blakes trust them. And that is the primary reason why I am willing to place faith in the new ownership.

What I do know about the new owner is impressive. But what I am actually most impressed with is that, long before he went on to become a successful businessman and conservationist, Louis Bacon had the good sense to do a Bachelor of Arts in American Literature. I’d like to talk Thoreau and Emerson and Melville with him, find out what he thinks of the work of New Mexico resident Cormac McCarthy. Then we could talk about Taos.

Bacon has also had the good sense to own a home in Taos since 1996. He’s been here. He’s been talking with the Blakes about Taos and its future for years. I think he gets it.

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I spent the whole day yesterday and most of this morning texting, emailing, and fielding phone calls from friends about the sale of TSV. And my sense is that most of us are prepared to put faith in the new ownership, trust that they will preserve the best things about Taos, believe that they will grow Taos into a place that we will be even more proud to call Home.

5 Comments

  1. Manny December 12, 2013 Reply

    Like you, I was taken aback by the press release. Still don’t know what exactly to think………….after a bit of light reading about Mr Bacon I felt more at ease. It wasnt KSL or Vail buying it up, but a somewhat better, if still filthy rich conservationist, making the purchase. After making untracked laps down Tresckow, Billy, and even Juarez, I knew that no matter what happens with the development, the mountain wont change. God bless TSV!

  2. Claire December 13, 2013 Reply

    Jonathan, thanks for writing this. I agree, it’s a lot to take in. I feel like I won’t know this Bacon character. Will I be able to walk into his office, and his staff will yell: “Smallwood!” No, probably not. I guess even though I moved away from Taos, I still always felt like that place was home. I know that the mountains will always feel that way, but it’s obviously a sign of the inevitable: ski area progression.

    For a lot of us, the way Taos’ lifts are–and where they are–is just fine. It’s perfect. It makes you work for it. You have to want it. I just hope they don’t put a lift in that is the equivalent of the Millennium chair at Santa Fe. A lift for the sake of printing “We have new lifts!”

    I, too, like the fact that Bacon is a conservationist, has lived in Taos. The fact that he studied American Lit is just icing on the cake.

    I think overall it’s actually pretty cool–even if we don’t like the fact that TSV has been sold–that people get so emotional about it. Other ski areas get bought all the time, and people rarely bat an eye. It should be seen as a testament to the very thing we love so much about the place but didn’t know we needed to quantify. I feel proud to see so many people “processing” this news and feeling the need to talk about it. I hope the Blakes can be proud of the fact that people really do sense that this is a change in their family, in our family.

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