"We think this may be the only lift in the country where directly out of the base area, you can access greens, blue, blacks and double-blacks."
Decades ago, Ernie Blake and his crew hand-installed Lift 1 at Taos Ski Valley to run up the steep face of the black diamond Al's Run. His vision was to give skiers immediate access to world-class terrain.
But, on Thursday (Nov. 22), Blake's vision is reimagined and modernized as the resort unveils a new high-speed quad that will carry skiers and snowboarders.
"We think this may be the only lift in the country where directly out of the base area, you can access greens, blue, blacks and double-blacks," said Dave Norden, CEO of Taos Ski Valley.
At the top of Al's, the new Lift 1 ends where the old Lift 5 (dismantled in 2017) used to stop. This new placement means riders can drop into green White Feather, blue Porcupine, black Al's Run, and double-black North American trails - all from one lift.
"Also, with one lift instead of two on Al's Run, there's less hardware. So I think Al's will ski a lot nicer," Norden said.
The new high-speed quad elevates its passengers at a brisk five minutes, reducing the length of the chair ride almost in half from the old lift's time.
In addition to speed, the new lift's detachable machinations make for a smoother ride.
"You won't have that stop-and-go you had with old Lift 1. Very often when we loaded Ski Patrol with avalanche dogs or sleds, or when we loaded young children, we'd have to stop the old lift. We don't need to stop the lift anymore. That convenience will be part of the new ride," Norden said.
He explained that the rope speed, the speed of the cable, is considerably faster than a fixed-grip lift. As the chair comes into the terminal, the grip detaches so the chair keeps moving through the terminal but at a much slower rate than the cable. Passengers board with convenience. However, the overhead cable keeps its speed.
"After people get on the chair, the chair will slide down, the grip will tighten back on the cable and you'll be up and running," said Norden.
The lift's manufacturer is Leitner-Poma based in Grand Junction, Colorado. They are the makers of cable transport systems, including chairlifts, gondolas and aerial trams.
They are the North American subsidiary of the storied Pomalift Corp. in France. The company's heritage is famous and well-known in the ski industry; they installed many of the earliest lifts at resorts throughout the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, Ernie Blake installed an early Poma (platter) lift in 1957, where the new high-speed lift is presently located.
John Kelly, the director of operations at Taos Ski Valley, explained that the new Lift 1 had an extensive safety review and testing process. Since the ski resort operates on U.S. Forest Service land, the new lift also had to be certified by the Forest Service for safety.
"We had the manufacturer's engineer out here for two weeks straight and the Forest Service's lead engineer for the country out here. We simulated loads on the lift to test for safety," Kelly explained.
Kelly previously worked at Telluride Ski Resort and started in Taos four years ago with the new ownership. As for snow conditions, he estimates the base to be between 18 to 24 inches (as of Tuesday (Nov. 20), and snowmaking operations have been in full swing.
"We've increased our pumping capacity. At two different locations, we've purchased 25 new high-efficiency tower guns. They are permanently mounted to the side of the trail and really cover the trail well. They complement our other snow guns," said Kelly.
Taos Ski Valley took an unusual corporate step as a ski resort last year. In 2017, Taos Ski Valley became the first major ski resort to achieve B Corp certification in recognition of its environmentally friendly practices. Kelly pointed out that the old lifts were outmoded equipment using a lot more power. He said the new high-speed lift is "cleaner across the board."
Outside magazine recently recognized Taos Ski Valley as one of the top 10 eco-friendly ski resorts in the nation.
The snowmaking crew comprises 25 members who work 12-hour shifts around the clock. While it's still too early to call the weather forecast for opening weekend, below-freezing overnight temperatures have aided snow production.
"There'll probably be some competition for first chair this year," said Kelly.
John Cottam, the former owner of Cottam's Ski Shops, learned how to ski at Taos Ski Valley when he was 2 years old. "Ernie had a Poma lift, a platter, where the new high-speed chair is. The change is wonderful here," he said.
Cottam said his store was recently sold to Christy's Sports but will still operate under the name of Cottam's. "It's been a wonderful run. We've been in operation since December 1976," he said.
Cottam is looking forward to a great year at Taos Ski Valley. Since the Blake family sold the ski resort to Louis Bacon in 2013, the new ownership has made numerous improvements. This installation of new high-speed quad is the most recent.
Beyond the quad chairlift, Taos Ski Valley is going even further and will land its first Taos Air flight at Taos Regional Airport Dec. 20. Taos Ski Valley bought the plane, and charters will be operated by an independent company from Taos to Austin and Dallas.
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