It’s no secret that ski resorts around the planet are facing an existential crisis—in comparison to 30 years ago, winters are now shorter by a month on average, and global warming has many resorts wondering if and how they’ll be able to survive in a future with ever briefer ski seasons and less snowfall. In the United States, where skiing is a $50 billion industry, many outfits are leaning more heavily on artificial snow (which is less desirable to skiers since it’s much harder than fresh powder and is not exactly great for the environment) in the face of unprecedented drought and warmer weather.
Spurred on by the rapidly increasing effects of climate change, resorts are adopting more eco-conscious policies that seek to reduce their carbon footprints. One New Mexican ski resort, however, is taking big strides to make environmentalism a core part of its DNA: Taos Ski Valley.
In 2017, Taos Ski Valley made headlines for becoming the first ski resort in the world to achieve B-Corporation certification, which recognizes the company’s efforts to reduce water usage, manage its waste, connect with the greater Taos community, and responsibly steward the land the resort is located on in the Carson National Forest. However, for some, experiencing the valley’s ecofriendly ethos begins even before they arrive. In 2018, Taos Ski Valley launched Taos Air, a private airline that offers a nonstop, carbon-offset way to get to Taos if you happen to live in or near a city the company services, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas, or Austin.
Before Taos Air, getting to Taos Ski Valley was a bit of a headache—ski bunnies were usually forced to brave the 155-mile, three-hour drive from Albuquerque International Sunport.
“You’d talk to skiers and they’d all say, ‘I’ve heard of Taos and I’ve always wanted to go, but it’s so tough to get there,’” says David Norden, CEO of Taos Ski Valley. “So, we started to look into transportation and said, ‘How do we get air service?’”
Taos Air is completely carbon neutral and has been since inception. It works in partnership with B Corporation Native Energy, which calculates exactly how much carbon dioxide Taos Air generates and ensures that the airline invests enough money in carbon-offset programs (such as the May Ranch Avoided Grassland Conversion Project, which aims to preserve 14,546 acres of native prairie in Colorado) to make up for operations.
In March 2022, I made the trek to Taos Ski Valley via Taos Air from my home in Los Angeles—it would be my first time seeing snow in real life, not to mention my first time skiing. Since Taos Air is a private airline, the check-in process is gloriously simple: I showed my driver’s license to the attendant behind the ticket counter and was ready to go. After checking in my bags (at Taos Air, two checked bags are included with ticket fare as well as one carry-on item), I sipped free coffee and perused the snacks on offer—things that are usually only available to those with lounge access. Taos Air has two Dornier 328 jets that fly passengers to Taos, and both have enough seating for 30 people. Because I was traveling toward the end of ski season, the plane was only half full.
Upon landing, I took the 40-minute bus from Taos Regional Airport to Taos Ski Valley. The valley is famous for 300 inches of annual snowfall and its notoriously challenging black diamonds. I could see snowboarders doing ollies off the mountainside from my safe roost at the bottom of the slope near the café.
Taos Ski Valley was established by ski-crazy couple Ernie and Rhoda Blake in 1955, and it is one of the few in the nation that are still independently owned. In 2014, the resort was sold to investor and conservationist Louis Bacon, who has since sunk more than $300 million into revamping the property, according to the New York Times. Since revitalization began, an ice rink, a new plaza, the Blake Hotel (which opened in 2017), and four new ski lifts have been added—this year, plans to tack on another gondola and hiking trail to the property were also proposed.
The decision to sell to an independent owner, rather than an investment conglomerate, was an intentional choice by the Blake family, who felt it was important that their original vision of an intimate, responsibly run resort in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was preserved. Since its sale, the resort has accomplished several notable achievements, besides getting the B-Corp seal of approval. In 2017, the Blake Hotel earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification, for its sustainability efforts, which included reducing single-use plastics by installing water bottle refilling stations and using geothermal energy to heat the building. Additionally, the resort was recently certified carbon neutral in August 2022 and, shortly afterward, committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Four days of ski rentals at Taos Ski Valley are included with the cost of a Taos Air ticket, and I wasted no time in (gingerly) hitting those slopes. The mountains, at the very southern tip of the mighty Rockies, strike a sharp contrast to the high desert of Taos proper and are so beautiful it felt like I was walking around in a real-life version of Red Dead Redemption 2. With the help of a ski instructor (who assured me there was no way I could go flying off the mountain), I graduated from timidly pizza-ing down bunny slopes to gleefully plunging off intermediate hills—no black diamonds were attempted. As I sat in the ski lift, among snow-dusted aspens while snowglobe-like powder fell from the sky, it was hard to imagine that all of this, the picture-perfect winter landscape, could one day be gone.
But for Taos Ski Valley, preserving the beauty of the mountainous New Mexican landscape for generations to come has always been a part of the plan. It’s why all facets of the resort, from its hotel to its airline, aim to become more environmentally conscientious—there would be no Taos Ski Valley without any snow, after all.
“How do you combine a resort, recreation, outdoor activities, and running a business with doing good for your community and for your planet?” Norden asks. “We’re really trying to find that balance—it’s important and the time is right.”
Taos Air currently services four different airports: Dallas–Love Field, Austin–Executive Airport, Carlsbad–San Diego, and Hawthorne–Los Angeles. But keep in mind: Because Taos Air is a small company, it doesn’t service each city daily. Austin and Carlsbad–San Diego have flights on Thursdays and Sundays, Dallas on Mondays and Fridays, and Los Angeles on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This year, winter services will run from December 15, 2022, to April 3, 2023.