Two days later, I share the beer story with Alejandro Blake, the 34-year-old grandson of Taos’s founder Ernie Blake. We’re talking about the staffing problems that resorts face, the difficulty of finding good employees, of keeping them, and how being the only show in town—or at least the biggest one—can be a curse. As the third generation of Blakes to oversee management of Taos, Alejandro is sensitive to the issues. “We have people who have worked for us for 10, 20, 30 years,” he says. “They’re family. Their kids grow up here, and some end up working here. We try to find positions for them where they can excel.”
And it shows. An odd sense of bliss seems to permeate the resort: The cook gladly tweaks my breakfast-burrito order. The janitor cleaning the floor of the bathroom asks me how my day was. The guys in the shop let me borrow an iron to wax my own skis. Even the dude shoveling snow is smiling. “It’s good exercise,” he tells me as he digs out a stairway at my condo.
It might be good exercise, but I don’t offer to join him. Family resorts may be endangered, but Taos is home to one of the most endangered species of all: the relaxed powder day. It’s 11 A.M., but most of the mountain remains untracked. Locals stop at the top of the lift and chat. The hike-to lines are still untouched. Accustomed to the frenzied powder-day scenes at places like Snowbird and Jackson, I can’t quite believe it or even really adjust to the slower tempo. I charge six top-to-bottom laps before taking a break. As I lean over my poles to catch my breath, I can’t help but ask a liftie about the snow bike that’s leaning against a shed. “We don’t need to ski,” he smiles broadly. “Those bikes rip!”
It’s a bit odd, a mountain that would even allow—in this age of litigation—a staff member to ride the obviously high-risk contraptions that sit casually outside the lift shacks. But that’s the beauty of Taos. Later I see a liftie astride a snow bike, charging through powder-covered bumps in a frenzy of face shots. Yes, indeed, those bikes rip!