ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The U.S. Forest Service has approved Taos Ski Valley's request to expand its expert terrain by 60 percent with two new lifts that will take skiers to popular high alpine areas currently accessible only to hikers.
The plan also calls for upgrades to three other lifts, thinning of trees to expand two new glade areas for advanced intermediate to expert skiers, construction of a permanent tubing facility, a snowshoe trail system and a lift-served mountain bike trail for summer visitors.
Officials hailed the action as crucial for helping the northern New Mexico ski area keep pace with competitors in Colorado.
Taos Ski Valley chief operating officer Gordon Briner says thanks to fairly good snow over two of the past three years, as well as the ski area's decision four years ago to open its trails to snowboarders, skier visits have increased, "but not to the extent that we really had hoped, and that's why we think these improvements are important."
Adding the lifts to access the Kachina and West Ridge areas above the tree line are especially important for remaining competitive with Colorado resorts like Breckenridge, Telluride and Arapahoe Basin, which say they have seen skier visits increase 10 percent since adding high alpine lifts, Briner said.
The far West Basin ridge, where one new lift is proposed, offers some of the steepest chutes and most difficult terrain - runs such as High Somewhere and Meatball.
The other lift would access Kachina Peak, which provides skiers an open bowl as well as steep chutes and rock bands.
"I am confident that, collectively, the projects approved will help Taos Ski Valley to reclaim its competitive standing in the Rocky Mountain region," Diana Trujillo, acting supervisor of the Carson National Forest, said in a statement announcing approval of the plan. "Taos Ski Valley is unique in the ski industry, where it is renowned for steep, adventurous terrain and uncrowded slopes."
Plans also call for a new drop-off area and reconfiguration of the resort's parking lots.
Briner declined to give any time frame for completing the plans.
"We've been in this process for over two years," he said. "Now that we have the record of decision signed, it's time to start putting our priorities in a list."