By Conor Shine in “Dallas News” website of The Dallas Morning News, October 13, 2018
North Texans looking to hit the ski slopes near Taos, N.M., will have a new, convenient option to get there this winter with the introduction of nonstop charter service from Dallas Love Field.
It’s the latest step to revitalize the iconic destination famed for its steep peaks and technical runs after it was bought in 2014 by the hedge fund billionaire and conservationist Louis Bacon. Since then, the Taos Ski Valley resort has undergone a $300 million renovation, getting new ski lifts, a new luxury hotel and other renovations to bring the historic destination into the 21st century after years of declining visitor levels.
David Norden, CEO of Taos Ski Valley, said the new flights from Dallas are meant to improve access from a market where the resort already has a strong customer base by replacing an 11-hour journey by car with a trip of less than three hours.
“It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild a legacy brand,” said Norden. “The pitch is an easy one: This is the easiest route to the Rockies.”
Texas is the largest source of out-of-state visitors for New Mexico’s $6.6 billion tourism industry. An estimated 1.7 million Texans stayed overnight in the state in 2016, according to the most recent figures from the New Mexico Tourism Department. The same study found that only 1 in 5 visitors traveled to or within the state by airplane. For Taos, the nearest major airport is in Albuquerque, nearly three hours away by car.
The new flights to Taos Regional Airport will operate three days a week — Thursday, Saturday and Sunday — from Dec. 20 through the end of March. Tickets are available to the public, with fares starting at $199 one-way.
The flights will operate under the new Taos Air brand on a 30-seat Dornier 328 jet, with experienced operator Ultimate Jet Charters providing the crews and aircraft management.
Travelers will be able to board from a fixed base at Love Field — avoiding Transportation Security Administration lines in the process — and, after landing, will be shuttled up to the ski valley, where Rossignol ski equipment will be ready for them to use.
“It’s easy on and off the plane, you don’t need a car, you don’t need skis,” Norden said. “We’re trying to do what we can to remove those hassles.”
Taos Air will also operate charter service from Austin on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
The service was made possible by a new $24 million runway built at the Taos airport, which Norden said has already led to an uptick in traffic from private planes.
“Now with Taos Air, for the first time we’re going to have regularly scheduled flights that are connected to our resort property,” he said.
Taos Ski Valley traces its history to the 1950s, when it was spotted from a small plane by German immigrant Ernie Blake, who, with the help of his family, developed it into a European-influenced ski resort. The area’s dry snow and steep, technical runs helped it develop a following among skiers, with the number of visitors peaking in the 1990s.
But the resort stagnated even as other popular destinations across the Mountain West invested heavily to upgrade their properties.
Norden said Taos Ski Valley hopes to keep a more intimate feel than the “ski cities” that have taken root at other popular destinations, while also capitalizing on the nearby town of Taos’ cultural offerings and unique blend of Native American and Spanish influences.
“We felt with some nice vision and reinvestment into the property, we could put it back on the scale where it had always been recognized,” he said.
If successful, Norden said, Taos Air could expand its operations to more cities, including Houston, and potentially more days of service.
“Step one is let’s get our first winter under our belt,” he said.