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Taos Ski Valley commits to new lift

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Kachina Peak at Taos Ski Valley will get a chair lift for the 2014-2015 ski season. (Courtesy of Taos Ski Valley, Inc.)

Kachina Peak at Taos Ski Valley will get a chair lift for the 2014-2015 ski season. (Courtesy of Taos Ski Valley, Inc.)

Iconic Kachina Peak looms over Taos Ski Valley at an altitude of 12,481 feet, and until this season ends, it can be skied and snowboarded from the top only by way of a hearty, 40-minute hike.

But with the start of the 2014-15 ski season, it will be a lot easier to take on the peak. The ski valley announced on Monday that it will install the new Kachina Peak Chair Lift this summer.

The new lift, which will cost about $3 million, “will increase the mountain’s advanced and expert lift-serviced terrain by 50 percent,” the ski valley said in a news release.

“Because it’s Kachina and we wanted to protect the views, substantially all the construction will be done by helicopter,” ski valley marketing director Chris Stagg said on Monday. It should take about eight weeks to install, he said.

The lift was in the ski valley Master Plan that was approved by the U.S. Forest Service in 2012.

In December, the Blake family and the 100- odd stockholders in Taos Ski Valley, Inc. announced the planned sale of the resort to billionaire conservationist and hedge fund owner Louis Bacon.

The ski valley would have been hard-pressed to improve the lifts and amenities at the resort with just the revenue from lift ticket sales, officials said in December.

“We had planned to do this anyway; it’s part of moving forward with the new owners,” Stagg said. “They are supportive of the new vision.” Stockholders approved the sale earlier this month, and it’s expected the deal could close in February, he said.

Ski valley founder Ernie Blake, who died in 1989, always envisioned a chair lift to the top of Kachina Peak, the news release said. “In many ways this lift is a tribute to Ernie and his legacy,” said Ernie’s son Mickey Blake, who is also president of Taos Ski Valley, Inc.

The new lift will be built by Salt Lake City-based Skytrac. It will be a triple seat chair that will travel 1,100 vertical feet in five minutes to a top elevation of 12,450 feet.

Those wishing to hike can still take a shorter journey from the lift drop-off to the peak’s summit and “enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery in the Rocky Mountains,” the ski valley said.

Some local skiers, who consider the peak hike a sacred local tradition and plant Tibetan prayer flags on top, were not overjoyed when the idea of the lift to the top was first broached. Environmental group Amigos Bravos also raised concerns about the lift.

The lift-served vertical drop – from the highest resort point to the base – is now 2,612 feet, but with the addition of the Kachina lift it will be more than 3,000 vertical feet. If you hike to the very top of Kachina, the drop remains 3,274 feet.

Ski valley officials said they are committed to preserving the majority of the current hiking terrain.

“It was Ernie Blake’s vision to establish a ski area that was as spectacular as the resorts he knew in Europe with above tree line, wide open terrain and fantastic views,” Jean Mayer, technical director of the Ernie Blake Ski School said in the news release.

“The new lift will allow skiers and boarders coming from lower altitudes to enjoy the total mountain “while preserving most of the hiking terrain for those of us who enjoy the climb,” he said.

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