David Norden

David Norden

CEO | Taos Ski Valley

Industry
Hospitality

Location
Taos, New Mexico


Featured In
CSQ Q3 2019, Social Responsibility 

David Norden: This Taos-Based CEO and B Corp Leader Sheds Light on the Pandemic’s Affects to His Ski Community

Taos Ski Valley—which boasts 305 inches of annual snowfall and more than 110 trails—is in its third year of being a B Corp, which merges standards for social and environmental performance with accountability and purpose. Around the world, some 3,000 companies have committed to becoming B Corporations, including Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Tom’s of Maine, Toms, and Danone—but Taos is the only ski resort to carry that distinction. Since earning B Corp status in February 2017, the Ski Valley has not only increased revenue, but seen increases to employee performance, satisfaction, and retention. 
Its CEO, David Norden, began his career in the ski industry working for the SE Group as the vice president of Spruce Peak Realty of the AIG Global Real Estate Investment Corp, where he relaunched the historic Stowe Mountain Resort and secured the first-ever Audubon International Certified Sustainable Community designation. Norden also served as Project Manager for the Hines Resorts development of Aspen Highlands Village, Colorado. He joined the Taos Ski Valley in 2016 and was responsible for it achieving B Corp status. Each February, Norden hosts a private conference for other B Corp leaders so that different industries and learn from and work with each other.

What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19? 

Our chief concern is the safety and overall wellness of our employees and guests, as well as for the small Taos community, which could be disproportionally affected by out-of-town visitors. For this reason, we made the decision to close Taos Ski Valley resort three weeks early. However, it was not a decision we made lightly, as we understand the impact that our resort closing will have on the many small businesses that operate in Taos Ski Valley.

What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation? 

This crisis is unprecedented, and while we were still open, we were meeting as a leadership team numerous times a day. Initially, our strategy was to give the public some warning that we’d be closing the season two weeks earlier than expected and enable visitors to cancel or reschedule their planned trips, our staff to wind down duties, and local small businesses to plan for the impact they would experience, too. However, as the crisis advanced, we determined that we needed to close down even more quickly. It didn’t leave our visitors or small business partners with as much of a warning as we wished we could have, but it became clear that we needed to act fast to mitigate potential spread of COVID-19. 

Travel brands that are able to demonstrate how they’re caring for their communities, environment, and employees throughout an unprecedented crisis will earn long-lasting trust and will be the brands that consumers return to when they’re able.

How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now? 

The travel industry will have a steep recovery period after the threat of COVID-19 has passed. However, I think Americans will be more in need of relaxation, the respite of the outdoors, and the replenishment that travel can provide than ever before. 

Forward-thinking travel businesses can focus on doing right by their consumers, including operating through the crisis transparently and fairly. Even before COVID-19, corporate social responsibility was becoming more important to travelers. People want to vote with their wallets, and support businesses that are doing good in the world. Travel brands that are able to demonstrate how they’re caring for their communities, environment, and employees throughout an unprecedented crisis will earn long-lasting trust and will be the brands that consumers return to when they’re able. 

What have you learned from other difficult times in the past? 

The ski industry has truly never seen anything like this before, so there are no apples-to-apples comparisons that would be fair.

However, something that has guided me through the crisis has been our B Corporation ethos. As a certified B Corp, these values have been a beacon as we’ve navigated through the current environment. 

B Corps are committed to meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, sustainability, public transparency and accountability. We held our crisis decision-making up against these values, which helped us quickly divert from questions about our own profitability to instead considering the impact to our entire community: visitors, employees, and surrounding residents.


Safe–and entertained–at Home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime 

 

There really is no downtime during a crisis period like this, but our leadership team recognizes the need for self-care so we can be as strong as possible during these turbulent times. For me, it means a slower morning with a focus on either yoga, a morning run, or a light workout. It also means making time to enjoy some of those small hobbies that have slipped away over the years. So now I am sitting at the piano for 10–15 minutes a day. And with our daughter now in residence and dining out no longer an option, our early evenings revolve around cooking together and putting the healthiest ingredients possible into a homecooked meal. Finally, because we are so fortunate to live in a gorgeous mountain setting, long walks are now the norm, where we can drink in as much nature as possible and notice those small special treats like the songbirds of early spring.