“Yah, hello, janitor speaking.”

It was one of Ernie Blake’s favorite jokes: to answer the phone as a nondescript custodian rather than the president of Taos Ski Valley. A defense against riled customers, he would claim. Or perhaps a ruse to trick people into confessing their unfiltered opinions about the founder.

The one-liner, however, was more truth than exaggeration. “While it was a joke when Ernie picked up the phone and answered as the janitor, there was no job, in his eyes, that he wouldn’t take on,” said Alejandro “Hano” Blake, the grandson of the late Taos Ski Valley founder. Ernie was a janitor as much as he was the ski school director, snow reporter, maintenance department, tour guide, parking attendant and founder of the Ski Valley. A jack-of-all-trades sometimes by necessity, but always by choice. He simply wanted to provide a great experience for skiers, and that usually meant wearing many hats to get it just right.

Quite literally, for that matter. Ernie seemed to have a hat for every job: a beanie inscribed with the word “JANITOR” when patrolling the parking lot. A Swiss Colonel hat when directing his ski school into groups. Proof of a physical hat wasn’t mandatory, though. Odd-job contributions were essential to the operations of Taos Ski Valley, and that work ethic trickled down to every task and employee at the resort.

To be a part of Taos Ski Valley early on meant that titles were not regulated by job descriptions, and hierarchies inevitably bowed to a level of humility that has forever shaped the resort culture. “The ski area was a bootstrap operation for a long time, and people had to be prepared to do anything it took to keep things moving,” explained Hano, who had to interview for a job picking up trash in the parking lot at 10 years old with his grandfather. “There was no job that was out of bounds for anybody that worked at the resort. It required people to get their hands dirty, and you might not know what you were doing. But that was always the expectation.”

For many employees, those expectations weren’t always easy to figure out. Ernie was notorious for firing people over minor infractions and hiring them back the next day. Fired again, then rehired on a near-weekly basis. The blasé pattern was simply part of the routine, part of the camaraderie that brought an absurd dream—to build a ski resort in an isolated corner of the Southwest—to life. “The locals thought Ernie was mad for doing what he was doing,” explained Hano. “But he was intelligent and charming and skilled at convincing people to go along with what he was doing, especially as it pertained to the Ski Valley.”

To this day, Ernie’s janitor-style philosophy is felt throughout the resort and stands as a central metaphor for the passion that has colored Taos Ski Valley from the start. “Since its humble beginning, people have felt welcome and confident about who they are and where they come from,” said Hano. “That creates a bond between the people who come to visit or work. There’s an incredible sense of community here that you can’t find anywhere else.”