Aspen Skiing Co. says: ‘It’s important to stand up and be heard’ | SierraSun.com

Aspen Skiing Co. says: ‘It’s important to stand up and be heard’

Scott Condon

Aspen Skiing Co. will attempt to rebound from last winter, when its skier visits dropped about 1 percent from the previous season.

Skico logged slightly above 1.5 million skier visits in 2015-16 but slipped below that mark last winter.

Skico typically bounces around between 1.4 million and 1.5 million skier visits per season. The number dropped to between 1.2 million and 1.4 million during the Great Recession.

Company officials are playing expectations close to the vest this fall and won't say if they have budgeted for an increase in skier visits this season.

"We're an industry of optimists," said Christian Knapp, Skico chief marketing officer.

An environmental assessment study performed for the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport expansion examined skier visits trends as part of its economic analysis. The study said 1.5 million skier visits equates to roughly 200,000 individual skiers and snowboarders coming to the Aspen area on an annual basis, in addition to local skiers who buy season passes.

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Skico depends heavily on international visitors for its destination business — trips by travelers who have overnight stays. Knapp said international business will be a mixed bag this season. Some of the primary markets will be up and some down. It's related to the strength of the dollar.

"You look at the exchange rates," he said. "It's a bargain to go to Canada."

Skico officials are concerned about the effects of the "rhetoric" from President Donald Trump on business from Mexico. Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan wrote an op-ed piece that ran in the Wall Street Journal in September that said Trump's "xenophobia" was alienating wealthy travelers from Mexico. Visitation to Aspen from Mexico fell 30 percent last ski season and advance bookings for this year don't look any better, he wrote.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported a drop of nearly 700,000 international visitors to the U.S. during the first quarter of 2017 compared with the same period the prior year.

Then there's the challenges the ski industry as a whole faces trying to lure younger skiers to the slopes to replace aging baby boomers. Total skier visits were estimated at 54.7 million last season, an increase of 3.7 percent from 2015-16, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

However, the ski business has been stagnant over the past decade. The average skier visits over the 10 seasons prior to last winter was 56.4 million or 3 percent above last winter's performance. Aspen Skiing Co. logged one of its best seasons back in 1992-93.

Then there's the wild card: Strong business performance in the ski industry always depends on at least average snowfall.

scondon@aspentimes.com

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

When Aspen Skiing Co. posted a video and link to its advertising campaign, The Aspen Way, on Facebook in late September, it sparked a ton of response. More than 1,700 people “liked” the post and 667 people shared the post. There were also numerous comments. The vast majority of comments were in support of the campaign, but the comments from a handful of critics spurred the most debate. Below is a sample of the debate.

•Keiko Coghlin wrote, “Why everything and everywhere need to be so blood political? Just give us some break. Just want to ski and enjoy the mountains. If the CEO is claiming less people are coming to Aspen to ski/snowboard, has he ever thought maybe trying to be so political has something to do with it?

•One of the responses to Coghlin was made by Corey Mclernon who said, “Aspen Snowmass, fighting for Mother Earth. It’s that simple. I personally applaud and appreciate what you’re doing. And if we lose some of our clientele, I’m sure we will gain some in return.”

•Karen Neff Whipple suggested it was hypocritical for Aspen Skiing Co. to be championing policy change on climate change. “That’s interesting when many Aspen regulars, business owners, residents make up a group leaving behind huge carbon footprints (large homes, flying/driving around a lot, spending $ on items which cause ripple effect(s) as compared to the average resident of our planet.”

•Hilary K. Maley said she loves Skico’s campaign. “Why so bitter with some of the comments? People paleeze, can we shift from constant negativity and criticism? For the love of God, I’m SO over it.”