With the popularity of the Ikon Pass that was launched last year, Aspen Skiing Co. will make adjustments to deal with the masses this upcoming season.
In an annual update to Aspen City Council on Monday, Mike Kaplan, Skico’s president and CEO, spoke about specifics of last season’s surge of Ikon Pass holders at Aspen-Snowmass resorts.
Most of those visitors came on the weekends, choking parking and traffic at Aspen Highlands, as well as lift lines.
Kaplan said Skico heard loud and clear from locals about the surge of out-of-towners, noting the stickers that were plastered around town that said, “Stop Ikonizing Aspen.”
“There was no secret there was some nasty labeling going on,” he said. “The irony of this criticism, … I was taken aback by it” because Skico gets criticized for catering to the rich and famous, and the Ikon pass was a way to get the average Joe skiing.
“After I got over that reaction we tried to get to the bottom of it and first and foremost, it’s change, right? I get it,” Kaplan said of the local thinking he or she can park at Aspen Highlands on a Saturday without the lot getting full before 9:30 a.m.
“But I urge all of us, and I ask for your help, to maintain perspective and remember that it is critical to diversify our customer base. But we are not going to sit back and assume this is OK. We are committed to making sure it is a quality experience for everyone.”
He said Skico plans to hang more chairs on chairlifts that have capacity at Highlands and Snowmass to help move the lines quicker.
“There is a ton we can do,” Kaplan said of dealing with the crowds.
More buses will run from the Brush Creek Park and Ride lot, and Skico will look into message signs on Maroon Creek Road to alert motorists if the Aspen Highlands parking garage is full before traffic backs up.
Skico may also use social media platforms such as Twitter for real-time traffic information.
“That was a bad scene,” Councilwoman Ann Mullins said of the traffic lined up from Highlands to the roundabout.
Kaplan noted that skier visits were up 20% last season over the previous one, with the main driver being a banner snow year.
Local passholders were about 45% of that increase, and 40% of the skier visits over the weekends were Ikon Pass holders, with most of them hailing from the Front Range and California.
Kaplan also said 70% of the Ikon pass holders were new to Aspen-Snowmass, and the largest demographic was between 25 and 34 years old.
“They look and act like a local,” he said, adding they are younger and more accomplished skiers, which is why they flock to Highlands for steeper terrain.
The Ikon Pass is an effective tool to help Skico address the sport’s aging demographic and gain new a customer base, Kaplan said.
Joining Kaplan in the annual presentation was Auden Schendler, Skico’s vice president of sustainability.
He told council about the company’s housing project being developed in Willits in Basalt, which will further sustainability goals just with sheer manpower.
“Housing is an environmental issue,” he said, adding that any environmental endeavor requires human beings to make it happen.
Skico will build on its “Give a Flake” environmental campaign this year, which will focus on the upcoming elections and mobilizing the messaging of action around climate change.
“We want to focus primarily on issues,” Schendler said.