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Ski execs: Don’t worry, be happy about upcoming ski season

CHARLES AGAR
Pitkin County correspondent
summit daily news

ASPEN ” Despite a gloomy economy, ski executives are upbeat about the upcoming season and the future of the industry.

At Thursday’s annual Aspen Chamber Resort Association and Aspen Skiing Co. community luncheon, held at the Sundeck on Aspen Mountain, officials predicted a rosy future ” provided the flakes fly.

Skico CEO Mike Kaplan said he’s nervous about the economy, the state of the airline industry, airport baggage troubles and a shortage of seasonal employees. But he is still enthused.

“I’m not that worried,” Kaplan said, citing the strength of the Aspen/Snowmass brand and the strong commitment from the community.

Kaplan said big changes on local mountains will be a boon to the season.

This winter will see a new restaurant on Sam’s Knob, four new restaurants at Base Village and a new high-speed quad chairlift on Sheer Bliss at Snowmass Ski Area. There will be a new trail in Deep Temerity at Highlands, and at Aspen Mountain, a newly remodeled Ajax Tavern at the base is scheduled to open.

The rebuilt Holiday House in Aspen will house some 150 Skico employees, Kaplan said, and he pointed to new Skico green initiatives, such as the new solar array in Carbondale.

Nationwide, the ski industry is booming, said keynote speaker Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association.

The 2007-08 season posted an all-time high of 60.5 million skier visits across the country, a 10 percent increase, and international visitors are increasingly taking advantage of a weak dollar in the United States.

Berry congratulated Skico executives for setting a high bar and cracking the “multi-generational code” by attracting all ages to the hill.

Events such as the Winter X Games put Aspen on the map for young, up-and-coming skiers and snowboarders, Berry said.

And Aspen is a leader in North American resorts that once took their cues from Europeans but are now setting the standard.

Berry cited years dating back to 1957, when, despite slumps in the stock market, good snow brought skiers out in record numbers.

“It’s about snow and about a sport that takes a higher place in people’s lives than other things they do,” Berry said.

And not even gas prices will keep them away, he said, adding that the more far-flung resorts might have to find creative ways to get people to the mountains, but that the average Joe will always chase the snow.

Kaplan gave a rundown of the successful 2007-08 season, noting that despite a late start (Kaplan said he biked up Independence Pass in late November), a seven-day, 70-inch storm of “Biblical proportions” kicked off the season and sent pictures of Aspen’s big dump via satellite from the women’s World Cup.

And national attention, from early snow dumps and special events to the unique one-weekend opening in June, is the best advertising going, Kaplan said.


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