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January 31, 2013
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Bouquets and brickbats for Aspen Skiing Co.

Dear Editor:

For what it is worth, following are some observations about Aspen-Snowmass' 2013 winter season from one who owns a condo in Snowmass and has been a winter visitor for more than 20 years.

I'll first offer "bouquets" and then "brickbats."

Bouquets to Aspen Skiing Co. for making the best of a bad snow season and, last week, some of the coldest weather on record. Skico's personnel selection is astonishingly good, from my observation, particularly the folk who man the Snowmass gondola - ever cheerful, friendly and helpful - and same for the staff at the new Elk Camp restaurant.

Bouquets to Skico snow groomers for doing a "loaves and fishes" job, working with so little and achieving the nearly impossible: groomed runs with very little snow coverage. Sure, the groomed runs are less than ideal, but to have them at all under the circumstances requires exceptional skill and expertise. Well done, guys!

Bouquets to ski instructors. My daughter and grandchildren have just returned to Australia after a 15-day visit and had a multiplicity of instructors in ski school and the Women's Edge program; their skiing and snowboarding skills radically improved despite less-than-ideal snow conditions and some frigid days. I have received ski instruction in Europe, where every pro teaches differently. Here, Skico's ongoing training programs have resulted in uniformity of instruction. Bouquets, then, to the instructors of instructors!

Bouquets to bus drivers, shuttles and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, invariably pleasant, friendly and helpful and excellent ambassadors for our resort.

Now for the brickbats. Skiing is a competitive industry, and as we all know, there are other resorts competing for the same visitor dollar.

1. There's a very high price for on-mountain hot beverages, ridiculous given the cost of providing a tea bag and hot water or coffee. I know it is a captive market, but really!

2. Airfares from Sydney to Aspen are astonishingly high during the month of January, when Australian schoolchildren have their long summer holiday. The cheapest we could get for our grandchildren (ages 12 and 14) was around $3,400. Outside of school holidays, fares are about half of that. There were much cheaper airfares to Canada on offer.

3. We were unable to buy equipment-rental/ski-tuition/lift-pass packages for our grandchildren from Skico. I emailed Skico on the availability of such packages in October (no reply) and called the head of the ski school, who was unable to help. I had to buy lessons, equipment, hire and passes overseas at a considerable cost-saving over buying direct from Skico. This seems silly for a long-term client and supporter of Skico. Never can I understand why wholesalers can sell a product at a lower cost than the supplier of goods or services. Even buying these overseas, one has to buy item by item instead of buying a package deal.

4. Following on my third point, consider affordability! Does anyone in Skico marketing do their sums and calculate what it costs to bring children on a ski vacation? I know bringing our family here this year, renting the gear, buying the lift passes and paying for ski school almost broke the bank. It is like buying an air ticket sector by sector instead of from origin to final destination. Maybe this is why I talked to Australians who were this year "defecting" to Canada, a much less costly destination, or so I am advised.

I suggest that when setting prices, suppliers should consider the affordability factor. Having a great product to sell is one thing, but pricing it out of the reach of all but the super-rich is another. Not many of us can afford $500-plus for a half-day, private ski lesson, much as we would like to have one and no matter how great the standard of instruction.

Ian Sanderson

Snowmass Village


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The Aspen Times Updated Jan 31, 2013 06:26AM Published Jan 31, 2013 01:43AM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.