I want to discuss Aspen Skiing Co. president Mike Kaplan's comments at the Pitkin County commissioners' retreat to the Limelite Lodge on Tuesday evening. If you will allow me to paraphrase, Kaplan said that United Airlines has a monopoly at our airport. It is the only option for visitors who don't own a private jet. United's prices are ridiculously high, and the number of flights is limited. Accordingly, this community should be diligent in getting United to come around to a more reasonable business plan.
Now, if you will allow me interpret, what Kaplan really said is that Skico has given this town a perfectly good monopoly over the years and there's no reason to let United Airlines cut into the action now. Skico came up with the prescription for making a killing by raising ticket prices to limit the number of tickets sold. Remember the slogan, "Uncrowded by design"? Well, they could trademark that, but they can't protect the price-gouging formula behind it. If United raises its prices until it hurts so badly that only a few jet-less rich people can fly into this town, Skico will have fewer people to sock it to at its ticket booths. It's just not fair!
Skico has a solid argument as to why we should support its side in this battle to dominate the Aspen snow-tourist market completely: It is the monopolist we know; the benevolent monopolist, if you will; perhaps even the green monopolist, if you're particularly gullible. Sure, they price single-day tickets and season passes at prices that hurt ... a lot, in many cases. But, as far as I know, nobody has died from their pricing model, and a good majority of local customers come back year after year to bite the bullet even though they know the flavor hasn't changed.
The only argument United could make is the old "I'm rubber, you're glue" thing. It could say that, if Skico lowered its ticket prices, more people would want to vacation here, and then it would make sense for the airline to add more flights to accommodate the increase in demand. With more passengers to haul, they might achieve some sort of economy of scale and perhaps even lower prices on their flights. If enough people wanted to visit, other airlines might want to get in on the action, creating competition and putting further downward pressure on the cost of flying. But, of course, this is a ridiculous argument because anyone who would make it just has it out for Skico.
What I like best about Skico's approach to this issue is that it demonstrates an intimate knowledge of Aspen. It knows that, as residents of this fine community of unequaled charm surrounded by incomprehensible natural beauty, we find some of our greatest joy in simple meddling. We are inspired somehow almost every day to tell other people how to do things, not the least of which is how to manage their business. To be a true, blue, died- in-the-council-chambers local is to micromanage from an armchair to whom what, where, why and how much somebody else's shop should sell. Selling at too low a price is the venial sin of compromising the "Aspen" brand, while getting every last red cent and then happily closing up shop is the mortal sin of selling out. It's walking the slackline of mountain resort commerce.
We are used to telling shop owners when to close their front doors to save energy and dictating to which customers they are permitted to give plastic shopping bags - buy a cashmere sweater, "yes;" a head of lettuce, "no."
So the question for us residents of Aspen is: Which business do we harangue this time? The lone airline currently deciding how many visitors it wants to carry into our town or the ski-lift operators who pretty much decide everything else? It's not easy since they are both part of the despised corporate world. We might go after both, but we have scant history of attacking two issues at the same time. It could distract us.
Then again, rather than risk dividing the community over an issue, which has become old hat, we could try the us-against-the-world approach that we have only thus far tested without quantifiable results in the dubious battle against planetary destruction. How about opening a discussion about the local gas stations? Telling a cartel how to alter its behavior could be fun, too.
If you would like to tell Roger Marolt what to say in his column, you can contact him at email@example.com.