Skico joins entrance fray
January 30, 2007
ASPEN The Aspen Skiing Co. is making a rare foray into local politics to try to break the impasse over the Entrance to Aspen.In a sharply worded guest commentary, which appears today in The Aspen Times (see columnists), the Skico says it is time to “fix the Entrance” and end the environmental and economic harm the community is suffering.”This cluster jam of idling cars is a mockery of what Aspen stands for, the ideas modern Aspen was founded on, and the quality of life that keeps up here,” the letter said. “It’s ruining our town. Visitors come to Aspen seeking a world-class resort and find world-class gridlock.”Nine senior executives of the company, including President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Kaplan, and Skico Senior Vice President Mountain Division David Perry, signed the letter. It said the senior staff discussed the issue and decided the Skico must step up and take an advocacy position.”This is not an issue we can remain silent on,” Perry said. “We just want to see the current stalemate alleviated.”The debate over the Entrance to Aspen has simmered and boiled since the late 1960s. There have been 26 votes related to the Entrance over the last 37 years.The city government is renewing meetings to try to reach a conclusion. “Voices on the Entrance” meetings will take place from 5-9:30 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3. Both public meetings will be in the Aspen High School cafeteria.Perry said most, if not all, the senior executives will attend at least one of the meetings. The Skico is also informing its employees about the issues and meetings, and urging them to attend. Participation is voluntary, Perry stressed.When asked if the Skico’s activism on the entrance signals a greater role in politics for the company, Perry said that will be determined on a case-by-case basis. The company doesn’t have a political agenda, he said.The Skico was in the thick of a political fight two years ago to try to earn approval from Snowmass Village voters for its Base Village project. However, it’s also played an occasional role in issues of broader public concern. In the mid-1990s, the Skico teamed with the Aspen/Snowmass Village business community to try to convince Pitkin County voters to approve an airport runway expansion to accommodate the Boeing 737 aircraft. The issue lost by a wide margin, and the Skico retreated from the political forefront.The Skico has also endorsed candidates at times in Aspen and Pitkin County elections past.Perry said the stakes are too high for the Skico to sit out the Entrance debate. The company’s letter starts with an anecdote about a family that missed a ski date with friends on Aspen Mountain because it took two hours to travel from Snowmass Village by free skier shuttle. The family vowed to never return to Aspen Mountain.Perry said that example is not an isolated case. The company believes the gridlock is having an economic effect that could grow more severe if not addressed. A 10 percent drop in business could result in a $1 million loss in sales tax revenues, the Skico’s letter noted.The Skico supports the “preferred alternative,” which would add two lanes for mass transit, as the route to pursue.While that solution isn’t perfect, it is an improvement, Perry said. It is also consistent with the Skico’s position of promoting mass transit. The company contributed $1.8 million to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority for operation of free skier shuttles between Aspen and Snowmass Village during the Skico’s 2005-06 fiscal year. It also contributed $832,000 to the town of Snowmass Village for its shuttle system.That figure will be closer to $3 million this year, Perry said.The Skico wasn’t alone in weighing in on the transportation problems. The Aspen Business Improvement League, an association of downtown core businesses, urged the city to approve the preferred alternative and consider funding improvements if there is a delay in state funding.The business league also lobbied for a variety of short term solutions, including “a ballot initiative to approve a two-lane configuration of the roundabout.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.