A farewell pat on the back for Pat
November 14, 2006
Since Pat O’Donnell assumed leadership of the Aspen Skiing Co., this newspaper has had a lot more positive things to say about the Skico than it did before. With O’Donnell stepping down this week, it seemed a good time to reflect on his 10 years at the helm.This is an unusually harmonious time for the Skico and its “host” community. Aspen is a uniquely testy town, and the leader of the biggest employer in the upper valley is a lightning rod. But O’Donnell took Aspen’s measure early on and became very good at listening and – by and large – cooperating.The Skico can be both enemy and friend of the local people. It provides powder skiing, but it can also restrict access, hire and fire local workers, and wield enormous power. The Skico is both developer and environmentalist.So O’Donnell didn’t have an easy job. But as he leaves, the company enjoys generally positive relationships with its employees, it is generally well-regarded in the community and it has established a national if not global reputation for environmental stewardship.Sure, there are blemishes. Many believe Snowmass’ Base Village is an oversized development that’s already crippling Snowmass Village; many, including this newspaper, continue to question the planned development of Burnt Mountain with more ski runs. Broadly speaking, however, the Skico under O’Donnell has polished its image and improved its standing on many fronts. With terrain expansions into Deep Temerity and Highland Bowl, the Skico has elevated the quality of local skiing and expanded the definition of “area skiing.” By attracting the X Games to Buttermilk, staging outdoor concerts in Aspen and eliminating the snowboard ban on Aspen Mountain, the Skico shed its elitist image and reinvented itself. The Classic Pass is a great value for locals and Front Rangers alike. Perhaps most important, the Skico has kept the destination resort of Aspen/Snowmass viable through the Front Range price wars, the threat of Y2K and the post-Sept. 11 doldrums.O’Donnell has built a good team, including Bill Tomcich of the central bookings agency Stay Aspen Snowmass. Tomcich’s tireless work has helped secure new airline service vital to Aspen’s success.Through all these efforts, O’Donnell and his team have the Skico on the way to recovering the record number of skier visits it logged in 1997-98.No Aspenite will ever agree with everything O’Donnell did, and virtually every Aspenite will find something to criticize about the Skico. Criticizing the Skico is a local pastime. But we believe Pat O’Donnell did an excellent job. We congratulate him on his retirement and wish his successor, Mike Kaplan, the best of luck.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.