A sneak peek into the future of skiing in Colorado

Aspen Skiing Co. exec Rana Dershowitz to speak today at annual Colorado Ski Country USA gathering in Denver

Rana Dershowitz, the COO and chief legal officer of Aspen Skiing Co., at the base of Aspen Mountain on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

What does the future of Colorado skiing look like?

Change and growth, and balance, too, according to Rana Dershowitz, the chief legal officer and chief operating officer of the mountain division for Aspen Skiing Co.

Dershowitz is poised to offer a glimpse at what that might look like at the annual meeting today in Denver for the trade group Colorado Ski Country USA. She and two other Colorado ski resort chiefs — Rob Perlman, the president and COO of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., and Ryan Schramm, the general manager at Powderhorn Mountain Resort — are slated to speak at the meeting about “building the future of Colorado skiing,” according to an announcement from Colorado Ski Country USA.

That could mean “changing demographics” as more people from different backgrounds get into the sport during climate change, which already is altering the landscape of the industry with “shorter winters and more extremes,” Dershowitz said in an interview with The Aspen Times last week.

Then, too, there’s change in the nature of skiers’ relationship to the sport and to the industry as people try to find “the balance of the connectedness to nature and the connectedness to tech,” she said.

Building the future also means growth, Dershowitz suggested, and it’s already manifesting in the present. The 2021-22 season marked a banner year for skier visits across the country, up 3.5% from the previous season with a total of 61 million visits from coast to coast and a record-high 25.2 million hitting the slopes in the Rocky Mountain region, according to the National Ski Areas Association trade group.

Skico hasn’t yet announced how they fared this season. But Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade group that represents nearly two dozen ski areas in the state (including the four mountains that comprise Aspen Snowmass), is slated to release the statewide numbers Thursday in conjunction with the annual meeting. Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle wrote in an email that the company usually announces its numbers around the same time.

Throughout her eight years so far in Aspen, Dershowtiz has seen quite the growth spurt at Skico such as the company’s partnership to develop Snowmass Base Village, the formation of Alterra Mountain Co., the expansion of the company’s hospitality ventures outside of the Roaring Fork Valley, and the launch of the ASPENX retail line.

“When I was hired, there really was a desire to grow the company and figure out how to grow without undermining what is so unique and special about the Ski Company and about Aspen,” she said.

She’s also experienced a lot of growth herself. With more than two decades of legal experience that took her from firms in Manhattan to Madison Square Garden to the U.S Olympic Committee to Aspen, it was still a new foray when she tacked on the COO title to her legal position at Skico about two years ago.

She credits current Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan for identifying the opportunity, and for “encouraging me to step outside my comfort zone a little bit and try and grow,” she said.

The scope of skiing now is different from what Dershowitz grew up skiing in the Catskills, where her parents found a house outside a 500-person town near smaller ski areas like Hunter Mountain, Belleayre Ski Resort and Windham Mountain.

Her family started taking annual ski trips out West when she was 12; she ski raced in high school and college and joked about the “delusions of grandeur” and Olympic aspirations that were a brief blip on her radar.

Dershowitz recognizes that there’s still a strong contingent with a fondness for the little guys of the industry — those small, homey mountains that hearken back to the way skiing used to be.

To her, the past is part and parcel of a future that isn’t just for one type of skier or another.

“I think that having that range is critical and will be critical to us and to the industry going forward,” she said. “I think the Sunlights of the world and the Buttermilks of the world are just as important, if not more so, to the future of skiing, and the ability to have the range of experience, because otherwise your consumer is forced into a box, and that defeats sort of the ethos of what skiing is.”

So, can the growth she’s seen coexist with that kind of home-mountain spirit that people really have an affection for?

“I think it can. I think it should. And I think it’s critical that we all make sure that it does,” Dershowitz said.

Ensuring that there is a future for skiing on a local level also means looking beyond the industry, she said. Aspen’s growing too, in its own ways, and grappling with the conundrum that Dershowitz said ski towns all over are thinking about: finding the balance between “maintaining the small-town culture and community and servicing the people who all want to be here.”

That means looking at bigger-picture issues like housing, traffic and infrastructure. In a town that is independent from the ski company but intrinsically tied to the skiing culture, looking at the future means eyeing issues off the mountain, too.

“There is a vitality and vibrancy independent of us, and that’s huge, right?” she said “That is valuable to us, it’s valuable to the guests, it’s valuable to the community and critical to us maintaining who we are.”