Aspen as the Silicon Valley of uphill fitness?
March 1, 2015
Italian delegates, ski-equipment manufacturers, Aspen retailers and city officials gathered Saturday to discuss the fastest-growing segment of the ski industry: uphill fitness.
The meeting at the St. Regis Aspen Resort followed the Aspen Uphill, a festival Mayor Steve Skadron has championed in an effort to establish Aspen as the North American epicenter for the sport. Also on Saturday was Aspen's Power of Four ski-mountaineering race, which a handful of the meeting's attendees competed in, including Skadron and Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch.
The group, which included representatives from the Italian consulate in Chicago and international manufacturers Dynafit, La Sportiva and Scarpa, latched onto one phrase that Skadron plans to pitch to Gov. John Hickenlooper: Nicola Fiordalisi, legal counsel for various Italian corporations that do business in the U.S., said there is potential for Aspen to become the Silicon Valley of the sport.
"This is a trigger word for (European nations)," Fiordalisi said. "You don't have to explain obviously who you are. Aspen is world-known."
Italian Trade Commissioner Matteo Picariello said that while mountain towns aren't the main focus of his agency's consumer-goods program, the group will explore potential for Italian support.
Jamie Starr, marketing manager for Dynafit, said he wants an ongoing partnership with Aspen. On Saturday, Starr was at Gondola Plaza, fitting uphill enthusiasts with Dynafit gear as part of the festival, which he and Skadron began discussing six months ago. Local retailers such as Cripple Creek, Ute Mountaineer and Aspen Expeditions, he said, are vital to the brand.
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"We want this to be an ongoing thing," Starr said.
City Manager Steve Barwick regarded the opportunity for manufacturers to partner with Aspen as a rare one. During his 21 years working for the city government, Barwick said, Aspen has been approached by a wide variety of American corporations. Aspen has turned them all down, he said.
"We've never wanted to cheapen the Aspen brand by being associated with products," he said. "But this is different. This speaks to our roots, as (Skadron) has said. This is going to support our ski culture rather than take advantage of it. You have a unique opportunity to be the only industry on the planet that's associated with one of the sexiest brand names on the planet, and that's Aspen, Colorado."
Frisch pointed out that while the Roaring Fork Valley doesn't offer $4-per-square-foot warehouse space anywhere, there's high-impact, high-value opportunity for the industry. The effort will lead to more jobs, and not just of the seasonal variety.
Joe Risi, director for the Cosmic Ski Mountaineering Race Series and a blogger at Wildsnow.com, helped lay out the Power of Four racecourse. He said attendees hailed from coast to coast as well as overseas.
Skadron said the long-term vision for the race and surrounding events is to create jobs that attract individuals who value mountain-town culture.
"I'm not going to ask what Aspen's biggest challenge is," Skadron said. "The answer is the increasing suburbanization, homogenization, of mountain towns. As you know, our downtown core isn't unlike a high-end shopping mall."
Skadron said he has relayed a specific message to prominent developer Mark Hunt, who is now linked to about $100 million in commercial property in Aspen. That message is that Aspen would benefit from seeing La Sportiva, Dynafit and Scarpa sitting in commercial windows rather than Theory, Lululemon and Dolce & Gabbana.