Aspen employers opt for cheaper ski pass | AspenTimes.com

Aspen employers opt for cheaper ski pass

ASPEN – The Aspen Skiing Co.’s new pass-price structure is saving local employers thousands of dollars.

By eliminating the two-day pass – what had been the preferred employee benefit for many Aspen employers – many companies have opted to offer the less-expensive option presented by the Skico this season, the Flex Pass.

Last year, the two-day-a-week pass cost $919 with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA) early season discount. This year, the Flex Pass was offered for $699 with the early season ACRA discount; it is good for one day of skiing per week and the ability to add extra days for $49 per day. A passholder can get 24 days on the slopes for roughly the cost of the old two-day.

The price difference between the two-day and the Flex Pass is $220. For some companies with hundreds of employees, that can translate into major cost savings.

That’s the case at the St. Regis Hotel, which has between 250 and 300 employees.

The St. Regis has opted to give the Flex Pass as this year’s employee benefit, saving the company between $55,000 and $66,000.

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The elimination of the two-day pass was partially the reason workers will get $220 less this year.

“As many of you know this year Skico will not be issuing 2-day ski passes,” reads an inter-office e-mail sent to employees in September. “This year instead Skico will be offering a one-day pass which we will be offering to all of our full-time employees … If you do not wish to ski this season provided you work the entire ski season we will pay you the cash equivalent, which is $699 less taxes.”

Even though the benefit is centered around ski passes, many employees chose not to ski and to use the money for other recreational pursuits. For hundreds of local workers this year, they’ll have $220 less to play with.

“I think it was an unintended consequence of Skico, but it was obvious that there would be reduced employee benefits,” said one St. Regis employee who asked not to be identified. “[The Skico] isn’t helping locals because they have $220 less.”

The Skico discontinued the two-day pass because a review of their customers’ usage last year showed many didn’t use it to its fullest extent, namely skiing two days a week. The pass was used an average of 14 days, according to Skico’s statistics.

“They have their stats, but the elephant in the room is that they aren’t taking into account that some people don’t ski at all,” the St. Regis employee said.

Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the company consulted with many employers before setting its pass prices. The feedback they received was either that they were OK with the new structure or many of them were reducing their benefits as a result of the recession.

“Some companies were cutting or changing the benefit regardless of what our price structure was,” he said. “We gave them an option to do something instead of nothing.”

St. Regis General Manger Senih Geray said the company offered two-day passes last year and was considering a one-day week pass this year. When the Skico eliminated the two-day, it was an easy yet painful choice.

“It’s hard to take away benefits from employees,” Geray said. “It is what it is.

“It gave hotels and other establishments an opportunity to save money as well,” he continued, adding that the savings allowed the company to avoid further layoffs.

Geray said he realizes that the new pass structure is an experiment for Skico and things might change in the future, such as bringing the two-day pass back.

“If the option is there next year we’d consider it,” he said.

At the Hotel Jerome, employees are being offered the Flex Pass or the cash equivalent. Last year, they were offered two-day passes.

The elimination of that pass was the driving factor in offering the Flex Pass this year, said Basia Cabaj, executive assistant to Hotel Jerome General Manager Brendan Carlin.

Cabaj said employees are generally satisfied that they still receive a benefit.

“In this economy, we’re happy that we still get them,” she said.

The city of Aspen is proposing to cut its fitness and wellness benefit from $990 to $300 in 2010 for its 263 full-time employees. That’s a cost savings of $181,470.

The town of Snowmass Village is one organization that is keeping the recreational benefit the same as last year – $919, which is the price of the two-day offered last year.

“However they choose to apply that to Skico’s new structure is their choice,” said Lesley Compagnone, the town’s community relations officer.

Also staying with the status quo is the Hyatt Grand Aspen.

Employees there can get the Flex Pass and a pay-out of $220 at the end of the season. If employees choose not to get a ski pass, they will get a pay-out of $919 at the end of the season.

An internal memo to employees spells out the Skico’s pass price structure and offered this statement, “We felt that this simply was not going to work for us, as we didn’t want to offer the employees anything less than what they received last year … Considering the options we were given this year we hope you find this to be more than fair.”

Of course, employees can upgrade to the full pass, called the Premier; Skico reduced its price to $1,099 for the early season ACRA discount. Last year, it was $1,299.

So employees who were offered the two-day last year for $919 and upgraded to the full pass paid an additional $380. This year, if they were offered the Flex Pass and upgrade to the full, it cost them $400.

csack@aspentimes.com

This correction was published Oct. 7:

The Hotel Jerome is offering employees the cost of last year’s two-day pass, a value of $919, toward the purchase of a full season pass, which is $1,099. If employees don’t want the full season pass, the hotel will provide them with the Flex Pass, or the cash equivalent of $699. Employees would have to work the entire winter season to qualify for the cash equivalent.