Aspen Expeditions explores adventure travel market

Nate Peterson
This attached image is taken on Hayden Peak (13,331 ft), the gem of the Elk

Aspen: Just mention the name of this place nearly anywhere in the world and people tend to formulate an image in their head, said Dick Jackson, owner of local guiding outfit Aspen Expeditions.”You don’t have to qualify it,” Jackson said. “People know what Aspen represents in terms of lifestyle. There’s strong brands out there, but we’d be hard-pressed to come up with a stronger brand than the word ‘Aspen.'”It’s for that reason that Jackson thinks his latest business undertaking should be an easy sell. The 35-year local wants to market Aspen as an adventure travel destination and plans to begin offering an assortment of adventure vacation packages starting this spring.Since founding Aspen Expeditions in 1978, Jackson has specialized in guided backcountry skiing expeditions, ice-climbing excursions and tandem paragliding flights. The company also has a rich history of mountain guiding in far-off locales, having led trips in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, Bolivia, Peru and the Alps.

The idea to expand into the adventure travel business locally stemmed from a “demand from repeat clients” and an ever-changing vacation lifestyle, Jackson said.”When people do trips with us, they have a great experience with us, whether climbing or skiing, and then it’s like, ‘What’s next?'” Jackson said. “We’d have to be out of our minds if we didn’t entertain the idea that we can keep their allegiance by continuing to bring them here to Aspen. We not only want to take people abroad, but we want to bring people here. It’s a positive step in the right direction.”Packages would include three- and four-day trips that offer a variety of outdoor activities such as rafting, fly-fishing, hiking and paragliding.There is also the Tour du Belle Bordeaux – a guided trek from Aspen to Crested Butte through the Maroon Bells wilderness area that treats clients to croissants and gourmet coffee for breakfast.The most daunting of the Aspen-based programs is the Colorado Seven Summits expeditions, which lead clients to the top of the highest peaks in the area: Mount Sopris (12,998 feet), Castle Peak (14,265), South Maroon Peak (14,156), North Maroon Peak (14,014), Snowmass Mountain (14,092), Pyramid Peak (14,018) and Capitol Peak (14,130).

Jordan Campbell, Jackson’s director of business development, notes that because some of the peaks are among the most challenging in the country, clients likely will choose only a few to complete during a trip.”Doing them all in one stretch would take you weeks,” Campbell said. “We’re trying to market them by tours, taking them maybe in chunks of two, three and four. A lot of guiding companies back East and in the Pacific Northwest, they’ve got their own peaks that they really work and leverage. These peaks are the signature peaks of this valley, and we want market them the same way.”While Jackson talks of the established Aspen brand, he said his newest venture isn’t designed to exploit what he calls “the soul of this place.”If anything, the foray into adventure travel represents a return to Aspen’s roots.

“This is a mountaineering town,” he said “We really want to try to drive that back into the headlines or the focus of why people want to return to a place like this. It’s not just because it has world-class shopping or five-star dining. That’s great to have, but a lot of what this place is about is the mountains surrounding this town, and that’s what we’re really trying to tap into.”He also noted that adventure travel doesn’t necessarily mean extreme travel, but rather a vacation focusing on recreation. National trends indicate that Americans are taking more vacations in a year but for fewer days, Jackson said.And, in those short stretches, vacationers want to pack more stuff into their itineraries. The option of booking a packaged vacation eliminates wasted time and allows the vacationing party to not have to worry about logistics when it comes to recreational outings, Jackson said.”Our niche is not terribly hard-core, but not necessarily soft-core,” Jackson said. “It’s geared a lot toward the kind of people who live here. We’re not changing what we do so much as we’re expanding it. We’re just trying to really accommodate the vacations and recreation that these people are looking for. They’re looking for something that’s really organized, so that when they commit to their four days, they know exactly what they’re getting. They’re looking for more bang for their bucks.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is


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