Aspen Skiing Co. CEO emphasizes skiing won’t be a contact sport this winter

A skier makes some turns through the powder under the Big Burn Lift at Snowmass Ski Area.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan wants people to embrace the sport of skiing this winter, so long as they keep their distance.

Speaking at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s Tourism Outlook Town Hall held virtually Tuesday, Kaplan said Skico will rely on technology with an upgraded mobile app that will allow users to make transactions — whether that’s buying a lift ticket or a grab-and-go meal — with limited, if any, personal interaction.

“Our ticket offices will be open but we’re trying to enable contact-less transactions where we can minimalize people’s needs to go into the ticket office,” Kaplan said. “That kind of philosophy is applying to everything. It’s rentals, it’s ski school, it’s dining.”

Every ski season brings its own set of challenges — whether brought on by the weather or the economy, for instance — and the pandemic has Skico officials, in Kaplan’s words, “reimagining” their approach to the business this winter. Along with employing standard health protocols — such as space intervals between skier groups, and face-coverings required indoors and in congested on-mountain areas — Skico is providing contact-less online booking to customers, setting up five outdoor tents and more picnic tables for on-mountain dining.

“We’re losing more than 50% of our seating capacity,” Kaplan said, noting the tents could make up to one-third of the deficit.

Skico also won’t be pushing post-skiing partying.

“Apres-ski is definitely going to be way toned down,” Kaplan said.

Advance ticket sales began Tuesday.

“We are asking people to book in advance because we will sell out of things,” Kaplan said. “We will sell out of tickets. We will definitely sell out of seats available on the mountain. I really encourage advance bookings, advance reservations.”

The pandemic forced Skico to shake up its pass structure for the season with the launch of the Valley Weekday Pass, which is good Monday through Friday, and the Valley 7-Pack Pass, which can be used seven days during the season.

Both passes have blackouts from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2 and Feb. 13 and 14.

Skico’s Premier Pass, which entitles users unlimited skiing, is popular with locals but significantly more expensive this season.

With the discount, which comes through membership in the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and other chambers in the valley, the Premier Pass is $1,799 if bought before Nov. 13. Last year it was $1,479.

Kaplan said Skico isn’t motivated to sell many Premier Passes this season.

“Our goal is to generate less revenue for our season pass this year,” he said, saying “it’s not a great COVID product” because skiers can come and go as they please. Skico wants a more controlled environment this season.

“As we go into the year, the goals are pretty simple: It’s get open, stay open. We don’t want to repeat last year, lest we forget, March 15, we were shut down for the rest of the year,” Kaplan said in reference to Gov. Jared Polis’ statewide directive to close ski resorts because of the pandemic. “We gotta emphasize safety; we gotta emphasize the fact we really are all in this together.

“And finally, we want to make sure we come out of this pandemic in a way where we look back and we can all be proud. We can say can we did it in a way that didn’t compromise our values, and in fact, we built upon our values and our brand.”

The CEO also waxed philosophical at the conclusion of his remarks.

“It really puts things in perspective and I think it makes, ironically, skiing more important than ever,” Kaplan said. “But if we’re being honest and realistic about the winter, like everything in our lives right now, we know it is going to be different. Some things will be good different and some things will be forgettably different and yeah, let’s not dance around it, COVID definitely sucks, but it’s also making us better in a lot of ways.”