Aspen Skiing Co. eliminating 50 positions due to tough economic times

Aspen Skiing Company will be eliminating 50 positions for the first time in two decades. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Bleak business prospects have forced Aspen Skiing Co. to lay off employees for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan announced to company employees this week that “nearly 50 positions” have been eliminated by the company.

“Many of the nearly 50 positions affected are already vacant or causing early retirements, but there are nine people whose jobs have been eliminated and those have been difficult decisions and discussions,” Kaplan wrote in an email distributed to company employees Thursday. The Aspen Times obtained a copy.

“I am hopeful that there will be no further layoffs, as these actions have been taken after careful consideration of our outlook. Yet we’ll need to stay flexible given the ever shifting COVID landscape,” Kaplan’s email continued.

The company typically employs more than 3,000 full-time and seasonal employees at the height of winter.

Skico vice president of communications Jeff Hanle said Friday specific information was not available on what departments or types of jobs were being eliminated. The positions are “across the company,” he said.

An official statement provided by the company said, “While we took these actions out of fiscal responsibility to the company and the rest of our employees, this does not diminish the severity of impacts on the affected individuals. We are working with all involved to support them during this transition.”

Neither the company statement nor Kaplan’s email specified what type of severance package was provided to the laid off employees or what incentives were offered for early retirement.

Kaplan’s email to Skico employees also provided a candid assessment of business prospects for the winter. Business in July and August was “better than feared,” Kaplan wrote, but it doesn’t match the numbers of prior summers. Skico has experienced a loss of group business and there have been shorter stays and reduced occupancy in hotels.

It has been widely reported that a lot of business in the Roaring Fork Valley during the pandemic this summer was generated by people moving here permanently or spending more time in second homes and long-term rentals.

Skico is braced for decreased business volume this winter based on advance bookings.

“Airline traffic will be down significantly (currently down 70%), and forecasted occupancy reflects the reduced demand from international and long haul domestic visitors,” Kaplan wrote. “As a true destination resort, winter season room nights and enplanements are the key drivers of how many people will be able to get here and how much revenue we can generate.”

Skico is working on safety protocols and social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Ski pass prices with the chamber of commerce discount will be announced by the end of September.

Vail Resorts recently announced it would implement a reservation system at its ski areas this winter. Arapahoe Basin said it would limit ticket sales, promote visits on weekdays and on afternoons, and load lifts with fewer riders to ensure social distancing.

Kaplan wrote Skico would be forced this winter to spend more on operations to ensure safety while reaping less revenue because of fewer guests.

“We do plan on opening all four mountains and hotels, and operating our lifts, parking lots, restaurants, lessons and stores as scheduled beginning Nov. 26 with Aspen Mountain and Snowmass,” Kaplan wrote. “This will allow us to spread out as much as possible and take advantage of what I hope will be a season of plentiful snowfall and emotional renewal.”

Kaplan also thanked employees for their efforts to create safe operations this summer and provide a quality guest experience.

“We have not had an employee test positive for COVID in over two weeks and there have not been any cases contracted in the workplace to the best of our knowledge,” he said. “These learnings have prepared us for winter, and I am confident that we can apply these best practices to operate safely all year.”

He gave a hint of how Skico will adapt winter operations. Tents will be acquired to offset some of the reduced on-mountain restaurant capacity. Outdoor heaters will be added to decks and shop entrances where customers will be waiting. Technology will be utilized for pre-purchase of lift tickets and dining orders.

“We continue to work on our season pass offerings and will be ready to announce the lineup later this month as we work with local and state officials to ensure we are balancing our levels of visitation in a way that the infrastructure and community-wide level of social distancing can support,” Kaplan wrote.


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