Aspen Skiing Co. goes social to put good spin on conditions | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Skiing Co. goes social to put good spin on conditions

Jeremy Swanson/Aspen Skiing Co."Ruthie's is the best cruising on the mountain," reads Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan's blog post. This photo from Aspen Mountain, along with one of the freshly groomed Buttermilk superpipe, accompanied the post.
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ASPEN – Aspen Skiing Co. has launched a social media campaign to try to convince customers that snow conditions at its four ski areas aren’t all that bad. Meanwhile, snowmaking efforts will resume on Aspen Mountain later than usual to cover some thin spots.

Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan started writing a blog Monday called “The Glass is Half Full.” Kaplan didn’t write a regular blog previously, but company officials felt it would be effective to inform skiers and riders about the best trail conditions from his perspective, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.

“It’s in response to snow conditions,” Hanle said.

Kaplan will post his thoughts periodically on Tumblr, a popular website and microblogging platform. His first blog, written on Monday, was reposted to Skico’s website, and the company drew attention to it via Twitter.

True to the title of the blog, Kaplan put a positive spin on snow conditions.

“What a weekend, big winds radically changed the snowpack,” he started. “That said, the beauty of skiing and riding is that the mountain changes every day and it is really fun to adapt to whatever it is serving up that day.”

Kaplan then offered advice on where to find “fetches” or the areas where snow blew into. He concluded by noting that there will be plenty of snow this week and softening conditions, “so enjoy it and keep looking for new lines and stick to the sides of the trails, it’s softer and more consistent.”

The target audience of the blog is “anyone and everyone,” Hanle said.

Skico isn’t relying solely on Kaplan’s blog to try to win hearts and minds. On its Facebook page, Skico is posting photos that paint its ski areas in the best possible light. A photo of a Snowmass terrain park was posted Tuesday, and within five hours, 82 people “liked” it. But some of the comments readers posted are bound to make Skico officials cringe.

A reader who identified himself as Houston Bolin posted: “Love that mountain, have skied it since I was 4, but those photos are misleading. The conditions are terrible at the moment (I got back two days ago), on nearly every run that’s open.”

Another reader reacted by asking Bolin if her family should postpone their trip planned for January until February or March. He advised her to keep an eye on conditions and hope for snow.

In another Facebook posting, skier Chris Davenport showed video from the top of Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands. While 27 people “liked” the post, many of the comments challenged the assertion that the Bowl is skiing well.

“LIES!!! Love Davenport though,” wrote one. Another posted, “Wow, he must have had some beers at cloud nine to be so amped on these conditions.”

But another reader noted that while conditions aren’t ideal, the experience in the Bowl is still “awesome.”

Hanle said he didn’t have definitive statistics about Skico’s holiday or season-to-date business, but there were no signs the lack of natural snow has sunk the numbers. “It has not to this point had an impact on business,” he said.

The snowpack east of Aspen is 47 percent of the 30-year average between 1971 and 2000, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service reported Tuesday.

Despite the lack of natural snow, Skico has more than 3,500 acres of terrain open, with 238 trails, five terrain parks and one 22-foot super pipe and a 12-foot super pipe. The 3,500 acres of open terrain is about 66 percent of the total 5,305 acres at the four ski areas.

While two-thirds of the terrain was open for the holidays, that didn’t prevent Skico from charging its highest single-day lift-ticket price ever. Skico raised its single-day price to $108 during the holidays this season but reduced it to $104 this week. It topped out at $104 last season, when snow conditions were considerably better.

Rich Burkley, Skico vice president of mountain operations, said there is very little steep terrain open, which is painting the perceptions of many skiers and riders from the Roaring Fork Valley. They yearn for powder on the steeps. But for many guests, the conditions are satisfactory. When asked if the single-day lift-ticket price was fair for the customers given the conditions, Burkley responded, “Absolutely.”

Snowmaking has salvaged the season for Skico thus far. The company has the ability to cover 230 acres of terrain at Snowmass with snowmaking; 108 acres at Buttermilk; 210 acres at Aspen Mountain; and 110 acres at Aspen Highlands. It concentrates on lower and mid-mountain slopes.

Burkley said he is often asked why Skico isn’t making snow on trails like Buckhorn on Aspen Mountain and Garrett Gulch at Snowmass. The reason is simple: It doesn’t have snowmaking capabilities there – and often doesn’t need them.

Typically, snowmaking would be finished for the season. It is still being undertaken at the base of Buttermilk for the Winter X Games later this month.

“As soon as ESPN is satisfied, we’re done there,” Burkley said.

Skico will also fire up four snowmaking guns for a couple of days this week to cover thin spots in Copper Bowl on Aspen Mountain’s east side. “This Copper thing is a little unusual,” Burkley acknowledged. Snowmakers will also “top off” Little Nell to keep a softer surface of man-made snow.

Like Kaplan, Burkley was looking at snow conditions as half full.

“Spar and Ruthies are skiing great,” he said after touring Aspen Mountain on Tuesday.

But the perception battle is clearly frustrating some Skico officials. Dave Amirault, a member of the Skico marketing department who specializes in social media, admonished some Aspen-area residents for their attitudes. In a Dec. 29 post on his Twitter account, Amirault wrote, “Listen up Aspen locals. Stop telling guests there isn’t any snow. We’ve got 3,600+ acres of open terrain. Others are in FAR worse shape,” Amirault wrote.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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