Board ban not set in stone
The top official at the Aspen Skiing Co. hinted this week that, while the U.S. Forest Service has backed off from challenging a snowboarding ban on Aspen Mountain, business considerations may overturn the ban at some point.Local snowboarding enthusiasts were not surprised, just disappointed, when White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle this week decided not to do anything about the ban, calling it an internal business matter.And Aspen Skiing Co. President Pat O’Donnell, a snowboarder himself, said he was “very pleased that we can make our own business decisions on our mountain” after Ketelle’s announcement.But, O’Donnell added, “We never said this [ban] would be forever.”The Forest Service issued its decision in a press release Monday afternoon, capping weeks of headlines that began when a couple of Roaring Fork Valley snowboarders wrote letters to the Forest Service complaining about the ban.The agency noted that the “separation of uses on public land administered by the Forest Service occurs both on ski areas and in other recreational settings,” but how the areas are used is up to the private operators of the areas. Those uses are reviewed every year by the Forest Service.A key element in the decision was the number of letters supporting a skiing-only policy for Aspen Mountain.O’Donnell, noting that there were only two letters written to complain about the ban, said he went to Ketelle and said, “If you want to see letters, I’ve got three files of them.”He said that every year, when word gets out that the Skico is undertaking its annual review of the ban, “I get flooded with these letters … unsolicited letters,” urging him to retain the ban.And, he said, “a lot of them are from boarders – boarders who also ski and love to have a place they can go to get the classic American skiing experience.”Snowboarder Charles Chastain, assistant manager of the Alternative Edge snowboarding shop, said he wasn’t surprised by the decision, though he was disappointed.”If they think there’s that many skiers that will come here so they don’t have to ski where snowboarders are, I guess that’s up to them,” he said of the Skico’s policy.Derek Johnson, a co-owner of the D&E Snowboards shop, also wasn’t surprised.”Aspen is Aspen,” he said. “I can understand the ski company’s position. I don’t agree with it, but I can understand how they feel that the older, more conservative skiers don’t want to be around snowboarders.”But, he continued, he and others feel that the best business decision would be for the Skico to drop the ban and give both boarders and skiers access to all four Skico mountains. And, he said, he believes some in the Skico’s management ranks agree with him.”We are losing some families … because of that decision,” he said. Many families are made up of skiers and snowboarders, Johnson noted, and there is a national perception that snowboarders cannot ski on any of the Skico’s mountains.”It’s a dollar decision, and dollars will dictate the decision,” Johnson predicted. “They’re going to have to open up the mountain if they’re going to be more profitable.”O’Donnell, who said he is now a “full-time boarder,” conceded that there are some within the company who advocate dropping the ban.But, he said, “the consensus is that, for the time being,” the ban will stay.”We never said this [ban] would be forever,” he continued. “The market changes. I’ve just got to take it one season at a time.”He also said that, as far as he is concerned, Aspen is not that good a mountain for boarders because there are no beginner runs.Plus, he said, at Christmastime, there are so many skiers on Aspen Mountain that the addition of snowboarders is “a safety issue.”
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