Boarders may ask, `Where have all the Yahoos gone?
Aspen has had an impassioned debate this season over snowboarding on Ajax – but it’s just a minor tiff compared to the battle that raged 25 years ago over access to the slopes.
Locals were enraged during the 1975-76 season when the Aspen Skiing Corporation, as it was then known, jacked up the local’s season ski pass price by 120 percent.
Ski Corp. President DRC Brown raised pass prices from $250 to $550 and boosted single-day lift tickets from $10 to $12.
Locals responded by forming a nonprofit group called Roaring Fork Citizen. The angry skiers lobbied the U.S. Forest Service to put a regulatory squeeze on the Ski Corp. for lower prices. They convinced a Senate subcommittee to hold hearings in town. And they even threatened to shut Aspen Mountain ski area down through boycotts and protests if Brown didn’t give in.
“It was a glorious battle,” recalled Michael Kinsley, who was a young activist who served as a chairman of Roaring Fork Citizen. He later became a Pitkin County commissioner and leading proponent of growth control.
“That was at a time when the Ski Company was run by people who had a different attitude about corporate responsibility,” Kinsley added.
Ski Corp. executives raised the prices so dramatically because they saw a threat from a group of hot-dog skiers they derisively labeled “Yahoos,” according to Herb Klein, an Aspen attorney who was just establishing his practice in 1975 and took up the cause of Roaring Fork Citizen.
“They wanted the Yahoos off the mountain,” said Klein. “[The Ski Corp.] thought they were skiing too fast, skiing off the good snow and scaring off the guests.”
The feisty citizens’ group appealed first to the Aspen District ranger of the Forest Service for regulatory action to limit how much the Ski Corp. could charge for a season pass. Their appeal was rejected, but they kept going up the bureaucratic ladder until the appeal reached the head of the Forest Service in Washington, D.C.
He ruled the Ski Corp. could only increase the pass price by 10 percent to $275. The Forest Service had regulatory ability because the ski area uses some public lands.
The town erupted in celebration, and Roaring Fork Citizen leaders like Klein and Kinsley became heroes.
“It was amazing,” Klein said of the celebration. “A lot of it couldn’t make it to print.”
But the victory was short-lived. The Ski Corp. appealed the decision in federal court and received an injunction that wiped out the Forest Service’s ruling. Meanwhile, Brown and other national ski industry leaders successfully lobbied to limit the Forest Service’s ability to regulate the rates charged by ski resorts.
Klein believes Aspen and Aspen Mountain lost some of their vitality when season pass prices jumped so dramatically. Many young Aspenites headed to other resorts where skiing wasn’t so expensive.
“We were losing our ski bums,” he said. “They got rid of the Yahoos.”
Ironically, Klein noted, Brown’s successors eventually adopted a pass pricing structure with multiple options and a variety of prices.
“It’s basically everything we asked them for,” Klein said, stressing he has no axe to grind with the Skico.
He said he saw several similarities between that battle and snowboarders’ efforts to gain access to Ajax. The Skico decided recently to permanently lift the riding ban on April 1.
In both cases, economics rather than public pressure steered the Skico’s direction.
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Posted: Monday, March 5, 2001
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