Crowns: Skico can bounce back from slow start
The managing partner of the Aspen Skiing Co. says he is confident the firm will bounce back from last season’s disaster and this season’s slow start – given a little patience and a lot of snow.
Jim Crown, who manages Skico affairs for his family, said the owners were obviously disappointed in last season’s 8.2 percent drop in skier and snowboard rider visits. Like much of the ski industry, the Skico was plagued by lack of early-season snow and seasonlong perceptions of poor conditions.
Crown said from his Chicago office last week that Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell and his staff cannot realistically be expected to reverse those numbers if dry skies and warm temperatures persist. But once the snow starts flying, the Skico should be able to hit its targeted projections, he said.
Crown stressed that ownership in the ski business requires “patient capital and tolerance of risk.” His family possesses both, he said, but the Skico must also show a profit. Competition tougher than ever It’s not so much seasonal fluctuations of snow, but long-term challenges to the ski industry that concern Crown.
Phenomenal amounts of money are being spent by leisure and entertainment companies to lure customers – some of the same customers who would consider a ski trip to Aspen and Snowmass.
Then there’s the evolution of Aspen away from a ski town. Visitors simply aren’t skiing as often as they were a decade or so ago, Crown noted.
Many people visiting now might ski three or four times per week rather than their entire vacation. Some visitors don’t ski at all.
Retail sales and real estate sales hold their own or increase even when skier visits plummet, so that shows people are still coming to town, if not the slopes.
“We don’t necessarily need more people coming to Aspen,” Crown said. “We need the people who are coming to ski more.”
In that regard, the owners are pleased with the response this fall to the Skico’s discounted, multiday lift tickets. Skico officials said more than 100,000 tickets were sold by the Dec. 1 deadline.
The six-day ticket, the best bargain, brought the single-day price down to $39. Nevertheless, the discount shouldn’t be perceived as the Skico’s long-term entry into the price war sweeping the ski industry, Crown insisted.
He said he doesn’t believe that travelers will make their decision on whether to come to Aspen based on price alone.
Instead, the $39 deal was designed to lock in business for the season through advance sales and to show that the Skico wouldn’t engage in “millennium gouging,” said Crown. “We did want to make a statement.” Here for long haul The owners made another statement recently by putting more than 300 acres of prime real estate under contract at the base of Snowmass ski area. Crown said it was inappropriate for him to discuss specific plans for the property before the deal closes, but he acknowledged it shows his family’s long-term commitment to the area.
Although the Skico owners will develop the base property, “we’re still very much a skiing company,” he stressed. The company won’t focus on real estate development to the degree that ski industry heavyweights like Intrawest, Vail Resorts and American Skiing Co. have.
“That’s a distinction that separates us from other companies,” he said.
But the development of property like the Snowmass base could provide the diversification of income that Skico officials say they need to compete in the ski industry. They won’t have to rely solely on sales of lift tickets and ski school lessons to raise funds for capital improvements.
That might mean the difference between surviving and even thriving as an independent or being swallowed in an industry that expects continued conglomeration.
“We’ve been approached by virtually everyone,” Crown said of offers for the Skico.
When asked if offers are still made, Crown said suitors stop coming once they have been told “no.”
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