‘Feeding the pipeline’ | AspenTimes.com

‘Feeding the pipeline’

Patrick Westfeldt of Aspen soars through the air during one of last seasons Big Air Fridays competitions at Snowmass. The competition series returns to the base of Fanny Hill this winter. (Mark Fox/Aspen Times Weekly)

John Rigney, the managing director of event marketing for the Aspen Skiing Co., talks in clichés about the brainstorming process that leads to the Skico’s winter events lineup each year.

Example: When an event has lost its appeal, Rigney says it is time to “send it out to pasture.”

As for popular events like the Hi-Fi Concert Series, or the headliner, the Winter X Games, those two “hit the mark” and need to be retained.There’s one Rigneyism that, to use another cliché, stands above the rest. It’s an expression he uses in regard to the target audience for most Skico events.”We’re trying to feed the pipeline, as we like to say, and keep it fun for people who are going to sustain Aspen/Snowmass for years to come,” Rigney says. “In general, are most of our events skewing to the younger set? Sure. But I think it’s balanced out by having some World Cup racing and some other events like the uphill racing with Storm the Stars. The music, we believe, is broad-based. It can appeal to the younger set, but also to families and locals alike.”

Three new events added this year clearly aim for a youthful demographic. In September Aspen hosted The Meeting, a snow film festival that drew big-name athletes and filmmakers to the Wheeler Opera House for four days. In February the first Aspen/Snowmass Ski and Snowboard Open will take place at Buttermilk. The event, which follows January’s Winter X Games Ten, is designed to let skiers and riders of all abilities compete on the same features used by X Games competitors. The end-of-season events at Snowmass have also been overhauled, highlighted by the new Junkyard Jam, a freestyle contest that will use recyclable materials such as refrigerators and tires to create a unique spectacle.Two of the additions were just common-sense decisions, Rigney says. With the new Ski and Snowboard Open, the Skico wanted to take advantage of its investment at Buttermilk by opening a contest at the Winter X venue to anyone who wishes to compete, he says. With the Junkyard Jam, the Skico wanted to upgrade an already successful closing-day party. “We just wanted to mix it up and go with an urban feel on mountain,” he says. “Do a Bud Light Hi-Fi concert as well – and just keep it fresh.”Keeping it fresh seems to be the theme with the event marketing department, but that doesn’t mean that the Skico has forgotten about older guests, Rigney says.

He says with events like the concert series, the Skico isn’t trying to drive traffic to its four resorts, but rather provide added options for the vacationers who came for the skiing and snowboarding. Those who live and work here reap the benefits too.”If we are to gain traction, and our events are decision-drivers to make people plan a vacation here, that would be the best of both worlds,” he says. “Right now, we’re trying to take the crowd that we already have and show them a great time. … It’s hard to argue when everything is free and open to all. We’ve got great athletes in town for our events. We’ve got good music acts with some broad-based appeal. It all kind of fills in the picture of what Aspen/Snowmass is about, and we all know that it’s about more than just skiing and riding.”There are the longtime holdovers from seasons past that don’t appear to be going away anytime soon. The Aspen Winternational World Cup Races represent a vital link to Aspen’s alpine past, which is why the Skico still has a commitment to them, Rigney says.

The Wintersköl Celebration, which includes a parade and fireworks, is also back for its 56th year. Other mainstays include the Snowmass Freeride Series, Spring Jam, and the Storm the Stars uphill, a night race that covers 3,000 vertical feet on Aspen Mountain.Rigney declined to talk about the Skico’s events budget, even in general terms. He did say, however, that special events are a good investment to ensure a strong customer base. He pointed out that the Winter X Games, which is under contract to stay at Buttermilk through 2007, proves there is money to be made by selling Aspen and Snowmass to a younger audience.During the four days of the Winter X Games, the valley’s lodging amenities are all at above 90 percent capacity, Rigney says. That includes everything from the Days Inn in Carbondale to The Little Nell and the Hotel Jerome.

“Winter X Games really fills up the entire resort,” he says. “I think we’ve gone from historical occupancy rates at that time of the year in the low 70 percentiles to the high 90 percentiles. And that’s across all levels.”As for what events may be put out to pasture after this season, that’s yet to be decided, Rigney says.”We try to get as much feedback from athletes, spectators, from internal staff and just community,” he says. “This is a vocal community. People are pretty clear about how they feel about something. We sit down in late February and March and try to decide, OK, where are the holes in our calendar? What are the groups of people or the times of year that we’re failing to deliver something? And what events have run their course? … There’s that flexibility of ownership. If we need to change with the times, we’ll change with the times.”

Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com

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