High Points: A good week for Aspen Skiing
This is quite a week for the Aspen Skiing Co., the single most significant entity in our community.
Today, Aspen welcomes back the planet’s fastest men’s skiers to race the Stifel America’s Downhill as part of the Audi FIS Ski World Cup circuit. The festivities will kick off this morning at 11 a.m. at the Finish Arena Grandstand with a ceremony that will see the East 5th Avenue Trail leading to Lift 1A renamed Beattie Way in honor of legendary Aspen ski innovator, coach, broadcaster, and FIS co-founder Bob Beattie. This is both a feel-good gesture and a significant nod to the history of skiing in this town.
The downhill will follow the ceremony at 11:30 and is free to the public. There will also be a downhill contest on Saturday at 11 a.m. and a Super-G on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. Anyone who was in that same finish arena in 2017 for the World Cup Finals to see Italy’s Dominik Paris capture the Roch Cup knows just how exciting an event this is. Having these racers and the “White Circus” back in Aspen is a win-win for both the community and international skiing. And the concerts and fireworks in Wagner Park each evening will help make this a weekend to remember in Aspen lore.
But perhaps even more importantly for Aspen’s long-term future was the announcement on Wednesday that Skico, as locals call it, has found a successor for Mike Kaplan to head their Mountain Division. Geoff Buchheister, a 48-year-old ski-industry vet with impeccable ski bona fides, will be joining the company this week from Whistler Blackcomb, a Vail Resorts Inc. property where he was the chief operating officer. His new title will be chief executive officer of Aspen-Snowmass. One of the great job titles in America, I’d say.
His position makes him one of three division heads in the recently-re-organized Skico, along with Alinio Azevedo, who is CEO of Aspen Hospitality overseeing the company’s growing portfolio of hotel properties; and Darcy Loeb, who is COO of the luxury brand AspenX. Welcome to Skico 3.0.
Buchheister knows mountains. He grew up the son of a ski executive in Winter Park and matriculated to the University of Colorado where he was an All-American Alpine ski racer. Married to an ex-ski racer, he is raising a family of ski racers, and in his career with Vail Resorts, he has been in just about every kind of mountain operations situation possible.
Before taking his current position at Whistler Blackcomb, the largest ski resort in North America, he had stints as general manager at Keystone and in was in charge of Vail Resorts urban mountains in Minnesota (Afton Alps), Michigan (Mt. Brighton), and Wisconsin (Wilmont). Oh, and he spent 15 years in Park City in various positions. On paper, there are likely few people on the planet who can bring that kind of experience to this position.
It was 30 years ago this month that the Crown family completed their purchase of the final 50% of the shares in Skico from Marvin Davis, who had acquired the company in 1981 when he bought the 20th Century Fox film studio. At the time, The New York Times stated that “The price of the transaction was not disclosed, although industry analysts estimate the total value of Aspen Skiing is $80 million.”
As a privately-traded company, Skico’s revenues and total value are not available to the public. But on a capital enhancement basis, this would have to be one of the biggest success stories in the history of the industry. And beyond the money, the emotional and intangible benefits that the Crowns have received from owning and living in this community must be even more substantial. There is only one Aspen.
It has been quite a week for Skico — one that brings together the past with the honoring of Bob Beatty, the present with the FIS World Cup races, and the future with Geoff Buchheister. That doesn’t even include the announced extension of the 2022-23 ski season until April 23 on Aspen Mountain and April 16 on Aspen Highlands.
Yes, Aspen is still a ski town.
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