High Points: Be like Mike | AspenTimes.com

High Points: Be like Mike

Paul E. Anna
High Points
Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan gives the introductory remarks during the official ribbon cutting for Buttermilk Ski Area's all-new base area in February.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“Mike is a leader.”

That comment from a 44-year veteran of the Aspen Ski School pretty much summed up how I have been feeling as I reflected on the tenure of Aspen Skiing Co.’s president and CEO Mike Kaplan.  

While the party was raging at Highlands on Sunday afternoon, I spent the day cruising the virtually empty slopes on Snowmass. It was … sublime.

In my quest for a little conversation, I paused a bit and let a chair or two go by so that I could ride the lift with the Skico instructor who was making perfect turns right behind me down Slot. I wanted to get an insider’s take on the changing of the guard at the company that is the supreme entity in our company town.

“Don’t quote me,” said the well-known but unidentified instructor. “But I’ve worked for a lot of CEOs going back to Whip Jones at Highlands when I first got here, and none of them compare to Mike.”

When pressed for more, the red-jacketed sage continued: “When he first came in, he always asked a lot of questions. He listened, and he let the people who knew what they were doing keep on doing what they were doing. He didn’t try and tell folks how to do things. He took the time to learn.”

High praise and good advice.

Seventeen years ago in November 2006, a 41-year-old Mike Kaplan took the reins at Skico from then-President and CEO Pat O’Donnell. Remember him? The laundry list of tangible on-mountain accomplishments in Kaplan’s nearly two decades as the top guy is impressive.

From opening the Elk Camp Gondola on Snowmass in December of ’06 to presiding over the expansion of the Pandora area that will see a new lift installed this summer, he has overseen positive, but certainly not unbridled, growth of the ski topography.

Let’s not forget his commitment to the uphill skiers who have become such a substantial part of our local life. And we all welcomed back the FIS World Cup.

Off mountain, the profile of the company has also prospered with the creation of the Limelight Hotel brand and the just-revealed second Little Nell Hotel that may be going into NYC’s Rockefeller Center. And while employee housing remains a confounding  problem, Skico made progress with The Hub at Willits project that saw an $18 million investment as the company committed to create housing.

But the biggest contribution that Kaplan has made has been attitudinal. In a community that seems to thrive on divisiveness, he has maintained a positive and inclusive attitude throughout his tenure at the top.

It is hard to find many people in either the Skico or in the community at large who have negative things to say about him. As my ski instructor lift mate told me, “He was the right guy in the right place at the right time.” Especially when you consider what he had to deal with during the two years of the pandemic. A challenge for all of us.

When Kaplan’s Skico tenure comes to a close this upcoming week, he will be replaced by another young man, 48-year-old Geoff Buchheister, who brings a passion for skiing and solid business chops earned while at a number of top-notch resorts. Hopefully, this choice will work out as well for the Crowns as the previous one.

While Buchheister needs to bring his own personality to the new job, I think that in his dealings with the community, he would do well to remember three little words:

“Be like Mike.”

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