Highlands hoping winter business doesn’t cool off after a sizzling summer of events | AspenTimes.com

Highlands hoping winter business doesn’t cool off after a sizzling summer of events

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

With merchants hoping to keep the momentum from a successful summer, the winter season at Aspen Highlands will begin Dec. 14 with an opening-day bash and Christmas-tree lighting.

The event, planned by Darnauer Group, a marketing firm hired by the ski area’s merchants association, is one of several activities planned to entice Aspen residents and visitors up Maroon Creek Road to Highlands Village this winter.

The company’s “Rediscover Highlands” campaign drew crowds last summer with weekly outdoor movie nights, a lawn bowling league and a Friday afternoon live music series. Darnauer Group is hoping several winter activities will keep the buzz at the base of Highlands alive.

“I think people want to attend activities where children are welcome and that are different,” said the firm’s Jeanette Darnauer of the summer program’s success. “In Highlands’ case, the events we created were a reflection of the maverick, fun spirit that Highlands represents and always has.”

The success of the village’s summer programs was followed by “The Great Pumpkin Patch and Family Bash” on Halloween. The plaza was illuminated by 500 pumpkins carved by Aspen High students. And families and friends huddled around fires, roasting marshmallows and drinking free hot chocolate.

A storyteller captivated audiences, and the World Link Cafe and Iguanas contributed their space as venues for the fun. Darnauer said the event produced a huge turnout and could become a Halloween tradition at Highlands.

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“We had lots of activities for families, and it was something different to do,” she said. “Where can you go in the upper valley anymore where there are lots of things to do for children and families? Our goal was to create an atmosphere that was welcoming for everybody.”

And so as winter draws closer, Darnauer Group is working on an event for the opening day of Highlands on Dec. 14. The Glenwood Springs High School jazz band will perform in the village, and a tree-lighting ceremony is scheduled, complete with an appearance by Santa Claus.

“I think everybody is doing things like this ? the merchants, the chamber, and other businesses are saying, ‘How can we get out of this rut and create something different?'” Darnauer said. “It’s great to have people encouraging each other to think outside of the box and bring the fun back into everything we do.”

The village also plans to make the most of Highlands Day during Wintersköl, Friday, Jan. 17. According to Steve Skadron, senior account executive with Darnauer, events will begin in the morning with some sort of unique uphill-downhill race on the mountain, followed by breakfast at Iguanas and other on-hill activities.

“We’re hoping to have a culinary rally, where all the restaurants on the mountain and in the village participate, and you work your way down eating a little something different from each place for a set price,” Skadron said.

The afternoon will include music in the plaza and carnival activities, while the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club provides a big-air exhibition.

“It’s been fun, creating a buzz and taking Highlands from ground zero to this level,” Skadron said.

Darnauer said other events at Highlands this winter will include Freestyle Fridays and the KSPN-sponsored Blitzenbanger festival.

“Our focus was really on the summer because the slopes are bringing people there in the wintertime, and that somewhat takes care of itself,” she said. “But we have a strong team approach and a strong cooperative effort with everything we do out there.

“That’s another reason for our success ? everyone has gotten behind the events, like merchants and the [homeowners] association and residents.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]