Hot chocolate blues |

Hot chocolate blues

(This letter was originally addressed to Pat O’Donnell, CEO and president of the Aspen Skiing Co.)

For almost three months, Aspen’s biggest shame ? aside from vacant storefronts ? has been the lost goodwill from the elimination of complimentary hot chocolate at the Sundeck for early morning uphillers.

Obviously, even before three bad snow years, few would have argued that, on a mountain that’s home to a club where memberships cost nearly $100,000, mountain officials shouldn’t be keeping a keen eye on their assets.

But one of those assets is the opinion and judgment of locals who do nothing more than embrace the mountain (and its managers) and look to share their passion with other locals, visitors and prospective visitors ? at no cost.

No one uphills 3,000 feet, at 7 a.m., in the heart of winter for free hot chocolate. But everyone tells their friends about it. And they tell their friends. And they tell their friends.

That is free PR from a third generation hotelier, a teacher at the high school, a restaurateur (who’s been snowshoeing uphill for 25 years), and a handful of hearty, appreciative locals with infectious opinions.

Nine locals who made the hike last Saturday calculated the seasonal cost of complimentary hot chocolate for uphillers at $400 (25 cents wholesale cost per cup, times 100 cups per week, times 16 weeks).

Four hundred dollars won’t buy a full-page ad in The Aspen Times, a week’s worth of drive-time radio on KSPN, or one mention of the Aspen Experience anywhere in the Front Range. But it will buy the hearts of locals, and that is priceless ? and good business.

Uphillers have no history, as far as I know, of gorging or even hot chocolate disobedience. The complimentary cup was more like a pat on the back for a job well done. I’m not losing sleep over spilled hot chocolate, but as an example of prudent and responsible management, this is cold-hearted (in every sense).

One more thing, the uphill/hot chocolate experience isn’t available in Vail. Perhaps that’s reason enough to offer it here.

Stay warm …

Steve Skadron


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