Is it Aspen Mountain or is it Ajax?
The old, impassioned debate over whether Aspen’s ski area should be known as Aspen Mountain or Ajax is about to flare up again.
Aspen Skiing Co. officials are discussing whether or not to officially refer to the ski area as Ajax on its signs, trail maps and all marketing materials, The Aspen Times has learned.
Although the discussion has started, the company isn’t close to making a decision, stressed Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton.
The impetus for the potential name change is the ongoing confusion over Aspen Mountain’s snowboarding ban.
“We have questioned whether we ought to refer to Aspen Mountain more often as Ajax, particularly since some skiers and boarders think there is no snowboarding in the Aspen environs because there is no snowboarding on Aspen Mountain,” said Norton.
By changing Aspen Mountain’s name to Ajax, Norton believes the company could make it more clear that Ajax alone prohibits riding. Right now, the perception is that the ban applies generically to “Aspen,” meaning all four ski areas, the Skico’s research shows.
Snowboarding is allowed at Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk.
The Skico’s senior management will make the call on the change. Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell said Norton is expected to bring the issue, along with pros and cons, to a senior management meeting in the near future.
O’Donnell said he hasn’t decided yet how he personally feels about the proposal. “That’s a Norton initiative,” he said.
The name change is being debated only for the ski area, not the name of the mountain itself.
“We’re not going to petition the state or the U.S. Geological Survey to change the name on maps,” said Norton.
Skico officials were somewhat surprised that word of the internal discussion leaked out. Now that it is being reported, they are prepared for lots of free advice and will weigh it in their decision.
The idea definitely isn’t coming from left field. People have been using the informal name of Ajax for the ski area since the 1946-47 season, according to one old-timer.
Norton didn’t expect the proposal to meet as much resentment as an ill-fated attempt in 1994 to change Buttermilk to Tiehack.
“Half the people I ski with call it Ajax anyway – as did a Fox news reporter I spoke with [last] weekend and who also participated, as an athlete, in World Cup races here,” said Norton. “Ajax is a venerable old name. I understand that years ago the company had a major focus to remind people to call it Aspen and not Ajax.”
Indeed, ask a local where they skied last weekend and you’re probably as likely to hear “Ajax” as you are “Aspen Mountain.” The major skiing publications, when referring to the ski area, almost always throw in the phrase, “Ajax, as locals call it.” Tourists, of course, do whatever they perceive as being hip.
But there are also plenty of purists. Old-timers, in particular, get peeved at the use of Ajax. Former Aspen Times owner and publisher Bil Dunaway used to scold reporters who called the mountain Ajax.
Many people use both references, easily slipping from one name to another. An Aspen “middle-timer,” who didn’t want to be quoted by name, noted that the informal use of the unofficial Ajax name won’t be quite so cool if it becomes the official name. A counter-insurgency will unfold using the name Aspen Mountain.
If the Skico decides to go the Ajax route and it proves successful, watch for other moniker mutations.
“We’re discussing referring to Snowmass as Vail since it’s such a successful ski area,” quipped Norton.
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