Basalt chamber works to show it offers more than a discounted ski pass

Basalt Chamber of Commerce director Kris Mattera poses for a portrait on Midland Avenue on Wednesday, August 26, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Like many entities in the Roaring Fork Valley, the Basalt Chamber of Commerce’s economic health in 2021 will depend in large part on what happens this ski season.

The chamber relies on businesses voluntarily joining and paying dues. Ski pass discounts are a big enticement for membership, said director Kris Mattera. The economic health of the area is another big driver.

She is working hard this summer to show members the value of the chamber far exceeds the ski pass discount. Nevertheless, the discount is a bright and shiny thing.

Aspen Skiing Co. officials have said they will release ski pass options and pricing after Labor Day, though no exact day was given. Mattera said about 40% of membership renewals are made in August and September, when membership is necessary to secure a discount on ski passes.

“Like many things, there’s been a bit of a holding pattern,” she said. “A lot of people are waiting to see what direction the Ski Company is going to go. I think everyone’s taking that cautious wait-and-see approach.”

Skico used to offer the ski pass discount only to businesses that joined the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and Snowmass chamber. That changed in 2003 and was expanded to include the chambers of commerce in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

The Basalt chamber experienced an immediate surge in memberships. The director at the time estimated that up to 65 midvalley businesses joined the chamber for the first time to snare the discount that year.

While the pass discount is a nice enticement, Mattera said the Basalt chamber’s membership levels over the past 20 years have correlated more closely with the strength of the economy. When the economy is hurting, the membership falls.

“I think it’s less about the ski pass in those instances and more about the economics of it all,” Mattera said. “We are a membership dues-based organization that fights for our businesses but also those businesses being healthy helps fund us.”

The Basalt chamber had 432 members at the end of 2019. Mattera said the organization is currently down 7% year-to-date in membership dues. That deficit could disappear quickly since it’s a big period for renewals.

“I anticipate (memberships) will be a little lower because not every industry is doing great right now,” she said. “We all recognize these are challenging financial times for businesses.”

Membership dues produce the vast majority of the chamber’s funding. One-time grants are sometimes secured and the chamber receives 25% of Basalt’s lodging tax revenue specifically for marketing and promotions. Because all three components vary from year to year, the budget fluctuates. It has ranged between $250,00 and $300,000 annually for the last three years.

Mattera is in the third summer at the helm of the chamber. She spends a lot of time working one-on-one with business representatives and in public meetings touting what the chamber can offer midvalley businesses. She is particularly proud of the advocacy role the chamber has played for businesses before and especially during the COVID-19 crisis. The chamber has played a critical role in providing input to local governments and the state on policies necessary to adapt to the coronavirus crisis. For example, the chamber lobbied the Basalt town government to expand outdoor seating into public right-of-way for restaurants this summer.

Mattera has also made sure the chamber serves as a clearinghouse for members for information necessary to negotiate the COVID crisis. Early on, for example, she made sure members were aware of a webinar from an economic development organization that explained the Paycheck Protection Program. The chamber also produced a podcast that featured a representative of a local bank offering business owners and managers advice on how to prepare for and enhance their applications for PPP loans from the federal government.

The chamber’s website and newsletter has also provided resources or links on information about public safety and economic aid issues during the pandemic.

Mattera said she also advocates for membership on issues such as finding more affordable healthcare and tools to address mental health and stress that has increased with the pandemic.

“That is the heart of what we do,” Mattera said. “I think people are realizing the value of the chamber with all of these different things we’ve been doing throughout the pandemic and that will continue on no matter what winter looks like for us.

“We’re going to keep working hard for our businesses.”

(Editor’s note: This article was corrected to show the Basalt chamber received 25 percent of the town’s lodging tax revenues.)