Opening day is postponed
Aspen Skiing Co. officials acknowledged the inevitable Tuesday and postponed the Nov. 20 opening of Aspen Mountain and Snowmass ski area until Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25.
Skico officials were holding out hope through Monday, at least publicly, of opening on time. They bowed to Mother Nature when forecasters said an anticipated storm Wednesday night won’t produce a big dump for the Aspen area.
That meant the company didn’t have an option but to postpone the scheduled opening. Unseasonably warm weather and lack of precipitation have left the slopes dry.
The openings for Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk remain Dec. 11.
The Skico announced Tuesday that people who prepurchased lift tickets for Nov. 20-24 can get a full refund, use the tickets at a later date or receive credit for use during the next three seasons.
Some tourist properties were offering guests with reservations the same options. However, policies are as varied as the properties themselves. Some don’t offer refunds and require a cancellation fee this close to the date of a trip.
Aspen’s anticipated occupancy was 26 percent for the week starting Nov. 21, according to the latest occupancy report compiled by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. Employees offered assistance Skico employees who can’t start work because of the lack of snow are being offered a variety of assistance.
“We want to keep them happy and we want them to stick around,” said Jim Laing, vice president of human resources.
Free dinners for those without other options will be offered at Bumps restaurant at the base of Buttermilk starting Monday, Nov. 22, Laing said. Dinners were offered last season as well early last season. They were attended by 50 to 60 people.
“It’s a nice thing to offer. Employees really appreciate it,” said Laing.
Employees are being advised on how to seek employment benefits and employees with personal days or vacation time accrued are being urged to use it now when time is available and they can collect full pay.
Laing estimated that a “couple of hundred” seasonal workers have reported to Aspen from out of town and out of the country so far this fall. Many of them are still going through paid training so financial hardships haven’t been severe yet.
Advances on pay were offered last year and will be considered this year if the opening is delayed further, Laing said. Presents PR problem Dealing with tourists and employees might be the least of the problems for Aspen, Snowmass and the Skico. Battling bad publicity could present the toughest challenge.
Last season, Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell blamed lack of early snow for the company’s 8.2 percent drop in skier and snowboard rider visits. Statewide it was blamed for a decline in business of about 5 percent.
O’Donnell explained that if there isn’t ample snow by Christmas time, the resulting bad publicity is almost impossible to overcome.
That’s why this season’s start is so distressing to company officials. A press release issued by the company Tuesday pussyfoots around the issue of lack of snow.
“Aspen Mountain and Snowmass return to traditional Thanksgiving opening,” the press release is headlined.
Mike Kaplan, Skico vice president of mountain operations, is quoted as saying, “Terrific skiing and snowboarding are just around the corner. We’re just not going to reach that corner by this Saturday.”
Ironically, Aspen Central Reservations had its best day for the coming season on the same day the opening was postponed. ACR President Bill Tomcich said his office received its highest number of incoming calls for the 1999-2000 season Tuesday.
He attributed the brisk business to a cold snap hitting the northeast portion of the country.
Skico communications director Rose Abello said her department has to be ready to trumpet the word once snow falls.
“We’re known for good snow. We get good snow. We just don’t have it yet,” Abello said.
The promotion of discounted lift tickets somewhat insulates the company from a poor start to the season. Substantial savings are being offered on multiday tickets as long as they are purchased by Dec. 1.
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A recent survey of Aspen residents shows that people are happy here, feel safe but are financially insecure.