Salaried Aspen Skico workers on the front lines
ASPEN ” Roughly 300 Aspen Skiing Co. executives and salaried workers are helping staff the front lines of the company’s four resorts this winter to help with everything from loading chairlifts to cleaning up after dinners.
Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan guided vehicles into parking spaces Saturday at a popular day skier lot in Snowmass Village.
Skico attorney Dave Bellack helps load the Silver Queen Gondola on Aspen Mountain just about every Saturday morning.
Public relations director Jeff Hanle buses dirty dishes from tables to the kitchen at the Cliff House Restaurant at Buttermilk.
Pressing bigwigs into service is nothing new to the Skico. The company often calls on the folks in the offices to help out on the front lines during busy periods like Christmas and Presidents Day weekend. It has been an all-hands-on-deck kind of tradition.
This winter is different. About 300 office jockeys are expected to spend four hours per week throughout the season helping with some type of front-line duty. The program will save a small amount in labor costs, Kaplan said, and it makes a statement that the company is willing to adapt during a recession.
“It will probably total less than 1 percent of our payroll for the year, so it will not be huge, but every point counts, particularly in our business, where most of the costs are fixed,” Kaplan said.
But even if the Skico wasn’t facing tough economic times, Kaplan would want the salaried workers grunting it out in the front lines. The program is valuable “cross-pollination,” he said. Managers, department heads and other office workers learn first-hand what workers face and they get exposed to the company’s customers.
“You get them in the shoes of the guests,” Kaplan said between moments when he was using a flag to guide vehicles at Lot C at Snowmass or answering questions from customers on everything from where to rent skis to how to walk over to the base lifts from the parking lot.
There are two concrete examples of how managers working the front lines got exposed to problems that altered Skico business practices. One manager made sure the Skico installed credit card machines in the busiest parking lot booths after he experienced the frustration of guests who didn’t have the cash to park. Another executive helped speed improvements to the scanning system after he realized how hard it was for scanners to read the bar codes on ski passes.
Getting office workers out in the field also boosts morale of some of those front-line workers, according to Hanle.
“They like it, as long as it isn’t taking hours away from them,” he said.
That’s not the intent. Using the office workers to load lifts, for example, isn’t designed to hire fewer lift operators. However, it might help cover all shifts with greater ease. In another case, no parking attendant was hired at the Aspen Highlands parking garage this season because the sales and events staff covered the morning duty, Hanle said.
Kaplan said the cross-pollination is effective real-world team building for the Skico and a program that sends a message about cooperating in a tough economic time.
“We’re all going to work together to get through it,” he said of the recession.
Kaplan said the Skico’s preseason estimate that gross skier visits will likely drop between 5 and 15 percent this season appears to be accurate. Destination skier business and discretionary spending on services like ski lessons will be down more, he said.
The Skico is in good condition to ride out the recession because of the multi-million dollar sale of the Base Village property in 2007 and because it tackled many of its needed capital improvements. The Elk Camp Gondola was added the Sheer Bliss chairlift was replaced at Snowmass, and the restaurant at Sam’s Knob was built before the economy tanked.
He also credited the Crown family, which wholly owns the Skico, for not cutting back on services during a tough time.
The upper management and ownership are just starting discussions on pricing for next season. It is uncertain at this point if the recession will affect the Skico’s pricing strategy, Kaplan said.
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