Sister cities get reacquainted
June 24, 2005
At first glance, it might seem the only noticeable difference between Aspen and its sister city of Davos, Switzerland, comes down to the wearing of ties.Dr. Andrea Meisser, vice mayor of Davos, wore a tie to a “get reacquainted” luncheon at The Little Nell Hotel on Friday. He quickly took it off, as well as his blazer.”I admire this about Aspen, this way of life,” said Meisser after the luncheon. “I see that you are very efficient in Aspen but you don’t seem stressed; you’re very easy-going, but going. To us, everything is big stress.”He said that perhaps wearing a tie is a metaphor for the difference in attitude between the two resort towns.”Here you have beauty of the village, nice trees, nice gardens, people sitting outside at night. That’s nice. We are stressed. To get some color in our [business] life, you must find it in a colored tie. You don’t need that here, you have your color everywhere.”But not all is rose-colored glasses – or ties, as the case may be. Davos suffers through many of the same issues Aspen grapples with: the rise of second-home owners, shortage of housing, parking issues and growth problems. But in some cases, where Aspen is still trying to find solutions, Davos already has the answers.Many Aspen movers and shakers were at the luncheon, not only to share the love, but to learn of the undeniable parallels between the two resort towns.Davos, with a population of 13,000 year-round residents, is similar in layout to Aspen, with five ski mountains and a large number of second-home owners buying up real estate. Meisser calls second homes “cold beds.” “We call them that because the beds are warm only two weeks out of the year,” he said. “It’s not good life quality for the locals here.”Torre, Aspen’s mayor pro-tem, agreed the parallels “are amazing. But we don’t characterize our second-home owners in a negative light.””Neither do we,” Meisser said.But Armin Eggar, director of Davos Tourism, believes second-home owners can be a drain to the economy and the town’s spirit and can negatively impact the area’s coveted alpine environment.”We don’t want more growth,” Eggar said. “Maybe we have the same fight you have here – what about all those weekend homeowners? We need to find a balance between the locals, the second-home owners, and the tourism business. We’re missing that balance. With all the second-home owners, the social life, the shopping, will die. We’re asking politicians for a cap on the percentage of homeowners.”Meisser said he is “thinking in the same direction.” The off-seasons, he said, make Davos look like a ghost town. “We want more life year-round.”Torre believes second-home owners don’t have as much impact in Aspen because its downvalley work force keeps Aspen buzzing year round while Davos has migrant workers who leave after the work is finished, which adds to the illusion of an empty town.Eggar believes the success of resorts like Davos depends on the loyalty of their local customers.”Locals are our biggest group; that’s a sign of good quality. Swiss people are the most critical people. We’re an extremely international resort, so it’s very important we keep those who are in front of our door. Locals are our foundation. We are very proud of that.”A lift ticket at Davos costs around $45, and that includes access to all five mountains.Bill Kane, vice president of planning and development at the Aspen Skiing Co., said Aspen’s local business has grown but Aspen “walks a fine line. We have about 50 percent of our business from locals. It hasn’t always been the case. Twenty years ago or so, 60 percent was out of state. With the growth of the Roaring Fork Valley and second-home owners, it’s balanced the scale so locals now are part of the fundamental equation, so we have to make sure things are priced fairly.”The sister cities share one more thing in common: the desire to maintain the surrounding beauty. “Davos has an incredible legacy of protecting open space; there’s no sprawl, it’s a perfect form of community,” Kane said.Torre agreed.”From what I’ve seen, Davos shares what we are – the culture and the intellect and a town set up for preservation.”The Davos sister city contingent will spend time mountain biking and visiting the Maroon Bells. Meisser said he’s grateful the sister city partnership, which began in 1989, was regenerated. “We wanted to renew our partnership,” he said. “We see it’s a shame to have let it sleep for so long. It’s been a great success; we share a lot of the same interests.”Davos DayThe city of Aspen has declared Monday, June 27, Davos Day in recognition of Aspen’s sister city in Switzerland. Some of the activities coinciding with Davos Day include: A presentation on Davos by Dr. Andrea Meisser, vice mayor of Davos. Free to the public, but RSVP to Joann Hall at 925-1280. Today at 8:30 p.m. at the Mountain Chalet. Brunch at the Pinecreek Cookhouse. $25. Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Introduction of Davos delegates to the Aspen City Council and proclamation by the city of Aspen of June 27 as the official Davos Day. Monday at 5 p.m. at City Hall. Davos Dinner at Genre Bistro. Monday at 8 p.m. $40, includes tax and gratuity.To attend any of these events or get more information on Aspen sister cities, contact either Karinjo DeVore at 925-1140 or Francesca MacPherson at 925-9500.