Skico launching survey on Ajax snowboard ban |

Skico launching survey on Ajax snowboard ban

The head of the Aspen Skiing Co. has directed his staff to launch a survey over the holidays to help determine whether snowboarders will be allowed on Aspen Mountain next season.

“People don’t believe it, but I really don’t know what we’re going to do next season,” said Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell.

An updated survey will also be a crucial part of future decisions. O’Donnell said he needs more complete and up-to-date data for his senior staff and ownership group to use in the debate.

“Each year we reconsider and ownership is part of that, no doubt about it,” O’Donnell said.

The Skico’s last survey on skiers’ views on the board ban at Ajax was conducted two years ago. As the controversial ban continues, O’Donnell has decided he needs a current survey and his company needs to do a better job of gauging how much business is generated from snowboarding.

Up until this season, the Skico has estimated the number of customer visits from snowboard riders at Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk based on samples. O’Donnell said he’s directed Mike Kaplan, vice president of mountain operations, to come up with a more exact tracking method.

A new survey is necessary, O’Donnell said, to see if views have changed since a survey during the 1997-98 winter showed the majority of respondents didn’t want riders on Aspen Mountain. Kaplan, Chief Operating Officer John Norton and Bobbie Burkley of the marketing department are working on new survey questions.

Details aren’t available yet, so it couldn’t be determined if it would be a random sample of customers at the Skico’s four areas or whether it would be a sample of skiers only.

O’Donnell wants to start surveying customers while the holiday crowds are here, then continue into the season.

The Skico has used its old survey to justify its prohibition of riders at Aspen Mountain. The majority of those surveyed supported the ban.

“The bottom line,” O’Donnell said, is it’s a “strategic business decision.”

Skiers on Aspen Mountain shell out big bucks for ski school lessons and at the mountain’s high-quality restaurants. As of right now, the Skico thinks it is making more money with the ban in place than if the ban was lifted.

Riders naturally feel they should have some say in the issue.

An organization called Free the Snow has launched an effort this winter to overturn the bans at Aspen Mountain, Taos and Alta. The group has set up a Web site – – to try to inform people about the issue and convince them to lobby the U.S. Forest Service to exert pressure to end the bans.

The Forest Service handles annual operating permits for Aspen Mountain, Taos and Alta. About 17 percent of the Aspen Mountain ski area is on public lands and 83 percent on private property. Even with that mix, the Skico must get an operating permit from the feds.

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