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Skico looking to fill World Cup absence

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Last season skier visits to the Aspen area rose 3.5 percent over the previous season even though the nation was struggling economically and preparing for war with Iraq.

This coming season, the Aspen Skiing Co. faces continued economic uncertainty, no Thanksgiving World Cup race, possible cancellation of the 24 Hours of Aspen race and uncertainty about the future of the Snowmass Ski Area and the village that surrounds it.

David Perry, the man in charge of spinning those problems into advantages, is beginning his second year as the Skico’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. Perry arrived in Aspen a year ago, hired to replace John Norton, the company’s chief operating officer and marketing director who left to become CEO of Crested Butte.

Most of the marketing and sales programs for the 2002-03 ski season were already in motion when Perry took over last summer, so this is the first year he’ll be able to take full credit – or blame – for the season’s outcome.

But in a number of very obvious ways, Perry’s mark on the company last season was crystal clear.

On the public relations side, for instance, Perry and his team capitalized on the huge early season snows and had the entire ski world buzzing about all the snow in Aspen.

“Last winter started off really strongly – and I think we got a good jump on everyone else,” he said. “Then everyone in the industry succumbed to a drop off at the end of the season.”

On the programming side, there’s ESPN’s Winter X Games. After two extremely successful years at Buttermilk most observers expected the sports network to pack up the show to move on to another venue.

But Perry and the Skico’s top management convinced themselves, the community and, finally, ESPN that the X Games belonged here for an unprecedented third straight year, overcoming intense competition from other resorts eager to host the hottest show in winter sports.

“I believe the X Games is a big plus for the valley,” Perry said last week in his Aspen Highlands office. “The X Games helps bring credibility [for Aspen] to the youth set.”

Perry is now trying to sign a title sponsor for the 24 Hours of Aspen, a race that has athletes racing each other and the clock down Ajax then riding the gondola back to the top to do it all over again. The contract with Audi, the most recent sponsor, ended this year, and the Skico is looking to either re-up with the German car maker or find a replacement.

“I would say the race is in some jeopardy,” Perry said. But he added negotiations are under way with potential replacements.

One race that will not happen under any circumstances in Aspen this season is the World Cup. The elite of ski racing, who have been visiting Aspen over Thanksgiving weekend on a fairly regular basis for the past few years, are not scheduled to return until November 2004. So, Perry is working on a season-opening celebration to fill in for the one-year gap of World Cup in Aspen.

“We’re still designing it, but we think it will be a great attraction,” Perry said.

Perry said Spring Jam, the end-of-season celebration started a few years ago to liven up the resort in early April, is due for a make over. And planning is in the works for an “All-Star Weekend,” at a date yet to be announced, that brings skiing and snowboarding elite to town all at once.

“Nobody does it, so we’re going to invite the top athletes here and give them a way to show off.”

Perry’s mark on the coming season can also be seen with the way the company is promoting itself to its skiing public. Instead of taking out standard one-page ads in magazines that cover skiing and snowboarding, the Skico has put together a “vacation planner” insert that goes inside the magazines and readers can pull out and thumb through.

Both planners (there are two sizes) contain photos, mountain maps, hotel listings with prices, travel information and an event calendar.

“When we talk about Main Street, we don’t mean I-70,” a section headline in one of the planners reads. After explaining that Aspen is miles away from the nearest interstate highway, it points out, “We’re a destination resort, where people come because they want to make runs all day, not stand in line for hours.”

Perry said the vacation planner inserts aren’t an original idea – other resorts use the insert model – but he’s confident it will be more effective in getting skiers to think about Aspen and its four mountains as a vacation destination.

“It definitely has more impact than a one-page ad buried in a 200-page magazine,” he said.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]


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