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Skico to stay in Aspen chamber

David Perry
ALL | Aspen Times file photo

ASPEN – Aspen Skiing Co. officials are so determined to break affiliation with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that they considered – but dismissed – leaving the Aspen Chamber Resort Association over the issue.

David Perry, senior vice president for Skico, said the company’s senior management team discussed its options after a survey of Aspen chamber members last month showed support for remaining in the national organization. Skico has lobbied the local chamber for at least three years to part ways with the U.S. chamber because of its position on issues tied to global warming.

Auden Schendler, Skico’s vice president of sustainability, said in a Denver Post article Sunday that leaving the Aspen chamber “is on the table.” Senior management members haven’t ruled it out, Schendler said in the article.

Perry was more conciliatory Monday. He said Skico will work to “educate and persuade” members of the chamber and its board of directors rather than coerce the organization.

“It is fair to say we’ve discussed all issues,” Perry said. “We had an internal meeting. The question was asked, ‘Are we going to quit (the chamber)?’ No, that’s not what we’re going to do.”

Skico also released a statement from Perry on Friday, when Skico’s second in command was traveling to attend to a personal matter, that reinforced the cooperative approach with the Aspen chamber.

“We are not contemplating or threatening (the Aspen chamber) with quitting. We believe that we can work with (it) towards the goal of leaving the U.S. chamber,” Perry said in a portion of the statement.

Skico plays a vital role in the Aspen chamber’s existence, paying $25,000 in membership dues to the chamber, making it the member that pays the most. Overall, the chamber has about 650 members that pay $540,000 in dues.

Even more important, Skico makes season ski passes available at a discounted rate for employees of businesses that belong to the chamber. Many people contend few businesses would join the chamber if the ski-pass discount wasn’t part of the deal.

President Debbie Braun of the Aspen chamber said she read Schendler’s

comments that Skico’s departure from the chamber over the issue was on the table, but she didn’t give the remarks much thought. She said Perry had stressed before that Skico would keep working on the issue.

“David (Perry) has said, ‘It’s not over, Debbie,'” Braun said. She said she never asked him specifically what he meant.

Braun noted that the local chamber’s position hasn’t been formally set despite the assumption of many observers. The executive committee of the board of directors voted in 2010 to remain in the U.S. chamber. Perry is a member of the executive committee and came out on the short end of a vote that year.

This year, the Aspen chamber surveyed its members on quitting the U.S. chamber but got very little interest, Braun noted. There were 68 respondents out of 589 surveys sent to members. Usually, more than 200 members respond to surveys on local issues, she said.

Of respondents, 61 percent said they “strongly agree” that the Aspen chamber should remain in the U.S. chamber, and another 16 percent said they “somewhat agree.” The Aspen chamber’s board declined to take action on the issue at its Feb. 28 meeting but committed to considering the issue at its retreat in late April.

The board’s lack of action has inspired numerous letters to Aspen’s two newspapers imploring the local chamber to leave the U.S. chamber.

“We’re taking a few body blows right now. I wish we could be focusing on something

else,” Braun said. The local chamber needs to concentrate on getting visitors here throughout the rest of ski season and next summer, she said.

Braun, who cannot vote on the issue but must apply whatever policy her board adopts, said she can see both sides of the issue. She questions what long-term good it would do to end its U.S. chamber membership. Some Aspen chamber officials have argued it makes more sense to remain and work to change the U.S. chamber’s position.

“We’ve been called naive for thinking we can effect change,” Braun said, adding that might be a legitimate point. She said she is troubled that the issue is so polarizing. People on both sides don’t want to have a thorough discussion of the issue, she said. They want their position adopted.

“It really does feel like it’s a pickle of a position,” she said.

April 24 could bring clarity. The U.S. chamber is monitoring the debate in Aspen and offered to send a representative out for the Aspen chamber’s retreat. Braun said she made it clear she wanted someone who sets policy for the organization. It also might make sense to have someone such as Schendler present to state the case for dropping out, she said. Nothing has been arranged yet.

If the Aspen chamber votes to leave the national chamber, it would simply be a matter of not renewing an $800 annual membership, Braun said.

Skico would likely use the issue to draw attention to climate change and the U.S. chamber’s policy on the topic. The U.S. chamber has “opposed every single piece of proposed climate legislation and supports weakening the (Environmental Protection Agency’s) ability to regulate (carbon dioxide),” Schendler wrote in a letter to the editor.

Perry said he won’t wait for the April retreat to renew lobbying on the topic. He quipped that he will continue “pounding” on members of the Aspen chamber’s board of directors and administrators to drop their affiliation with the national chamber.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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