`Sorry, no ski pass for you this year’ | AspenTimes.com

`Sorry, no ski pass for you this year’

Allyn Harvey

Todd Hartley wasn’t surprised when he was turned away at an Aspen Skiing Co. ticket window last fall.

He was trying to buy a Premier Pass – the one that allows unlimited access to all four mountains, but was told he couldn’t have one.

It didn’t matter how Hartley paid – credit card, check or cash. It didn’t matter how much Hartley paid – discounted rates offered to local employees or the full fare. He just couldn’t have one.

“They have it in their computer not to sell me a pass,” said the 28-year-old former Skico employee. “I pretty much expected it.”

A red flag was put next to Hartley’s name last winter, after he was caught using an employee pass when he was no longer working for the company.

However, he’s not the only person to whom the company isn’t interested in selling a pass. Skico Senior Vice President John Norton said there’s one fellow in town who isn’t allowed to buy a pass because he sued Skico for injuries four times in five years.

“We finally told him that for his own health, it would be better if we didn’t sell him a pass,” he said.

Norton and other Skico officials say they offer passes at a discount to many locals. Passes allow individuals who live and work here to ski for less than the going daily ticket rate, but it’s a privilege, they say, not a right. If a customer or employee takes advantage of the company, then the company shouldn’t be obligated to offer them any breaks.

“Let me put it this way,” said Snowmass Mountain general manager Doug Mackenzie. “Say you owned a store and you caught someone shoplifting. Even if you got your stuff back, would you let them back in right away?

“Neither do we.”

Hartley said he intended to work for the company last season, as he had the previous four years, but it turned out his old job had been filled.

But he continued to use the ski pass he had been issued for the job. It worked when he tried it, and it kept on working until one day in February, when he was detained at Aspen Highlands and arrested for theft.

Several weeks later, Hartley pleaded guilty to a single count of felony theft, paid the Skico $1,399 for the pass, performed 80 hours of community service and received four years of probation.

“I pretty much admitted what I was doing was wrong,” Hartley said, “but I didn’t realize how serious it was until I got caught.”

Mackenzie said that given the fact that Hartley has paid the company back and is in compliance with the court, he could probably buy a season pass if he wrote a letter to Norton asking for a chance to talk about it. But Hartley said he wrote a letter to the company and was denied a pass for this season.

“We’re not in the business of pulling people’s passes – it’s bad business,” Mackenzie said. “On the other hand, it’s bad business to let people continue ripping us off.”

Theft and zealous litigiousness are only two reasons people lose their passes. More often, Mackenzie said, people are penalized for breaking the rules on the mountain, such as skiing too fast or in closed areas. In those cases, passes are usually given back within a few weeks.

But the Skico has long been plagued by ticket fraud. As recently as a few years ago, customers were able to illegally transfer tickets or even print their own without having to worry about being caught.

Transfers were an especially big problem, Mackenzie said, because under the old ticketing system, the company tracked the use of multiday tickets by punching holes in them.

Though it wasn’t permitted, a customer who used only four days on a six-day ticket could sell it off simply by showing prospective customers that the ticket had only been punched four times.

With the new bar coding system, a customer’s name and the number of days a ticket is good are logged into the company’s computer when it is purchased. Scanners have replaced hole punches, so it’s harder for a customer to prove the ticket he or she is trying to sell is worth anything.

Mackenzie said the new system also protects customers who lose their tickets – all they have to do is report the loss, and the company can stop use of the lost ticket and issue a replacement.

Although he doubts the new system has eliminated fraud and theft, Mackenzie is fairly confident it’s harder to rip the company off. “People aren’t doing the same things,” he said, “but they are doing things – I’m sure of that.”

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