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Sundeck club a step in an unfortunate direction

The Aspen Times Editorial

Sundeck club a step in an unfortunate direction

It was not a surprise, but neither was it a pleasure, to learn more details about the Aspen Skiing Co.’s plans for an “all new! improved!” Sundeck Restaurant at the top of Aspen Mountain. It was no surprise, because the general drift of the Skico’s plans has been known for quite some time and this week’s revelations only confirmed and added some new details to what has already been reported.

The new Sundeck will be bigger – much bigger. It will include both cafeteria service and more-formal “sit-down” dining for skiers. And it will house a new, very exclusive, very high-priced private club: the Aspen Mountain Club.

Although Skico officials are carefully keeping quiet on the critical question of money, a full membership to the exclusive new club will likely cost at least $75,000, possibly more. For those who blanch at that price tag, limited memberships, it seems, will be available at a discount price – perhaps a mere $50,000.

From the tone of the preceding sentence, it may be apparent that this newspaper does not give its wholehearted approval to the idea of a private club at the top of Aspen Mountain. Indeed, let there be no doubt: We do not like the idea. Not one little bit.

To be sure, our reasoning here is not entirely objective.

Objectively speaking, the presence of an exclusive club at the top of the mountain will not really harm those who are excluded. Certainly, the new! improved! public dining facilities will offer a more pleasant experience, both for hard-core skiers, who will not be stuck in the now-too-frequent long cafeteria lines, and for the softer-core sorts who appreciate a lengthy lunch break, but would prefer to spend that time sitting down and being catered to. That is all well and good.

And, objectively speaking, the private club will apparently meet an existing demand (primarily, they tell us, from upper-crust Europeans, who are not used to mixing with the hoi polloi while dining) and will provide a new source of significant income that will allow continuing on-mountain improvements. This, too, is well and good. In today’s competitive ski market, with resorts like Vail offering every possible attraction and amenity of a “theme park with snow,” Aspen needs to do what it can to attract our very particular segment of the ski market.

And yet … and yet, thoughts of this new club do not sit quietly in our mind. It is one more giant step in the direction we are going, a direction that seems so wrong to so many who have lived here over the years. It is a step away from the egalitarian Aspen of old, the town where the rich, the not-so-rich and the flat-broke all mixed easily and often. It is a step toward more social stratification. It is a step toward simply admitting that Aspen – the entire town! – is, as our fiercest critics claim, nothing more than a private club for the super-rich. There is, of course, nothing wrong with being super-rich. And, to be sure, the super-rich need places of their own – just as the homeless need their subway grates to sleep on during cold winter nights.

But, even if this is where we are going, even if this is where we must go, this is not where we want to go – and let it be noted, if we do go there, we are being dragged, kicking and screaming. We do not like this new private club.

Still, let us end on a bright note: A private club for the snooty rich will, at least, remove a lot of unpleasant, arrogant people from the cafeteria line and give the rest of us a chance to enjoy our grilled cheese sandwiches in peace. This too is well and good.


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