New CEO of Aspen Snowmass to lead mountain operations
Aspen Skiing Co. has lured away a top executive from Vail Resorts Inc.’s Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, one of the largest ski resorts in North America.
Skico announced Tuesday it had named Geoff Buchheister as the new CEO to run its mountain operations, following a search that began after Mike Kaplan announced his retirement in March 2022. Buchheister adds another piece to the structural changes that have been taking place at Skico, which included establishing its Aspen Hospitality division, led by CEO Alinio Azevedo, and AspenX, led by COO Darcy Loeb.
Buchheister, 48, had been chief operating officer at the 8,100-acre Whistler Blackcomb since November 2019.
He gained most of his professional experience at Park City, Utah, where he worked in various leadership roles, Skico said. He began working for Vail Resorts when the company bought Park City Mountain Resort in 2014.
Buchheister’s background apparently suits him well for his next challenge. He is a Colorado native and grew up in Winter Park, where his father was a resort executive for 44 years. He was a three-time, All-American ski racer at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Tina, his wife, grew up ski racing in Slovenia and was a NCAA All-American for the University of Utah.
Stella, their 16-year-old daughter, skis for Team Summit Colorado and is on the national development group for the U.S. Ski Team, Skico said. Thirteen-year-old Luka, their son, has been racing with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club in British Columbia.
Buchheister begins work with Skico on Wednesday. Kaplan, whose last day at the helm is April 30, will help him with the transition, according to the press release. Buchheister’s official last day on the job at Whistler Blackcomb is Friday.
Vail Resorts shared a statement with The Aspen Times from Doug Pierini, the COO and senior vice president of Vail Resorts’ Western region, who said: “Vail Resorts and the Whistler Blackcomb team are incredibly grateful to Geoff and everything he’s contributed over the last eight years. We are proud to build great leaders and remain committed to doing so as a core value and driving principle of our business — and we celebrate our leaders throughout their journeys, both as part of Vail Resorts and beyond as part of the broader industry.”
Skico is readying for the return of World Cup racing this week, with the men’s super-G and downhill events from Friday through Sunday. Aside from the races on the America’s Downhill course on Aspen Mountain, there will be community festivities, from live music to award ceremonies.
Buchheister will likely be in Aspen for the World Cup, Kaplan said.
“That’s really when the onboarding will begin,” he said.
In a statement, Buchheister said: “I’m incredibly excited to be returning to Colorado and joining the Aspen Skiing Company. I feel a strong connection to the values that the Crown family brings to this organization, and I look forward to being part of this team. Aspen has such deep history, built by a community that loves and celebrates its unique mountain culture. I’m humbled to have the opportunity to listen and learn as I integrate into the company and the community.”
Skico hired Kaplan in 1993 to supervise the Aspen Mountain ski school, and he worked his way up from there, diving into the mountain-operations side of the business. He worked next to Skico CEO Pat O’Donnell as the chief operating officer in 2005, and he was named CEO the next year when O’Donnell retired.
Now it’s Buchheister who will be replacing Kaplan.
“I’m jealous of Geoff,” he quipped in an interview separate from his statements. “He gets to start what I’m finishing with the greatest job in the greatest community that I could possibly imagine. It’s been a phenomenal journey.”
Kaplan’s statement noted that he and Buchheister “connected on so many levels. He has a deep understanding of the business, but just as important, he is a lifelong skier and has a deep tie to the mountain lifestyle. He worked his way up through the industry and understands the importance of building a solid team and putting employees first.”
Speaking to the Times, Kaplan said the hiring process took a while because interviews and negotiations were taking place during ski season — a time when the job candidates are at their busiest.
Jim Crown of the Crown family, the owners of Skico, said in a statement: “While this process took longer than expected, we firmly believe it was worth the wait. In the end, we found the ideal candidate to lead our ski and summer-time mountain operations into the future. Geoff has a long history in the industry, a true passion for the sport, and understands the importance of long-term planning, community relations, and the role employees play in delivering guests a world-class experience.”
As the face of Skico, Kaplan was the person who took both heat and praise for the decisions and changes the private company made — part of the territory that goes with being a CEO in a ski town like Aspen.
Under Kaplan’s leadership for 17-plus years, Skico built more employee housing in the Roaring Fork Valley; won approval to expand skiing on Aspen Mountain with the addition of Pandora’s terrain (still a work in progress); renewed contracts with the Winter X Games; ran marketing campaigns addressing social justice and climate change; debuted the ASPENX Mountain Club and Snowmass Mountain Club; opened the first gondola in Snowmass; and made capital improvements at all four ski areas.
As well, Skico bought the locally-owned Limelight Lodge in Aspen from the Paas and Woolery families in 2010, later opening Limelight Hotels in Ketchum, Idaho, and Snowmass Village. Other Limelights are being developed in Boulder and Mammoth Lakes, California. Skico also recently announced a joint venture with Denver-based, real-estate developer Continuum Partners to convert the Hotel Burn into a Limelight Hotel.
There were also challenges brought on by the global pandemic and the skiing industry’s shifting landscape that saw Skico partner with Alterra Mountain Co. and debut the IKON pass during the 2018-19 season.
The Crown family has owned Skico’s four local ski areas — Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk and Snowmass — since 1993. The Crowns initially started with Snowmass, Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk in 1983.
Occupancy down from last year; airport transitioning to spring schedule
As the winter season heads towards the end, occupancy in Aspen and Snowmass combined is still slightly down from where it was last year.