The Skico shuffle
The Aspen Skiing Co. continued to overhaul its top brass Thursday by altering the duties of all four mountain managers.
Aspen Mountain manager Rob Baxter and Snowmass ski area manager Steve Sewell, fixtures at their respective mountains, swapped places.
Buttermilk Mountain manager Peter King left his post of nine years to head the Skico’s food and beverage operations at Snowmass, Buttermilk and Highlands.
Aspen Highlands Mountain manager Ron Chauner kept his position and added the responsibility of managing Buttermilk.
The shuffle follows the Skico’s decision last month to elevate John Norton from senior vice president to chief operating officer, effective April Fools’ Day. In other earlier announcements, also effective April 1, Mike Kaplan was promoted to vice president of mountain operations and Rich Burkley became managing director of the Ski and Snowboard Schools of Aspen.
Confused? Well, it’s now safe to learn the names and positions because the pieces are in place, according to Norton.
“I think that’s the last you will see for a while,” he said of the shuffle.
The only people who stayed put are CEO and President Pat O’Donnell and Snowmass General Manager Doug Mackenzie.
O’Donnell’s at the top at the Skico management hierarchy and Norton is the No. 2 man.
Kaplan oversees operations at all four Skico ski areas, Norton said. Snowmass’ operations are large enough that Mackenzie is needed as general manager, so Baxter answers to Mackenzie and they both report to Kaplan.
The shuffle of the managers was prompted by John Verity’s resignation as director of food and beverage, said Norton. In an exit interview, Verity advised hiring someone intimately familiar with ski area operations for the post.
Norton and O’Donnell approached King with the offer and he “jumped at it” once it was clear he would receive support to learn new duties, according to Norton.
To help that transition, Michael Kiernan was named executive chef and will report to King.
King started with the Skico in 1973 as a ski instructor at Buttermilk. He became mountain manager in 1990. He will report to Norton in his new role.
Once King accepted the new challenge, it made sense to offer his position to Chauner, Norton said. The Skico has already proposed tying Highlands and Buttermilk together via a gondola, so tying the supervision together is natural.
Chauner has been with the Skico since 1971, starting as a ski instructor at Buttermilk. He’s held a variety of posts with the company and became manager of Highlands after the merger with the Skico in 1993.
The idea of swapping Baxter and Sewell was seen as an opportunity to “capitalize on their strengths and take a fresh look at each mountain,” said Norton. Both will see new approaches to doing business in their new posts.
“It was requested,” Norton said of the switch. “If anybody had any issue with it, it would have been reconsidered.”
Norton said he views both moves as promotions for the longtime Skico employees. Baxter is moving to a mountain with more than double the number of skier visits each season.
Sewell will be in charge of his own, highly-visible mountain.
Baxter joined the Skico in 1978 as a member of the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol and eventually became patrol director. He became mountain manager in 1992.
Sewell joined the Skico with the Snowmass Ski Patrol in 1977. He was patrol director before becoming mountain manager last year. Sewell was off duty until Sunday and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Baxter said he will leave Aspen Mountain “with some very fond memories” and looks forward to new challenges at Snowmass.
Regardless of their new duties, the primary challenge remains the same for all the top brass – recovering the business they lost this season.
The Skico’s lift ticket sales were down 14 percent in early March. Overall skier visits, when factoring in season-pass use, were down 12 percent.
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