The Skico view on the big issues | AspenTimes.com

The Skico view on the big issues

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

How does the Aspen Skiing Co. gauge its performance over the last decade? How does it view the coming season? Is its role as an environmental activist in the ski industry worth the criticism that comes with the territory?David Perry, Skicos senior vice president-mountain division, provided answers to 10 questions posed by The Aspen Times in an e-mail interview to kick off the coming season. (He couldnt tell us when this balmy weather will give way to the white stuff.)Perry is the Skicos second in command. One of the first actions taken by Skico President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Kaplan last November when he took the helm of the company was to promote Perry as his right-hand man.Perry is in charge of all ski operations and also oversees marketing, sales, events, ticketing, guest services and public relations.Aspen Times: By the Aspen Skiing Co.s estimate, some 30,000 skier visits were lost because of canceled and delayed flights last season. How will you get those customers back?David Perry: We will send them all subscriptions to The Aspen Times.In all seriousness, there are two main thrusts to our efforts to bring the disaffected guests back this year. First and foremost we will need to prove to travelers that we have the problems fixed. In addition to a strong marketing program highlighting our air services convenience and breadth, a number of people from Pitkin County, Stay Aspen Snowmass and Aspen Skiing Co. have been working with the key air operator, SkyWest, along with United and Delta to come up with a multi-point plan to improve service this winter. If we dont deliver on better service, any marketing efforts will have been wasted. I am very optimistic that SkyWest will show big improvements this winter.AT: Airline issues are always a critical factor in the success of a destination resort like Aspen. It doesnt appear that new service from a Frontier affiliate will be available until late in the winter, if at all. How do you feel about the current amount of airline seats?DP: There will be 12 percent more seats available into Aspen/Snowmass than last year even without Frontier. Additional flights from Chicago, L.A. and Denver will give us an excellent schedule. If and when Frontier arrives it will just strengthen the situation.AT: Skico officials have shared what the budgeted increase in skier visits has been the last few seasons. What is the forecast for 2007-08? DP: We have planned for a modest 1.5 percent increase in skier days this year. With good snow and planes that actually land, we hope to be able to beat this target.AT: Will the improvements at Snowmass Ski Area and Base Village pay dividends this season with increased skier visits there, or will it take a few more years for the payoff?DP: The Base Village is still just beginning to take shape, but if everyone in the community shares their excitement around the existing on-mountain improvements, we can start to generate more business in Snowmass. For kids and families this winter will be the best ever. The Treehouse will set a new standard for kids facilities and word will spread. Watch the legacy grow over the next few years.AT: Related/WestPac has emerged as a real estate force in Snowmass Village and, to a lesser extent, around the valley. How does the Skico regard that team?DP: They seem to be willing to work in a spirit of partnership with our company and the community in Snowmass, and I like their aspirational energy. That said, it is still a new team that will take time to gel, so there are some growing pains to be expected.AT: The dollar is weak compared to many other currencies. What are you expecting from international markets, and which five countries are the Skicos biggest markets?DP: The change in the value of the U.S. dollar in the past three or four years has been staggering. Even the Canadian dollar (jokingly referred to as the Northern Peso for decades) is now worth $1.08 U.S. It was worth $0.62 when I moved here [in 2002]. This of course means that the buying power of many other major currencies has vastly improved, making trips to the U.S. much more affordable compared to other countries. This is a continuing trend and we should see further growth from top international markets again this year because our sales and marketing team is working hard to capitalize on the situation.The top markets are Australia/New Zealand, United Kingdom, Brazil, Mexico, Germany and Canada.AT: The Colorado ski industry has boosted its skier and snowboarder visits by nearly 587,000 or 5 percent, since the 1997-98 season. The Skicos visits are down 7 percent over that same period. Why hasnt the Skicos performance mirrored the state industrys?DP: Both Colorado and Aspen/Snowmass bottomed out in skier days in the 2001-02 season. Since then we have grown our visits by 14 percent while the state has managed only 12.9 percent growth. During the same period Vail has increased just 4.7 percent. Aspen/Snowmass has performed remarkably well in the past four years to achieve these results.To be perfectly blunt, Aspen has lost 3,000 rentable beds during this period, while other resorts have been on a building binge. New lodging projects in Aspen get rejected.The other big factor since 1997-98 has been the population growth of the Front Range that has fueled the I-70 corridor resorts. We have a pure long-haul destination resort and have achieved our results without the frustration of weekend crowds.AT: The Skico expends a good deal of energy on environmental causes. In the eyes of some critics, the company is hypocritical because it is engaged in a business that takes a heavy toll in terms of carbon emissions. Is it worth it for the Skico to be a lightning rod on environmental issues?DP: The cause Aspen Skiing Co. is fighting, along with the local communities in the Roaring Fork Valley, is so much larger and more important than any petty criticism should affect. Our company pollutes, so does each and every one of us. Aspen Skiing Co. has its faults, but we are simply striving to improve and to perhaps influence others to do what they can to help. We will continue to be our own toughest critic despite those in the valley that think we should stop drawing attention to the environment.AT: The Skicos primary improvements this season were costly but not all that sexy. How will a childrens center at the base of Snowmass and a new beginner area on the lower Elk Camp section of that mountain affect Skicos business?DP: The improvements may not get your juices flowing, but there are thousands of kids and beginners that will be absolutely blown away with the changes. These folks will then become hooked on our sports and Snowmass because of these investments.Lets hike the Bowl and talk about it some more.AT: Tell us something new, exciting and little-known for the coming season.DP: It really is all about the skiing and snowboarding, but I think youll be loving some of the new food offerings. The new menu and focus on organic, natural and local foods at the Merry Go Round plus a whole new approach to both lunch and dinner at Lynn Britt Cabin are both going to be exciting. Scott Condon

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