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`Uncrowded by design’? Not if Skico can help it

If the folks at the Aspen Skiing Co. had their druthers, future success would make one of their key marketing themes obsolete.

The Skico hopes to capitalize on the lack of crowds at its four local ski areas by promoting it as a selling point. “Uncrowded by Design” is one of the key messages of the 2000-01 ski season marketing campaign that’s unfolding this summer.

Skeptics could claim the slopes are uncrowded because ski trips to Aspen cost too much. Cynics could say past marketing efforts were botched. Common sense says lousy snow the last two seasons didn’t help.

But Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton, who oversees the marketing effort, said the “Uncrowded by Design” theme is unrelated to any of those factors.

“A number of skiers over a number of years have urged us to talk about this lack of crowding, but it’s a message we were unable to express in a positive way,” said Norton. “If we said, `We’re uncrowded,’ the retort could be: `Of course you are, you dummies, your skiing, lodging, restaurants, and transportation all cost too much.’

“So that idea has laid dormant for some time. But then we thought about `Uncrowded by Design.’ That says something different than just `uncrowded.’ ” Tourist `beds’ disappearing The idea behind the theme, said Norton, is that the number of tourist accommodations has shrunk over the years to a point where the ski area chairlift systems and skiable terrain easily absorb the number of people hitting the slopes.

The Skico’s research shows Aspen and Snowmass Village have lost 18 percent of their bed base – or 2,900 beds – over the last six years.

“We have a lot of slopes and we don’t have a lot of places to put people here – accommodations,” said Skico Communications Director Rose Abello.

Without a nearby major metropolitan market to draw from, the Skico’s four areas don’t draw the crowds of resorts like Breckenridge, Keystone, Winter Park or Vail.

Norton said local skiers and riders might take the uncrowded conditions for granted, but a taste of the lift lines and packed slopes elsewhere proves that Aspen offers a superior experience.

“We think it’s one of the things that gives us a competitive advantage,” said Abello. “Lift lines are not an issue here.” Confusing message? Ironically, perhaps, the Skico will tout its uncrowded slopes with the goal of making them a little more crowded.

“Would we take more skiers and riders? Absolutely,” said Abello.

However, she claimed the basic concept behind the “Uncrowded by Design” campaign will remain true for years to come – there aren’t enough tourist accommodations and day skiers to crowd Aspen’s slopes.

Norton said “Uncrowded by Design” must be explained before it “sinks in” for listeners.

“People need to spend some time with the message to appreciate it,” he said.

It’s not the only message the Skico plans to spread this summer. The Skico’s marketing and advertising plan for next season is essentially complete, but Norton wouldn’t discuss it – in part for competitive reasons and in part because it is the topic of discussion at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s annual luncheon on July 20.

Norton said he “didn’t want to steal the thunder” from that presentation.

“Aspen-Snowmass has too much breadth and depth, and too many different customers, for one catch-all message to be effective in delivering the business,” said Norton.

As Abello put it, “We have tons [of marketing messages]. We’re multidimensional.”

Norton acknowledged that this marketing campaign might be more important than most, considering drastic losses in customer visits the last two seasons.

“There’s a lot of pressure to deliver,” he said. And given good early-season snow, he expects the Skico’s numbers will bounce back significantly.

After setting a record for skier and rider visits with 1.56 million in 1997-98, the Skico’s business has gone downhill.

Visits were down 8.3 percent in 1998-99. They fell another 7.5 percent last season to 1.32 million.


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