Vail’s absence leaves hole in Colorado ski trade group
ASPEN – A marketing dispute between Vail Resorts and a state ski industry trade association has dragged into a second winter with no reconciliation in sight.
Vail Resorts pulled Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone out of Colorado Ski Country USA in 2008. There was no specific attempt to get Vail to rejoin for the 2009-10 season, according to Dave Bellack, chairman of Colorado Ski Country’s board of directors. Bellack is also senior vice president/general counsel for the Aspen Skiing Co.
“Of course, we would have preferred that Vail stay in the organization,” Bellack said. “It’s good for the industry to speak with one voice.”
Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga declined to discuss the company’s split with Ski Country.
Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz issued a statement in 2008 that said his firm wanted Ski Country to focus on monitoring public policy issues and lobby for the ski industry’s interests. He asked the organization to re-evaluate and scale back its marketing efforts. Industry insiders said Katz chafed at the fact that Vail contributed the most funds to Ski Country, then watched its contribution used to market all members, including some of its most direct rivals.
The other member resorts voted unanimously to continue marketing Colorado’s ski industry, so Vail Resorts split.
Bellack, who has been a member of the Ski Country board for 10 years and was elected chair by the other members in June, said Vail’s’ departure trimmed about one third of Ski Country’s budget. Vail Resorts’ four ski areas combine for more than 40 percent of Colorado’s annual skier visits, a key measure of business. The company paid the highest dues to Ski Country, so its absence creates a noticeable hole in its membership.
The trade association has less to spend on marketing now, but Bellack said the effort still effectively benefits the state ski industry. Colorado Ski Country serves as a clearinghouse of information for its members. It tries to draw skiers into the state, without favoring one member over another.
“We try to get people to ski, from the Front Range to Japan,” Bellack said.
Cooperation on that front is probably more important than ever this season because of the lousy economy. The tourism industry as a whole is struggling to lure travelers.
Regardless of who is responsible for the split, both Ski Country and Vail Resorts are paying the consequences. Two of the most glaring examples are Ski Country’s snow report and a map on its website that shows the state’s ski areas. Information on Ski Country’s 22 members is included but there is no mention of Vail Resorts’ four high-visibility resorts – and no explanation of why they are missing.
Ski Country also has an acclaimed program that gets Colorado fifth graders onto the slopes for free, and sixth graders for a reduced price. Vail’s ski areas are no longer part of that program.
On the other side of the equation, Ski Country lost its single biggest source of revenue and a company with some of the greatest visibility in the industry.
Ski Country spokeswoman Jen Rudolph said there is no animosity between Ski Country and Vail Resorts and that “lines of communication” remain open.
“I wouldn’t classify it as a feud,” she said.
The Aspen Skiing Co. was the last high-profile resort to separate from Colorado Ski Country. Former Skico President and CEO Bob Maynard pulled out of the trade association in 1995 over differences over marketing. The Skico rejoined the following year.
Bellack said he expects reconciliation between Vail Resorts and Ski Country – eventually.
“I think over time Vail will rejoin the organization,” he said.
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