What’s story of Ajax board ban?
Snowboarding has become such a big part of the winter sports scene that it’s hard to imagine a time when riders were banned from most resorts’ slopes.
Business considerations have forced most operators to open their arms – and their wallets – over the last decade to riders. The sport grew so rapidly through the 1990s that it basically carried the industry.
So how and why has Aspen Mountain bucked that shift until now? The Times tracked down former Aspen Skiing Co. executive Jon Reveal to find the answers.
Reveal played a key role in the Skico’s reaction to snowboarding in the 1980s, first as mountain manager at Snowmass, then as mountain manager at Aspen Mountain, and finally as vice president of operations.
“Don’t get the wrong impression that [snowboarding] was allowed everywhere and banned on Aspen Mountain,” said Reveal. In reality, snowboarding was banned virtually everywhere in early 1980s, then gradually won acceptance at individual ski areas. Skico was leader The Aspen Skiing Co. was actually an industry leader by the 1982-83 season by not only embracing, but aggressively promoting snowboarding at Buttermilk and Breckenridge, which it then owned, Reveal said.
Aspen Highlands, which was independently owned and operated through the 1980s, ran advertisements in the mid-’80s making a big deal of its acceptance of snowboarding.
Snowmass was slower to follow suit. Reveal and his staff at Snowmass debated whether the snowboarding ban there should be lifted just before the 1987-88 season.
“There were camps on both sides, as you can imagine,” he said.
As mountain manager, he came down on the side of lifting the ban. Reveal’s reasoning was that Snowmass was the most family-oriented of the Skico’s areas, and that the ban divided families.
The company’s president at that time, Jerry Blann, was aware of the Snowmass staff’s decision and didn’t overrule it.
“I was sort of tagged as the person who allowed snowboarding at Snowmass,” Reveal laughed. It was a brand that made some customers, and even some employees, angry. Boarders hoped for shift Reveal’s relocation to Aspen Mountain before the 1988-89 season had riders prepared for a new policy. “I think some of the snowboarding community said `hot-jiggity,’ ” Reveal said.
Their hopes were dashed. The company wasn’t about to lift the ban at its most glamorous mountain.
Reveal said it most often created problems with foreign guests, who would buy a ticket then line up at the Silver Queen Gondola only to find out from a lift operator that snowboarding wasn’t allowed on Ajax.
Snowboarding was always allowed on the Skico-operated powder tours into the backcountry south of Aspen Mountain. During Reveal’s tenure, the company also decided to allow snowboarding on Aspen Mountain when its other ski areas were closed.
Meanwhile, other resorts slowly but steadily dropped their snowboarding bans. Keystone was among the last of the other holdouts in Colorado.
While they changed their policies, many other ski area managers were really envious of the Skico’s situation. Reveal said other mountain managers admitted to him during industry gatherings that they wished they had a mountain that could remain skiers-only.
As the owner of three areas so close to one another, and ultimately four when Highlands was added to the fold in the early 1990s, the Skico had the rare opportunity to prohibit riding on one of its mountains and promote it at the sister resorts.
Although riders complain about discrimination, Reveal said company officials were comfortable during his time here that the ban could be justified within the provisions of the operating permit.
There was nothing in those permits that prohibited discriminating against snowboarders. It only banned discrimination based on race, religion, sex and creed, he noted.
“To say we’re going to discriminate against people with bleached blonde hair or silicone breast implants, we can do it,” Reveal said.
He was surprised to hear that the White River National Forest supervisor now plans to review the snowboard ban. Reveal said he couldn’t remember agency officials ever raising any concerns about a Skico marketing decision while he was with the company. Reveal left in the early 1990s.
Company officials always felt the snowboard ban was a business strategy that helped sell Aspen Mountain, Reveal said. He wondered if the U.S. Forest Service would really risk making a decision that would affect that strategy and potentially harm Ajax’s business.
“I think market forces are much stronger than legislative forces,” he said.
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