Will Aspen Highlands stay on a roll?
December 6, 2006
Aspen Skiing Co. officials wonder if Aspen Highlands will stay on a roll this season or if the honeymoon is over.Highlands boosted its business by 15.5 percent last season, the second-largest percentage increase among Colorado’s ski resorts, Skico managing partner Jim Crown noted. Only Monarch did better, with an increase of 17.5 percent.Skier and snowboarder visits at Highlands jumped from 167,390 in 2004-05 to 193,242 last winter. That was the fourth straight season of increases for Highlands.Highlands opens Saturday for the season, as does Buttermilk.Highlands has boosted its business while adding toys. The patrol has consistently added more expert terrain in Highland Bowl, and last year the Skico opened the Deep Temerity chairlift. That chair accommodated the addition of about 1,000 vertical feet of skiing in the bowl and allowed the extension of the trails in Steeplechase.
And the toys keep coming: An addition of 100 acres this year boosts Highlands’ total to 1,000.Skico officials figure some of Highlands’ gain came at Aspen Mountain’s expense. Conventional wisdom around town – also known as barstool philosophy – reasoned that some Ajax loyalists spent more days checking out the new lift and terrain at Highlands last season.Roger Marolt, an avid skier and Aspen Mountain loyalist, said he skied Highlands more often last season and saw a lot of familiar faces from the Ajax crowd. People were attracted by the Deep Temerity lift, he said.Marolt’s guess is that Ajax loyalists will spend little more time back at Aspen Mountain this season because the Deep Temerity chair is no longer new.Aspen Mountain Manager Peter King said that’s one of his expectations for the ski season.
Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the data wasn’t at his fingertips on whether Highlands built its increase from locals, tourists or both last season: “It’s very hard to figure out where they came from, if it was cannibalization from Aspen Mountain,” he said.Even if cannibalization occurred, it didn’t harm Aspen Mountain’s showing. Ajax increased its skier visits by 6.5 percent last season. Snowmass was up 3 percent, while Buttermilk was up 1 percent. The Skico overall was up 5.5 percent.Perhaps more importantly, Highlands is gobbling a bigger piece of the Skico pie. It accounted for 13 percent of the company’s business last season, compared to 12 percent the winter before.Even with its recent growth, Highlands isn’t close to the numbers it attracted during its heyday in the mid-1970s. It logged 320,000 visits in 1975-76.Highlands will open about 750 acres of terrain Saturday, including the G Zones in Highland Bowl, according to Hanle. Temerity, Olympic Bowl and “a big chunk of Steeplechase” are also scheduled to open.
The Thunderbowl chairlift and terrain won’t open, Hanle said.At Buttermilk, all chairlifts and 60 percent of the terrain will open Saturday.Additional terrain will also open at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, although planning is ongoing.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.