Winter X Games the key to Aspen Skiing Co.’s business future
The Winter X Games are about more than a good time for Aspen Skiing Co. The event as well as the terrain parks at Buttermilk and Snowmass are key elements to appealing to younger generations of skiers and snowboarders, according to Skico executives.
Many ski resorts still rely on baby boomers as their primary customers, but they are “aging out” of the sport, according to multiple industry officials. Skico Chief Operating Officer David Perry acknowledged at a recent business luncheon in Aspen that it’s particularly concerning for Skico because its clientele tend to be older than those of the ski industry as a whole.
However, a survey commissioned by Aspen Chamber Resort Association showed that Aspen ranks high as a place that skiers and snowboarders of all ages across the country aspire to visit. The “aspirational” ranking of Aspen-Snowmass was particularly high among those 35 and younger.
“We mostly attribute that to the powerful engine that the X Games has provided,” Perry said, noting the high television viewership of the event, which tops 40 million just in the U.S.
Aspen was known as a country club for “rich, old, white guys” 14 years ago before the resort landed the X Games, he said. The first Winter X Games were held in Aspen in 2002. Event organizer ESPN and Skico have a contract that goes through 2020.
“I don’t know who made the comment, but it was a great one: Aspen getting the X Games was like your grandma getting a tattoo,” he said.
In reality, X Games is the perfect fit for Aspen, Perry added.
“People have forgotten that Aspen was the original irreverent community,” he said.
Skico President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Kaplan, also speaking at the recent business luncheon, said the company also has tried to crank up its appeal among younger generations by putting more emphasis on its terrain parks and halfpipes for snowboarders and skiers.
About 10 years ago, Aspen-Snowmass wasn’t ranked in what Kaplan dubbed the “younger pubs,” the ski and snowboard industry publications that skew toward younger demographics. Those include TransWorld Snowboarding and Freeskier Magazine.
“Snowmass wasn’t on the map at all,” Kaplan said. “If you look now, we’re pretty much No. 1, No. 2 — pipes, parks, overall. I think that speaks to what we’re doing on the mountain.”
Aspen-Snowmass cleaned up in the resort rankings of TransWorld Snowboarding in the fall. Skico’s four ski areas ranked first, as one entity, among 140 for overall best resort. The category was heavily weighted toward top terrain parks.
Park City and Mammoth Mountain trailed in the second and third spots. Keystone was the next highest-ranked Colorado resort at No. 5. The rankings were compiled from 8,200 poll responses, according to the publication.
Snowmass and Buttermilk came in second and third, respectively, in the Top 10 Pipes category, trailing only Park City, Utah. Buttermilk has the halfpipe used for the X Games competition and Snowmass has an equally impressive pipe.
Snowmass also ranked first in best snow quality and third in best terrain variety.
In Freeskier Magazine, Aspen Snowmass ranked second behind Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, in the best resort overall category. Aspen-Snowmass ranked second for best terrain parks behind Breckenridge.
Skico has 35 employees dedicated to working on terrain parks at Snowmass and Buttermilk. Yannick Rioux is the Snowmass terrain park manager and Greg Boyd is the Buttermilk terrain park operations manager. Both oversee the design and construction of their respective terrain parks.
Perry said the exposure of the X Games on ESPN feeds the desire among younger skiers and snowboarders to visit Aspen-Snowmass. He and Kaplan said the key to making trips achievable for younger generations is maintaining viable airline service and getting more hotels built to offset the loss of “hot beds” in the past two decades.
“We’re never going to be the low-cost provider in the industry, we know that,” Perry said. “But we want to be competitive and we believe the cost of coming here for a vacation is” competitive with other top resorts in North America.
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International visitors have traditionally accounted for 10 to 20 percent of Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits in recent past seasons. Travel fears and restrictions tied to the coronavirus are expected to wipe out most of that market for 2020-21.