Aspen Times editorial: Kaplan’s time running Skico show has seen more progress than missteps |

Aspen Times editorial: Kaplan’s time running Skico show has seen more progress than missteps

Aspen Times Editorial Board

We were as surprised as everyone when Mike Kaplan announced last week at a long-timers party for Aspen Skiing Co. employees that he was stepping down as president and CEO at the end of next season.

Kaplan and Skico have been on a roll lately, bouncing back nicely from the COVID-plagued 2020-21 ski season, expanding their hotel brand to the first non-ski area market with a deal to open a Limelight Hotel in Boulder and securing approval to add the Pandora’s terrain to Aspen Mountain.

Alas, Kaplan said his upcoming milestones of 30 years with Skico and 17 years as its leader have taken a toll. He’s been the face of the company 24/7 for 365 days a year. Friday evening atop Aspen Mountain, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is set to talk about his climate initiatives and Kaplan and others will be there.

In an interview with The Aspen Times, Kaplan acknowledged he’s a bit of an introvert and leading the company has sometimes required him to step out of his comfort zone. At age 57, he looks forward to enjoying the fruits of his labor.

Kaplan was the right leader at the right time for Skico. He was able to relate to the vast majority of employees, customers and community members. Kaplan raised his children in Aspen and benefited from the inevitable development of ties that cultivates.

He also worked his way through the ranks of various on-mountain departments at Taos Ski Valley during and immediately after college, and then came to Aspen after earning his MBA.

Kaplan could relate to lifties overwhelmed by hordes of novices at the Village Express chairlift at Snowmass. He understood the tough conditions snowmakers faced while toiling in cold, dark, pre-dawn conditions. He had a special rapport with the ski instructors who are critical breadwinners for the company.

Throughout the years, Skico executives have worked on the front lines, and Kaplan has been no exception. He’s loaded gondolas at Ajax and wiped down tables at Two Creeks along with entry-level workers.

Kaplan convinced the Crown family, 100% owners of Skico, to provide a $3 raise for all employees in February after boosting starting pay for newcomers at the beginning of the season.

Well before a torrent of bad publicity hit the national ski industry this winter about lack of effort to provide housing for employees, Kaplan guided Skico’s efforts to boost its bed base by building the $18.4 million, 43-unit apartment complex called The Hub at Willits prior to this season. (Skico still needs to refine its policies so that new employees don’t spend every last dime to get established in company housing at the start of the season, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Kaplan also maintained Skico’s longtime reputation for running a great operation on the slopes. Skico and partners transformed Snowmass Base Village. Big plans are in the works for completing the overhaul of the Buttermilk base. Critical snowmaking in a warming climate has been extended to the top of Aspen Mountain. The high-elevation Pandora’s terrain will provide extra insurance that skiing will survive as snow becomes more scarce on lower slopes.

Is Kaplan perfect? No, as he would be the first to admit. Skico continues to overreact at times when criticized by segments of the community. Opposition to the Hub at Willits by neighbors and to the Pandora’s expansion by backcountry enthusiasts and environmentalists was taken as too much of an affront by some members of Skico’s team, who then engaged in thinly veiled campaigns to discredit anyone who dared challenge them.

Skico’s eagerness to milk extra revenues from the ultra-wealthy through its ASPENX brand of products and experiences seems a bit over the top.

But despite a few missteps, Skico has been in very capable hands with Kaplan. Most of Aspen will be sorry to see him go, but it is reassuring that he will help search for his successor and be in place throughout next ski season to help with the transition.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Allison Pattillo, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll and reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.

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