Kaplan: Challenges of tough snow season brings out Aspen’s best | AspenTimes.com

Kaplan: Challenges of tough snow season brings out Aspen’s best

Mike Kaplan
Aspen Skiing Co. President

It's looking like a historic year, and not in the way we might hope. Being a lifelong skier, I've long wondered and deeply feared what it would be like to relive the infamous winter of 1976-77, and the haunting image of D.R.C. Brown standing bemused atop barren January slopes. Though times are different — we now have snowmaking — that year has finally arrived.

But my reaction isn't what I thought it would be. I'm proud to say, well … it ain't so bad. In fact, it's a relief to have the monkey off my back. More importantly, our trials this year unified the community and kindled unique and widespread gratitude. For that, I'm sincerely thankful. There are no better words to express how I feel. The warm temperatures and minimal snowfall have definitely been trying, but it has highlighted to me what makes this place and its people so extraordinary.

First of all, thank you to our employees. You saved the season. I can't go anywhere without people expressing wonder at how good the riding is with so little snow. That didn't just happen. Aspen Mountain cat crews worked all night, then got on skis to shovel snow out of the woods to keep the Ajax Express ramps usable. Ski School at Buttermilk shoveled snow onto plastic tarps to allow cats across Homestead Road. In all the heat and drought, Snowmass pulled off an Olympic trial that enabled Shaun White to notch a perfect score and garner international press for our entire resort. At Highlands, the work to maintain the T Lazy 7 traverse will be told about in song throughout the ages. Rock picking by patrol. Upbeat creativity by hotel staff. The list is endless. Under extreme duress, you on the front lines rose to the challenge. You are the backbone of our company and saved our community from what should have been a disastrous season.

Thank you to the community, which proved once and for all that it takes a valley. One of the recurring stories I heard this December was of old-schoolers who skied every day saying: "I'm having a blast!" That's the kind of attitude you could build a nation on, let alone a ski town. And it was pervasive. Without that to fuel everyone here, visitors would have left disappointed. Instead, from the moment they touched down at the airport they were greeted by real people with genuine interest in their welfare, from the bus drivers, to the hotel staff, the restaurant workers, the retail workers and everyone else in this core ski town.

And finally, a huge thank-you to our guests. You traveled far to get here and jumped into your vacations with enthusiasm and good cheer. You made the best of what you found on the slopes, in the restaurants and in the shops. It was obvious that you came to do what Aspen enables: to connect with friends and family and enjoy your time no matter what Mother Nature had in mind. Skiers and snowboarders are eternal optimists, and our guests once again proved it. (Please note: the weather pattern has changed, snowfall is normalizing, and we hope you all have a chance to come see us again this year!)

Thank you also to the Gay Ski Week loyalists in town this week: We appreciate that you have been coming here for more than 40 years. And you should know: We have your backs, and it's in part for you that we are talking about respect, unity and love.

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Abundant snowfall makes all ski-area operators look smart. It makes all riders look like Olympians, and leaves everyone glowing. But when the snow is marginal, that's when the real skiers and snowboarders stand apart. So it's awesome to see this community rising to the challenge and proving again that we are a true mountain town.

One thing we can count on is that the weather and conditions are constantly in flux. This breeds hope, demands adaptability, and makes us more resilient. And it means that when it does snow, and it will, we'll again float together down pitches of feather-light powder and we'll appreciate it more than ever.

Mike Kaplan is President and CEO of Aspen Skiing Co.

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