Guest column: The makings of a great ski town

Mike Kaplan
Guest column

I confess, when I get my first glimpse of autumn snow falling, I still want to run out and catch some flakes on my tongue and act like a kid. One of the things I love about this community is that just about everybody you see that day has that same look in their eyes: excitement, anticipation, the hope for a great snow year. It’s a prelude to the powder-day euphoria that infects us all during a great storm cycle. And it reminds me that above all else, Aspen is a ski town. It’s such a simple statement, so fundamentally true, that even the most impassioned political opponents can agree on it. Reframing this truism as a question is a good litmus test to measure whether something is good for Aspen. Just ask yourself: Does it make us a better ski town?

At Aspen Skiing Co., we’ve held the Base2 proposal up to that test, and the answer for us is an unequivocal “yes”: Base2 would make Aspen a better ski town.

First, ski towns need skiers, and the visitors booking rooms at Base2 from November to mid-April would be here to ski. And when you consider that Aspen has been losing bed base, particularly small lodges, at a consistent clip over the past few decades, adding a new one feels long overdue. The fact that the rooms would be small would keep their prices affordable relative to other hotels in Aspen, and the modest square footage also would likely result in Base2 guests choosing to spend most of their waking hours in town or on the mountain. That means they’d be far more prone to support our favorite restaurants, our phenomenal cultural programming and, of course, our ongoing investments in slope maintenance and on-mountain facilities.

Then there’s the location. In terms of providing quick access to all four of our ski areas, the northwest corner of Main and Monarch is ideal. Guests who walk out of Base2’s front door and head 11/2 blocks west would arrive at a bus stop offering direct, one-bus rides to Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk. Crossing the street to Paepcke Park would provide the same convenience to Aspen Mountain. That’s a location that appeals to skiers. Even better, Base2’s immediate proximity to the downtown core would let its guests operate car-free during their stay. People want to come to Aspen, and the data show that those who stay in hotels are far less likely to rent cars than those staying in second homes or outside the core.

In terms of how the project would change Aspen’s built environment, we see nothing but upsides. Base2 would join a string of lodges on Main Street, each anchoring a block. Should Base2 be built, the lineup on its side of Main Street will read, heading east to west: the Hotel Jerome, Base2, Hotel Aspen, the Tyrolean Lodge and the Annabelle Inn. For the main thoroughfare of the best ski town in the world, a run of properties like that sounds entirely appropriate. If not on Main Street, where does lodging belong?

Base2 would add a new generational energy and diversity to the mix, too. Of course, there’s no guarantee that millennials would book rooms at Base2, but trends in the hotel industry suggest they would. The research on millennials shows that they are looking for the type of accommodations that Base2 is proposing. If you consider what the forward-thinking, lifestyle hotel brands are doing, it looks much like Base2. They are offering small rooms and modern but playful decor, and they are locating in the heart of the action of their respective cities, allowing guests to spill out the door and immediately engage with the experiences. Base2 hits these points but in a uniquely Aspen way. So does another newer remodel that was also controversial: the Limelight.

So fast forward to a powder day, and consider the possibilities for a stellar morning in February. Thirty or so skiers and snowboarders charge out the door and hop on buses to four different ski areas. Each of them has one of the best days of their life — their first ever at Aspen-Snowmass. Maybe they hike the bowl for the first time or they simply enjoy a few inches on top of freshly groomed corduroy. At day’s end, back at the bar, people who were strangers that morning swap stories, and new camaraderies are born. In the evening, exhausted but exhilarated, they head to The Red Onion for dinner and then to an amazing show at Belly Up.

All of these guests go home changed for the better; some vow to move here someday, and others want to come back with their kids. Sound familiar? Was that your story, too? Doesn’t this sound like what our ski town is all about? It does to us, which is why we’re supporting Base2.

Mike Kaplan is chief executive officer of Aspen Skiing Co.