Self-importance rises at Aspen Skiing Co.
“Many [second-home owners] will send their attorneys to your meetings to fight employee housing construction in their neighborhood. Some will call you to complain about the noise created by the groomers and snowmaking machines. Others will grumble when you close the street off for World Cup, and they will despise all the rowdy youngsters that come to town for Xgames (sic).”Those words belonged to Mike Kaplan, president and CEO of Aspen Skiing Co., before he boldly gave them directly to all members of Aspen City Council and to each of us in letters to both local newspapers on the eve of an important vote on the Lodge at Aspen Mountain development application – approval of which his company stood to gain much from.For those not accustomed to reading for content, Kaplan was basically saying that second-home owners are a nuisance. It would be much easier on him if the malcontents with a vested financial interest in how this town turns out would just go away, to be replaced by nongriping wealthy transients that turn over every other week.After I read Kaplan’s letter several times, it was stunningly clear that he was telling us that second-home owners are, for the most part, a grouchy, intolerant, complaining, grumbling and litigious bunch of geezers. Even without taking the time to consider whether I agreed with him, it struck me that the words were from the man whose company has profited untold sums peddling, to second-home owners, thousands of expensive timeshares they had a hand in developing at complexes named the Sanctuary, the Snowmass Club, the Residences at Little Nell, the Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands, and whatever name eventually sticks at the massive Snowmass Base Village.If there was any doubt about my initial interpretation, it was erased with Kaplan’s closing lines:”Vote for a new lodge that will support community events and the spirit that makes Aspen a great place to live, work, and visit. Vote to be a vibrant ski town, not a ghost town.”Apparently Kaplan believes that second-home owners don’t support the spirit that makes Aspen great and that they relegate us to being a dull ghost town.I am certain that Kaplan is not being misquoted. I don’t believe his words are being taken out of context. I think he told us exactly what he believed was necessary to get at our emotions, attempting to sway our support his way.If not, and he was telling us what he truly believed, I wonder how he became the leader of a corporation that has aggressively transitioned from skiing into real estate development as its core business, led the way in marketing Aspen as an enclave for the über-wealthy, and created a product that is dependent on second-home owners for survival. It must have been an incredible personal struggle to daily promote a plan he believed was bad for our community.Kaplan must be in it for the paycheck. That’s OK. We’ve all had to pick up the boss’ dry cleaning at some time or another. Accordingly, he has to say certain things, possibly contrary to his beliefs, in order to accomplish the day’s agenda and earn his keep. One problem now, however, is that, in the heat of the moment, he lost sight of the fact that second-home owners are the economic engine that drives our economy, like it or not. More critically, he failed to recognize that some discerning readers of the local dailies would read his words, not narrowly as he intended them to apply to the topic de jour, but generally, as truth and sincerity dictate.Now Mr. Kaplan is caught in a jam. He can come out and say that he didn’t mean what he said about second-home owners and that they are, on second thought, fun and lovely people whom we should all dotingly embrace. But, this will kill his reasoning for the necessity of a new hotel at the base of Lift 1A and the nice profit his company stands to make from it.Conversely, he can stick to his guns and maintain that second-home owners are a royal pain in the Aspen and responsible for the ruination of town. This may enable him to resuscitate his argument for a new hotel, but he risks alienating a group of people which, collectively, owns a much larger share of Aspen’s real estate than his employer does. Money is power. Second-home owners are powerful. If he doesn’t mollify them, it could mean his job.The credibility markets are crumbling. For the residents of Aspen, there is at least one thing to learn as we watch PR people try to cut Kaplan free from this Gordian knot around his neck: We can’t trust the Skico.Remember that this gaffe came from the very top of the corporate flow chart. It was not a well-thought-out letter. Blatantly self-serving correspondence such as this only makes it out of the corner office and into public purview under a preponderance of arrogance. Had just one insider proofread Kaplan’s letter and felt even slightly vulnerable about its content, it never would have seen the light of day.Rather, this mistake in prose was brazenly delivered to the highest-ranking representatives of our local government. This disturbingly, if not inadvertently, revealing letter was boldly sent to local newspapers, where it was misguidedly hoped every resident would read it. Why? The reason is that very little of what the Skico sends out in media is ever challenged. This foolish letter was lackadaisically disseminated because it was presumed fools would be reading it.There was another public letter this week from David Perry, senior vice president at the Skico, which challenged City Council members to be “courageous” and vote in favor of the hotel at Lift 1A. At least one councilman, Jack Johnson, took offense at the implication that he was a coward if he didn’t. This dispatch, however, was a peccadillo compared with Kaplan’s. Perry’s letter may have cost the approval of a real estate deal, but Kaplan’s cost him and the Skico the trust of the town.Roger Marolt’s second home is at email@example.com