Giving Thought: Skiing for a sustainable region |

Giving Thought: Skiing for a sustainable region

Allison Alexander
Giving Thought
Allison Alexander
Courtesy photo

Front and center on its website’s home page, Aspen Snowmass (Skico) announces itself as “Four mountains, two towns, and one unforgettable experience at the confluence of nature, culture, and recreation.” While that is no doubt what they are best known for, it doesn’t capture the bigger role the company aspires to play in our local communities. 

At Aspen Community Foundation, we’ve been a partner in those efforts for almost as long as we’ve been around. In fact, it’s how we came to exist: In 1980, Skico founded the organization that would go on to become the Aspen Community Foundation.

The relationship between us has evolved: We’ve been a separate community foundation since the mid-1990s. But at the heart of the partnership is a commitment to supporting the people and places in our region that can be negatively impacted by the very prominence and desirability — and the subsequent costs of housing, health care, and child care — that are at the center of Skico’s business.

Are Skico’s community efforts a completely selfless act? Of course not, and they readily admit that. In its biannual sustainability reports, it acknowledges that a motivator behind its commitment to fighting climate change and helping build thriving communities is, in part, to “stay in business forever.”

Without snow, there is no skiing. Without quality schools, affordable places to live, and a healthy, connected local population, there’s less appeal for employees to make a life here. Even worse, as our problems multiply, the sustainability of the whole region can become tenuous. So together we try to fix as much of it as we can.

The Aspen Community Foundation and Skico have offered iterations of a philanthropic pass program for several decades. In 2012, we launched the $25,000 Ultimate Ski Pass, which directs all proceeds to youth-serving non-profits in the region. (It’s also the only fully-transferable ski pass available at Aspen Snowmass, meaning a different person could use it every day.) Over the years, the pass has generated $5.4 million for the community through grants and support to non-profits.

The Ultimate Ski Pass helped pilot two preschool-on-wheels buses — the first mobile preschools to be licensed in Colorado — which were specifically designed to offer early childhood education to low-income children who otherwise might not have access. Countless other initiatives and organizations have benefited from the passes’ support. 

Partnering with regional non-profits and other organizations allows the foundation and Skico to activate solutions in real time, directing philanthropic dollars to the places where they will have the greatest impact. For example, this year, to combat our region’s housing crisis, Skico requested that $100,000 of Ultimate Ski Pass proceeds be aimed at projects and innovations supporting housing initiatives that help children and families.

According to Skico’s Senior Manager of Sustainability and Philanthropy Hannah Berman, the Ultimate Ski Pass is an example of how thoughtful partnerships, creative brand leveraging, and education on community issues, can tie recreation to purpose — the very core of the Aspen Idea.

As the Ultimate Ski Pass enters its second decade, we at the foundation would like to celebrate the partnership, thank the donors who have purchased passes, and share that Skico is allowing us to double the number of passes we are able to allocate.

That’s twice as many families we can serve, twice the dollars we can direct to essential regional non-profits, and an immeasurable boost to our motivation to use philanthropy in the highest impact ways that we can to ensure that we can all continue to have a home here in our region “forever.”

Allison Alexander is the director of strategic partnerships and communicationsfor the Aspen Community Foundation, which with the support of its donors, works with non-profits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.