High Points: Fool Me Once

Paul E. Anna
High Points
Aspen Skiing Company President and CEO Mike Kaplan speaking in September 2018 at the Sundeck restaurant atop Aspen Mountain as part of Skico and Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s annual social-mixer sneak-peek into the upcoming ski and snowboard season.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times archive

If you made it this far in the paper on this first day of April you already know that it is April Fool’s Day. Not that it should come as a surprise, but on more than one occasion I have found myself snookered by a fake headline or a too-impossible-to-be-believed story that I fell for for just the splitest of split seconds.

This year it felt like maybe some of the stories that have been reported in the month of March could have been the stuff of April Fool’s jokes.

How about that headline to begin the month that told the tale of the Russian buying an acre of land from a local group for seven times more than they paid it just seven months before? That had to be a joke right? There’s no way that Jeff Gorsuch and the Norway LLC would do that after going through an election and telling folks that they were preserving the integrity and character of the community, right? Well, now it seems like it wasn’t very funny.

Then there was the one where the fashion mogul Tommy Hilfiger bought a legacy home for his family and just two months later sold it for a profit of $19 million. Again, we all know that funny money rules, but this was another story that sounded more like a joke than a fact. Turns out, it too was true.

On the other hand there was a third story that I wish was a joke. That’s the one from last week that read “Kaplan announces he will step down as leader of Aspen Skiing Co.” That’s the one that caught just about everyone by surprise.

Mike Kaplan has been the president and CEO of Skico since 2006 and, as he is just 57 years old, I think it is safe to say that most everyone in this valley felt he would remain in the top spot for years to come. He has been an influential and thoughtful leader over that time and I doubt there many who ski here who don’t think that we have the best mountains and amenities in the industry. How often do you say to yourself, and how often do you hear from others on the lifts that there is no place better than Aspen to ski?

Much of that credit goes to Kaplan, who has forged a sense of trust between the company and the company town that hosts it. That is a thin line for any chief executive to straddle but the affable Kaplan has done so for more than a decade and a half.

I can think of just one occasion, last year when he was speaking to the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners on the Pandora proposal, that Kaplan showed any hint of not playing nice with the community. Uncharacteristically, he suggested that Skico may have to consider exercising their rights to build homes if the Pandora expansion did not get its approvals. The threat felt both hollow and, while not a joke, somewhat laughable. Pandora got its approval and clearing is anticipated to begin this summer.

Tonight at 5 p.m., Kaplan will join Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and two-time Olympic Medalist Alex Ferreira at the top of Aspen Mountain in front of the “Melted Gondola” to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Aspen skiing and talk about climate initiatives. Something that has been an important part of the Kaplan tenure.

Maybe he’ll pull a Tom Brady and say, “Nah, I was just kidding.” It would be a good day for it.


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