Meredith C. Carroll: The Ikon Pass is an iconic Aspen problem
When I asked the front-desk clerk at the chic Denver hotel where I was staying if my reservation could be amended, he peered down the bridge of his nonexistent glasses, first at a computer screen and then at me.
“There’s no flexibility with the booking,” he announced, his leading-man voice dropping into a stage whisper, “because you reserved on a discount site.”
I shrugged off the no-change policy even if I never forgot the sneer. Why would a first-class resort offer an incentive to galvanize sales only to make the people taking advantage of it feel like second-class citizens? It was something I wondered again a few days ago when making plans with one of my oldest and best friends who is vacationing this week in Snowmass Village by way of Brooklyn.
She texted a weary-face emoji and wrote: “I’m also OK with not skiing full days every day. We all have Ikon Passes (don’t tell anyone) so the lift tickets are already paid for.”
I suppose I’ve caught wind of some griping about Ikon Pass crowds via Facebook posts and newspaper columnists and letter writers, although I usually figure I’m either misinterpreting the tone of the missives, or simply missing the problem. Aspen Skiing Co. finally offers a revolutionary deal to goose visitor numbers — and then as soon as the new skiers arrive we talk loudly about how much we wish they’d leave? I may not have an MBA from Cornell’s Hotel School yet I’m still pretty sure this is not an effective way to demonstrate hospitality. (I did, however, graduate from middle school, so irrational jealousy and unkindness are familiar-enough concepts.)
Aspenites griping about the overcrowding of local mountains (what, did you have to stand in an actual lift line? Don’t they know who you are?) is akin to someone seated in coach whining about a crying child: You’re both using up the same amount of oxygen so if you require more of it, fly private. (In the case of Aspen, if you’re getting bent out of shape because the 6-inch rule triggered an 11-minute wait at the gondola, maybe look into getting a membership at the Cimarron Mountain Club. Or just google photos and stories of the three-hour lines from Vail’s most recent powder day.)
Certainly Aspen can’t be everything to everyone, but if it falls short of being a destination that manifests gratitude and grace, it seems doomed to reap what it sows in terms of the local and guest populations. Each time I hear chatter about the right and wrong visitors (although come to think of it, it’s always about the wrong ones), I am reminded of something my husband once said:
“If you meet three jerks in a day, chances are you’re the jerk.”
Who’s to say it’s the Ikon passholders who need to yield the mountain? Maybe Aspen needs to rethink its own footprint and keep the slopes, shops and restaurants clear until the new people all get a turn, because who’s to say who it is that’s actually doing the crowding? (Oh, wait. It’s Skico, that’s who. And yes, that’s right, Ikon passholders only accounted for a 12% increase in skier numbers over all four area mountains last season.)
My friend skis frequently — back East, out West — and it’s the Ikon Pass that prompted her family’s vacation this week in Snowmass, their first one in my 17 Colorado winters. They’re skiing (most of every day), staying, tipping, eating, playing and shopping. While I haven’t actually looked in their wallets, I’m confident their money is green. They also say “please” and “thank you,” ooh and aah sufficiently at all the right scenery and landmarks, and not once have they remarked anything about Aspen being inferior to Vail, which is more than can be said for a woman I encountered over the weekend.
“On Aspen Mountain I was told one thing, on Snowmass it’s another,” she said, her face twisted. “It’s so much easier at Vail because it’s all just the same.”
Which is ironic, because the same could be said for the complaints around here. Aspen may want to start being more careful what it wishes for, because in typical Aspen fashion, we usually seem to get it.
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.
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