Mike Kaplan: We’re still here
Holiday season chairlift rides always make me think. My focus is usually on the state of the slopes below: the quantity of the snow, the quality of the grooming and so on. But sometimes I find myself contemplating the remarkable timeline we’re all part of. When my thoughts turn to the founders of skiing in Aspen — particularly the 10th Mountain Division origins of our resort — I’m humbled.
These men had just returned from fighting fascism in Europe, one of humanity’s greatest struggles for its own soul, and the next thing they thought to do was help build a ski area. That — and the fact that wounded veterans still come here to recuperate — is a powerful commentary on what skiing can do for a person’s humanity and sense of place in this world. It also makes me wonder: Do we owe those 10th Mountain vets something?
They risked their lives fighting back against human beings’ darkest instincts. At the very least, we should make clear that we’re worthy of that effort, that we stand as bastions of tolerance and civility. That idea, lofty as it may seem, has taken on resonance after the divisiveness and aftermath of the presidential election.
I believe this election was more about dissatisfaction with government than it was about ideology. And I don’t think racism or bigotry was a major driver at the polls. But some elements of President-elect Trump’s platform conflict with Aspen Skiing Co.’s core values. Since the election, there have been local and national incidences of intolerance. And the entire campaign stood out in rejecting the pressing need for action on climate and environmental regulation, jeopardizing our wild landscapes and outdoor lifestyles, something another 10th Mountain vet, David Brower, devoted his life to protecting.
It’s on these issues I want to make a few things clear: Aspen Snowmass, as a destination, and Aspen Skiing Co., as a place of business with nearly 4,000 employees, has always been and will always remain dedicated to tolerance, open-mindedness, environmental sustainability and civility. This includes doing our very best to work with the new federal administration. My words here are not a broadside against Trump. Rather, they take issue with some specific aspects of his campaign and policy direction.
On climate, the Trump administration has selected climate deniers to run all key cabinet positions, including the Department of Energy, Interior and Environmental Protection Agency.
We are the climate constituency whose livelihood these actions threaten. On the environment, Aspen Skiing Co. will not just fight for a stable climate; we will recruit powerful allies to the cause and use our business as a lever for change.
Vice president-elect Mike Pence is no friend to the gay community. He has signed into law a bill to jail same-sex couples for applying for marriage licenses and has stated that gay marriages signal societal collapse. A gay and happily married friend of ours recently said, “They’re coming after us.”
We are the gay community — and we’ll proudly fly our rainbow flags for a fifth decade this January at Gay Ski Week. We will stand beside our LGBQT friends, employees, guests, and family members in defending civil rights and opportunities for all Americans to love each other equally.
Trump has terrified many adult Latinos in our valley and children in our schools with the threat of deportation, and he has made even legal citizens feel unwelcome.
We are the Latino community — and we will remain a sanctuary for these coworkers and neighbors, students and parents, who will always be welcome in our schools and businesses and homes.
In the closing days of his campaign, Donald Trump aired a two-minute ad featuring Jewish financial leaders George Soros, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein that implied these people control the “levers of power.” Similar rhetoric was used in Germany in the 1930s, and for that reason, Trump’s ad was harshly criticized by the Anti-Defamation League.
We are the Jewish community — and we are much more.
We are a place where people of all ethnicities, religions, genders and races — and that includes white, working-class males — come together to celebrate life, the mountains and being together with family and friends. What differentiates Aspen Snowmass is that we add one particular ingredient to the mix: the notion that by introducing people to ideas, art, and education in the exact place where they are most receptive to new thinking, they can return to their homes inspired, perhaps even more able to improve the world for their experiences here.
Granted, Aspen is not the most diverse melting pot in the nation, and so this all may sound a bit self-important and overwrought. But we take our values and our role as a corporate citizen seriously. That’s why I’m choosing to weigh in publicly, to say that we will not stand down. Our business and our principles are at stake, and we remain resolute in our commitment to ensuring a stable climate and a tolerant, civil society.
We’re still here.
Mike Kaplan is president and CEO of Aspen Skiing Co.