Sean Beckwith: Breaking through the Aspen barrier
February 6, 2019
Every year I vow to snowboard at a different mountain than the four Aspen Skiing Co. areas. Whether it's fatigue from peak season; my unconventional schedule (shout out to my Wednesday/Thursday weekend mates, of which there are like two); the convenience of a seven-minute bus ride to the gondola; the inconvenience of paying for lift tickets, hotel and travel expenses, or simply the allure of incredible conditions on world-renowned mountains, I've never made it farther than Snowmass. And I've been out here for eight seasons.
The only aspect I envy about being a Front Range weekend skier — other than daily access to restaurants that don't involve the word bistro — is having options. Vail's Epic Pass and Aspen's Ikon Pass each offer access to ski areas across Colorado, the West, Canada and beyond. Due to Alterra (Aspen) and Vail Resorts, Inc., buying up resorts like tech companies snatching up trendy startups, the list of possible places to drop in at is massive.
If you've been out as much any ski bum worth their season pass, you may have noticed an influx of skiers out and around during the weekend. On an unusually busy Friday recently, I ran into some friends who also mentioned the trend. Skico doesn't release visitor numbers, so this is an unproven hypothesis, but multiple people I talked to agree about the increase. The consensus, at least among locals in my circle, is people are rightfully taking advantage of Aspen's inclusion in the Ikon Pass. The uptick also could be the conditions, but I'm not sure you'd get that random San Diegan family to visit without the motivation of a "free" pass.
I'm not mad about the increase in visitors because, as I said earlier, my weekends aren't Saturdays and Sundays. Additionally, *curmudgeon voice* the tourists are our livelihood and shall not be slandered. The issue I have is with the limitation of the Premier Pass.
Skico's season ticket allows access to its four mountains and that's it. There's a Skico program that allows you to visit places outside of the valley but the catch is it's only for Skico employees.
Unless you want to work for the Roaring Fork Valley's version of Brad Wesley, you're out of luck. (In this case, Wesley's J.C. Penney addition to the Jasper, Missouri, mall is Skico's proposed Lift 1 corridor; a shiny attraction they can point to that "improved" the community. If you're not familiar with Wesley's role in "Road House," a peak, if not the peak, of American cinema, sorry for wasting the last 20 seconds of your time.)
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Skico should consider offering Premier passholders at least a few (seven) days at ski areas under Alterra ownership. As I've seen with the Ikon Pass, the temptation of a "free" lift ticket is enough to get people to travel outside their usual powder-hunting grounds.
It's not as if other resort towns are going to say "no" to a bunch of people trying to visit, stay in their hotels, eat at their restaurants and drink at their bars. The cool thing I've noticed about crowds of people who committed a lot of money and time to skiing and snowboarding is they know the routine.
They navigate lift lines with ease and organization, understand on-mountain courtesy and, most importantly, want to have a good time. I'm not saying normal tourists don't want to enjoy themselves, but it's easier to have fun when you can ride all the rides.
Another perk of offering locals a chance to ski elsewhere is getting them out of Aspen. Skico doesn't benefit from that guy who shoves as many free samples as possible into his jacket to avoid being extorted by on-mountain dining. Aspenites aren't staying at the Limelight or The Little Nell. Giving your customers a change of ski slopes amid the rush of winter could alleviate Buckhorn Cabin fever and may even improve morale.
The last reason Alterra should throw Premier passholders a few "Get off of Aspen Mountain Free" cards is because it's the right thing to do. The Aspen-Snowmass community has been cut off from the rest of Colorado for too long. Now that the powers that ski opened our gondola doors, it's only fair we have some ropes dropped for us, too.
While a staycation in Aspen is certainly a blast, it's been too long since I've had that ski-trip feeling, opening my blinds to a view that's not Ajax. I want to surf channels from a hotel bed. I want to apres at foreign locales. I want to soak in a hot tub that I didn't have to poach. I want to eat at somebody else's bistro. I want to explore new terrain. And you know what, I'm not the only one.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at email@example.com.