| AspenTimes.com

Aspen Snowmass access will cost extra on next season’s Ikon Base Pass

It’s going to cost Ikon Base Pass buyers a little extra next season if they want to access the slopes of Aspen-Snowmass and Jackson Hole.

Alterra Mountain Co. announced Thursday the Base Pass will no longer automatically include five days collectively at Aspen Skiing Co.’s four resorts or five days at Jackson Hole. Instead, consumers will have to pay $150 extra to upgrade their passes to add Aspen and Jackson Hole.

The full Ikon Pass, which is more expensive, will continue to provide seven days of access to Aspen and Jackson Hole.

Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan said Thursday it was anticipated “from day one” when the Ikon Pass was introduced before the 2018-19 season that adjustments would be necessary once patterns of use were established.

“We’re looking long-term,” Kaplan said. “We want to maintain the quality of the experience.”

Skico’s goal is for “sustainable levels of growth” at less than 1% annually over time, Kaplan said. That’s a big part of the reason for the adjustment in Ikon Base Pass use at Aspen-Snowmass.

The price increase will likely decrease Ikon Base Pass use, at least on weekends, Kaplan said. Aspen Snowmass has experienced more visits from Ikon Base Pass users than the regular Ikon Pass, he said. Ikon Pass owners tend to be more like destination customers — those coming for extended, overnight stays. Ikon Base Pass users tend to come for weekends.

Skico logged a record number of skier visits last season, in part because of Ikon Pass use but also because local pass use soared. Snow conditions were excellent throughout the season and there were several powder weekends that brought out skiers and snowboarders. Aspen Highlands was hit particularly hard.

Skico responded by contracting with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority this season for extra buses to Highlands from the Park & Ride Lot at Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road. That helped ease congestion on Maroon Creek Road but didn’t address conditions on the slopes.

This season, Ikon Pass use at Aspen-Snowmass is up “significantly” from last season, according to Skico. However, there was a corresponding decrease in purchases of the Mountain Collective and Classic passes, which also were popular with customers from outside the Roaring Fork Valley. The net result is pass use is about even with last season, according to Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.

There is considerable pass use on the weekends. By increasing the price of the Ikon Base Pass, Skico and Alterra hope to reduce the influx on weekends and spread out use, Kaplan said. The Ikon Base Pass also has blackout days between Christmas and New Year’s as well as other major holidays. Skico wants to drive business to “non-peak times of the year,” Kaplan said.

Skico’s challenge is to relieve congestion without driving away Ikon customers. The Ikon Base Pass has attracted new customers, many from Colorado’s Front Range, who tend to be younger than average for Aspen-Snowmass, he said.

Alterra Mountain Co. CEO Rusty Gregory said in a Feb. 19 interview that the company sold “considerably more passes” this season than in the inaugural year.

“It’s really a solid year of growth for us,” he said.

Gregory acknowledged that some of the resorts Alterra owns and some of its affiliates are still making adjustments to deal with congestion.

This season provided a glimpse of how the Ikon Base Pass can be used to a business advantage. The pass couldn’t be used at Aspen Snowmass from Dec. 26 to 31.

“We never had any insanely busy days,” Kaplan said. The total skier visits didn’t top 21,000 on any single day at the four ski areas, he said.

But when the blackout period ended, there was a surge of use. Jan. 2 was the busiest day of the holiday period. Kaplan said he had never witnessed that before in all his years at Skico.

Another trend of Ikon use this season is passholders aren’t just congregating at Highlands. Aspen Mountain also has experienced increased use.

“I would say the use is more spread out,” Kaplan said.

That’s a trend Skico wants to enhance next season.


Fire inside Aspen Popcorn Wagon will delay opening for newest venture

Just hours away from opening for a few weeks, a small fire broke out Friday afternoon inside the historic Popcorn Wagon in downtown Aspen, but it was quickly contained.

The cause of the fire was an electric fryer just inside the door to the wagon, said Ryan Chadwick, who is the owner of Mr. Grey Aspen next door and was going to open up the wagon Friday night for a test run.

“I was literally running to the bank to get money to open tonight and came back to this,” Chadwick said Friday night as he and his crew were cleaning up the mess from the fire extinguisher used to douse the flames.

He said the fryer caught fire somehow and they were able to get it put out and throw it outside of the wagon. No one was injured and there is no major damage to the wagon. The Aspen Fire Department was on scene and helped contain the incident.

The fire started just after 4 p.m. and flames could be seen near the entrance of the wagon, which is parked across from the Wheeler Opera House where Hyman Avenue turns to the north and becomes Mill Street.

A fire broke out Friday afternoon at Aspen’s historic popcorn wagon. Flames were visible at the start (see comment below) and plenty of smoke. Aspen Fire crews quickly got the incident under control.

Posted by The Aspen Times on Friday, December 27, 2019

Chadwick still plans to open the wagon this weekend and will serve hot dogs and brats and other simple food. He said the wagon was going to sit empty so he worked out a deal with to have a pop-up stand.

The wagon has a historical designation from the city and is currently owned by developer Mark Hunt. The most recent tenant was a group called Big Munchies, which served hamburgers, doughnuts and other snack items over the summer. The Popcorn Wagon has been shuttered since then.

The wagon in its current form has been an Aspen icon since the 1960s. It was originally built in 1913 but remodeled as a replica more than a decade ago. The fare served there has gone through numerous iterations. At one point the wagon sat on the corner where Paradise Bakery is currently, but was moved to the Hyman Avenue and Mill Street location a few decades ago.

Pyramid Peak hiker found alive more than 48 hours after reported missing

A Mountain Rescue Aspen team walking out of the backcountry near Pyramid Peak found a missing Denver man alive and in good condition Tuesday afternoon, an official said.

The team came upon Neil Brosseau, 66, about 3:50 p.m. and recognized him as the man MRA spent more than 48 hours searching for, said Alex Burchetta, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. 

“He seems to be doing just fine,” Burchetta said.

A sheriff’s deputy was en route to pick up Brosseau and transport him to the MRA headquarters on Highway 82 near Aspen’s airport to debrief him, Burchetta said. Details about what happened and how he got lost were not immediately available. 

Chris Brosseau, the missing man’s nephew, said Tuesday afternoon he and his family were “overjoyed” that his uncle was found alive and well. He hadn’t yet spoken to his uncle yet, but said he heard Neil Brosseau spent Sunday night alone then was helped by hunters, who gave him food, Monday night.

Chris Brosseau said he was hiking with his uncle and his wife Sunday afternoon and was the last person to see him on the saddle at about 13,000 feet that connects the northeast summit ridge to the Pyramid Peak summit. 

“I was about 300 feet below him screaming my head off and waving my arms,” Chris Brosseau said. “But he turned away and started walking back up the trail.”

He said he doesn’t know yet what happened, but plans to find out.

“He will be getting a lecture from me,” Chris Brosseau said. “But we’re good.”

A medical helicopter out of Grand Junction ferried the MRA searchers to a spot near the amphitheater below Pyramid’s north face about 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, Burchetta said. Officials also used a drone Tuesday to target specific areas of the mountain in the search for Brosseau, Burchetta said. 

Brosseau was first reported missing late Sunday afternoon or early evening, though MRA volunteers did not head into the field until Monday morning, Burchetta said. MRA and the Sheriff’s Office do not undertake nighttime missions unless there’s a confirmed need, such as an injury, he said.

No one had seen Brosseau, said to be an experienced climber, since about 2 p.m. Sunday. 

Pyramid Peak is about 12 miles southwest of Aspen. The Pyramid Peak trail on the northeast ridge is about 8 miles round trip from the trailhead at Maroon Lake, according to website 14ers.com. The last 1,000 feet to the summit requires “Class 3 and 4 climbing and careful route-finding,” according to the website, and the “remaining 500 feet to the summit is complex.”

Voluntary separation among climbing parties is the leading cause of MRA-led searches in the backcountry, Burchetta said.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

Dispute between RFTA, drivers’ union heading to arbitration

A dispute between the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and a union for bus drivers got emotional Thursday when a pay dispute could not be solved.

Ed Cortez, president and business agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1774, read a fiery statement at the RFTA board of directors’ meeting that accused the organization of creating a division with the drivers.

“The main reason RFTA drivers are unionized is to defend themselves. When a company grows so big, they forget their workers and seem to hold them in the lowest of esteem,” Cortez said. “It is unfortunate that RFTA has created this division.”

RFTA board members were quick to defend CEO Dan Blankenship and his staff. Basalt Mayor and RFTA board member Jacque Whitsitt gave a tearful reply that credited Blankenship for his compassion for all people involved with RFTA, including customers.

“I appreciate that there are two sides to every issue, but I have to disagree that Dan Blankenship or the leadership of this company treats employees with the lowest esteem,” Whitsitt said. “That I know not to be true.”

The drivers’ union and RFTA negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement in June for 2019 through 2021. That agreement included a pay scale based on years of service. As implementation of the new agreement moved closer, the union realized it had a disagreement with RFTA management over interpretation of the pay scale. The union wants years of service credited in a way that is quicker than RFTA’s method.

The union filed a grievance on or about Jan. 10. RFTA’s grievance committee rejected the grievance on or about Feb. 8.

At Thursday’s regular monthly meeting of the RFTA board, the dispute was discussed in a closed session. Cortez asked the board when it came out of the executive session if it would support the drivers in the dispute. Pitkin County Commissioner and RFTA board member George Newman responded that no vote was taken in the executive session because it isn’t allowed and that the gist of the board’s discussion was private.

Cortez said he would be forced to read his statement in that case.

“Based on a letter I received denying our grievance, in reference to wage progression, RFTA has chosen not to honor the contract they approved and signed by this board in June of 2018,” he said. “Our union intends to contest this breach legally with all the resources available to us.”

The meeting got momentarily contentious when New Castle Mayor and RFTA board chairman Art Riddile cut off Cortez after about 5½ minutes. Public comment is only allowed for three minutes, he noted. Cortez kept talking, saying the board needed to understand the union’s position.

“You are the body that decides financial and legal issues for RFTA and I am here today trying to stave off potential legal proceedings while there is still time,” Cortez said.

After he was cut off, Glenwood Springs Councilman and RFTA board member Jonathan Godes said he didn’t think the best way for Cortez to represent the drivers was by making legal threats.

Cortez said after the meeting that the union would pursue the next step as spelled out in the collective bargaining unit. It will file a notice with RFTA that it wants to pursue arbitration. The parties will notify the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which will implement a system to appoint an arbitrator.

“The next step would be to take it away from RFTA in regards to rendering a decision,” Blankenship said after the meeting. The process could take anywhere from two to five months, he estimated.

Blankenship said his view is the dispute should be resolved “as expediently and amicably as possible.” There is a disagreement over what was negotiated, he said. RFTA hasn’t decided to ignore the contract. Its bargaining team was “surprised” when the union articulated its interpretation of the pay scale issue, he said.

Blankenship also said management doesn’t hold the drivers in low esteem.

“We value the drivers a lot,” he said.

RFTA negotiators thought they reached an agreement that progressed drivers into higher pay scales in a fair and equitable way that addressed the union’s concerns, according to Blankenship. RFTA also strives to avoid large increases in co-pays and keep coverage for dependants as low as possible on employees’ health insurance, he said.

“Overall, I feel like we had a great working relationship with the union,” Blankenship said.

He said the dispute hasn’t affected operations and all sides have remained “professional.” RFTA management, drivers and all other staff worked well together to pull off service for the Winter X Games in late January, he noted.

“It was all hands on deck,” Blankenship said.

RFTA’s drivers received raises in the first pay period of January in accordance to RFTA’s interpretation of the contract.

“We didn’t hold anything up,” Blankenship said. “We went ahead with what we agreed to.”


Drop-In on a wintery day

Well, the team at The Drop-In is officially the source of snow. This year’s second annual Drop-In party at Aspen Mountain’s Buckhorn Cabin was another exercise in fun in crazy weather.

Last year, our party produced one of the biggest powder days in an otherwise forgetful season.

This year, a few hundred folks braved the wind to help us celebrate the second season of our on-mountain video series. Free beer from Genessee, fresh from New York state, hot dogs when the grill stayed lit during the intense wind and a bit of custom cookie cake from our friends at Paradise Bakery. And for those who stuck around long enough, we raffled off some pretty awesome prizes.

If you didn’t make it, don’t worry, we’re already planning next year’s version.

And if you don’t follow us, check out The Drop-In on Facebook and Instagram (@thedropinaspen) and watch for new videos every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from Anna and Rose.