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Strong dollar, spendy airfare barriers to skiing guest this winter

Oct 20, 2015

Aspen Skiing Company executives went over the winter forecast, financial challenges facing guests and climate change during a presentation Tuesday. They were giving a pre-ski season update to the Pitkin County Commissioners.
Credit Aspen Skiing Company

Before the chairlifts start turning, the Aspen Skiing Company is providing a glimpse of how the upcoming season is shaping up. Company executives talked about the business outlook and efforts to combat climate change during a presentation to the Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday (10/20). Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

Aspen Skiing Company President and CEO Mike Kaplan began the hour-long presentation with a weather forecast.

"I prefer to go with the most optimistic forecast. That one came from AccuWeather. It calls for 200 percent of average in November, 200 percent of average in December, just average in January and an above average spring. That sounds good to me."

The discussion quickly turned less cheerful with Kaplan detailing financial challenges facing visitors. Early bookings are slower than last year, airfares are high and the U.S. dollar is strong.

"What we’re seeing is the cost of a vacation for international visitors has gone up and it’s made it a much more competitive environment for us. We all know how important the international visitor is to this community."

International visits make up 30 percent of the company’s annual revenue.

Another challenge is climate change. The company reports Aspen experiences one month less of frost free days than it did 30 years ago. Still, SkiCo Vice President of Sustainability Auden Schendler says…

"Long term models of Aspen show, if anyone’s going to be okay in a climate change world, we will be. So, in the short to mid-term (time frame), I’m not worried about snow affecting our economy. But, it’s a problem we’ve got to solve over the long-term."

To get guests talking about it, the company will distribute cards in places like hotels that give information about climate change and suggest how to act.

"You see on it, it says ‘call your congressperson. Call Scott Tipton.’ Because Scott Tipton is not hearing from constituents that they care about climate," says Schendler.

 Also this winter, every SkiCo employee uniform has a “Protect Our Winters” logo on it. The group, also called POW, is a climate advocacy organization.

Company officials also brought attention to the importance of improving resort infrastructure, like the airport. The county is working on a runway reconfiguration that would accommodate the next generation of commercial planes. David Perry is Vice President of SkiCo.

"We all know that this is about the future of regional jets and commercial service into this community. And one of the things that has come up is that less than 2 percent of the visitors here come in on private aircraft. Really, 98 or 99 percent come on commercial planes, or drive."

The commissioners thanked the company for continued efforts to bring in tourists and for partnering on things like housing and messaging around climate change.