Embracing Aspen’s dual personality

by Carolyn Sackariason, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Steve Skadron got his first on-the-ground view as mayor of Aspen over the holiday week of this resort community’s make-up, and came to the realization that it needs to be embraced — not rebuked.

“I think we need to not reject this high-end brand,” he said last Friday while taking gondola laps on Aspen Mountain.

It’s an about-face from his predecessor, Mick Ireland, who pushed the message in recent years that Aspen ought to be branded as an affordable and accessible resort, as a push-back against its high-end image.

This past holiday season was the first in several years that Skadron — who has served on City Council since 2007 — stayed in town. But this season, he had engagements scheduled in his capacity as mayor so he found himself in the thick of it all.

“It was very revealing about this town,” he said of the nearly 100 percent occupied span over Christmas and New Year’s.

He spoke of a dinner in which second homeowners were present, and they gave him their opinion on how restricting height limits and condo sizes downtown will ultimately hurt the resort in the long run.

Skadron respectfully disagreed, throwing out his mantra that preserving small-town character is what will keep Aspen special and desired by all segments of the population.

But it was at a meeting last week with snow polo representatives when a light bulb went off for Skadron. The mayor was opposed to the December event at Wagner Park because of the impacts it might create on the public space, but after seeing its success and talking with organizers, Skadron has relaxed his position. 

He also had received a letter from the main sponsor, Piaget, thanking the city for allowing the event. The luxury watch and jewelry company wrote that it would be endorsing Aspen as a premier destination in its future marketing materials.

“It’s the perception of Aspen’s identity and brand and where we are with that,” Skadron said. “It’s easy to discount this stuff but when you read between the lines, you start seeing what’s going on. … They are doing our marketing for us.

“That is a powerful marketing tool,” he added. “I think it’s irresponsible to not take advantage of that.”

That’s not to say that Aspen can’t also embrace its hard-core, local ski and recreational culture, which is why Skadron, who also works as a marketing consultant, is pursuing ideas to establish Aspen as a mountaineering mecca. He is in talks with several manufacturers of ski mountaineering equipment about ways to put Aspen at the center of the growing uphill fitness trend in the U.S.

The key is finding the sweet spot in Aspen’s branding and image through the events it hosts — both that honor the community’s roots and those that are geared to the upper class.

While high-end is not his preferred brand, it is one that can’t be denied, Skadron added.

“We need to take a more selective approach to events that broaden our identity,” he said. “I’d like Aspen to mean more things than just a high-end brand.”