Aspen Skiing Co. visited Aspen City Council at a Monday work session to give an annual update — the first in two years since the company was unable to present last year due to COVID-19.
SkiCo President and CEO Mike Kaplan and Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Jim Laing recapped the company’s last year, the new logo, plans for the 75th anniversary celebration, the recent vaccine mandate and housing and staffing. Kaplan said that during the pandemic, the company had time to communicate with city staff and look ahead to the longer-lasting impacts of COVID.
“I think it’s really, in this time of COVID, an opportunity for us to step back and look at what’s important and look at what’s going on. What are the lasting impacts of COVID, what are temporary?” he said. “I like to say we’re skiers, and it’s important to look ahead when you’re skiing and it’s important to look ahead when you’re in a position of leadership.”
The company is facing a dire employee housing shortage — Laing said that they have fewer beds than they have ever had for incoming employees. The company has a total of 1,013 beds available for year-round housing, seasonal housing and other leases, but Laing said they will need between 600 and 750 more for the seasonal business model to be sustainable in the future. He said that the company needs more manpower to help with the search for beds.
“We’re adding some beds, but we need to do more,” he said, adding that the company hires 1,500 new workers every year. “We’ve been working on it diligently — it’s been our primary focus — but we need more people to work on it. We’d love to work on it together.”
However, Laing said that the company’s employee headcount has remained relatively flat over the last 20 years, with some dips here and there, but the number of paychecks they deliver has remained steady. He said the company expects COVID-19 will have an impact on employment and guest services as new businesses compete for land management and culinary workers. One new idea is a job-sharing platform through which workers would begin their workday in the rental shops, then take the lift up the hill to work in the restaurants during lunchtime, and then end their day back at the rental shops.
“One question I had is, ‘Am I going to be able to get up the hill?’” Laing said. “We are prioritizing access to the mountain, so yes, absolutely. We plan to have everything open and deliver on our typical customer service, but we’re going to have to get creative.”
Last season, SkiCo utilized technology to help with social distancing, such as enabling guests to order food to go or pick up ski passes from a box. Laing said this season, there will be fewer social distancing measures, but Kaplan added that there will still be COVID-19 protocols in place.
SkiCo recently announced a new vaccination policy requiring all employees to be vaccinated as of Monday, and all guests and employees will have to wear masks on gondolas and in most indoor spaces. Hotels and restaurants will also require vaccination. More information is available on the Aspen-Snowmass website, under “COVID-19 Updates.”
On a more festive note, this year will mark SkiCo’s 75th anniversary, and Kaplan said SkiCo is planning a season-long celebration which began almost two months ago with a special Instagram story every day meant to tell a story that represents what SkiCo is all about. On Jan. 11 — the actual anniversary — SkiCo plans to reenact the first opening day and hopes to have Gov. Jared Polis visit to recreate the photo that was taken 75 years ago.
Kaplan said the timing was perfect because it overlapped with SkiCo’s rebranding. The new logo is meant to represent the past and future, nature and culture, and a reminder of all four unique mountains.
“It was time for us to get a little more bold and shift a bit, so that’s where this comes from,” Kaplan said. “What I like most about it is it’s bold and outlined, but then it’s hollow in the middle so it can be a mirror for new possibilities.”
Council members took time after the presentation to voice their concerns about the staffing and housing issues. They also thanked and commended Laing and Kaplan for their efforts while looking ahead to the upcoming ski season.
“I’m extremely excited to get out skiing and snowboarding,” Mayor Torre said. “I think that that is all across our entire community. People are looking for the opportunity to get out, refresh their soul and their spirit, and I’m one of them.”