In a 3-2 vote, the Snowmass Village Town Council on Monday night passed a resolution of “strong support” for keeping Gwyn’s High Alpine restaurant a locally owned and operated business on the Snowmass Ski Area, noting that such family-run enterprises contribute to the community’s health.
Mayor Markey Butler was joined in support of the resolution by council members Alyssa Shenk and Bob Sirkus. They maintained this is a unique situation and one worth standing up for against the Aspen Skiing Co., which plans to take over the operation of Gwyn’s, a 39-year family business, in two seasons.
The resolution notes that council “cannot be complacent with this decision” and must help locals who want to invest in Snowmass to be successful. It also supports extending lease terms to the Gordon and Knowlton families to continue operating Gwyn’s into the future.
Councilmen Tom Goode and Bill Madsen voted against the resolution, citing individual property rights. They also said the resolution didn’t represent the widespread community’s opinion and that as written it was too narrowly focused.
“Of course it’s private property,” Shenk told her colleagues before the vote. “The bottom line is when people come to us upset about something, it’s up to us to speak out.”
Sirkus pointed out that prior councils had a similar debate as to “whether we are a resort or a community and which comes first.
“Here is an example of how that dichotomy of resort and community gets to play out. As it stands now the resort seems to be ahead of the community. The resort seems to want to do something that lots of the community is upset about, myself included,” Sirkus said.
Madsen, who noted that “everybody’s a fan of George and Gwyn,” said he was uncomfortable calling out a specific institution in the resolution, whose vote was postponed to Monday so a full council could join the discussion and also gather more public input. The public consensus, though unscientific, has supported the family continuing to run the restaurant versus the ceding of its operations to the SkiCo. That doesn’t seem to have made a difference in the outcome, however.
“Where was the resolution when Aspen Sports was sold to Vail Resorts?” Madsen asked. He went on to cite other locally owned businesses, such as the Stew Pot on the Snowmass Mall, and whether a subsequent resolution needed to be written if and when that business goes away.
Shenk countered that there was a huge difference between a mall eatery and an on-mountain business. Aspen Skiing Co. controls all but two of the 11 restaurant leases on Aspen and Snowmass.
“There’s nowhere else for Gwyn’s to go. That’s what sets it apart,” she said.
Last month, SkiCo President and CEO Mike Kaplan defended the company’s decision, before council, to not renew the Gordon family’s lease for Gwyn’s High Alpine beyond a two-year window. Kaplan said the current lease terms are “just not the way we can do business anymore.”
The Gordon family, which said it was surprised by the decision, had expected at least a five-year option.
On Monday, Kaplan returned to town council chambers, though his presentation was focused on what’s new for Snowmass this season, including the opening next week of the SkiCo-owned Limelight Hotel in Base Village.
Kaplan prefaced his remarks with a reminder of SkiCo’s mission statement, which includes tenets such as honoring sense of place.
“It would be easier if we were a company that just maximizes shareholder value,” he said. “That’s not what we’re about.”
Jamie Knowlton, who is part of the family that operates Gwyn’s, said Gwyn Gordon is as passionate about her business as Kaplan is about SkiCo. Knowlton, also a member of the town’s planning commission, pointed out that “honoring the small-town character of our community” is among Snowmass Village’s guiding principles. Several times he reiterated that the community and SkiCo shared similar values in concept.
“You are the voice of the community. Mike is the voice of the resort,” Knowlton told the elected officials.
He added, “The resolution is a very good thing for the town to do to make a statement from the community,” and that this action wasn’t telling SkiCo what to do. Knowlton sketched out some language changes for the resolution, as did Shenk, that were adopted before the vote was called.
“The point is, we have a voice. And we get to exercise it just as well as they do,” Knowlton said.
Two members of the public also spoke in favor of Gwyn’s, though they took different approaches.
John Sweeney, who has lived in Snowmass Village for about 15 years, asked Kaplan and SkiCo to reconsider their decision. He characterized SkiCo assuming the lease as the “homogenizing of the whole corporate structure of everything that’s going on here. It really makes a difference. It’s what makes Snowmass unique particularly within your four mountains.”
Debbie Falender of Aspen, who called herself a “super fan of Gwyn and George [Gordon],” opted not to comment on the town’s resolution but rather the impending loss of a long-standing operation.
“I think it’s sad. It’s a loss we feel,” Falender said, adding that when SkiCo finally takes over Gwyn’s lease, “I hope there’s some unanimous proclamation of gratitude, joy and celebration” for the longtime operators.
Madsen said the resolution has the potential to “divide the community,” but Sirkus responded that, “I think the action that was taken divides the community. Had the action been different there wouldn’t have been a resolution.”