Our view: Blending ski town cultures
April 29, 2017
Preserving Steamboat Springs’ culture through resort changes
Aspen Skico executives send the right message, but that’s no guarantee
We were encouraged this month to read that the top two executives of Aspen Skiing Company went out of their way to send an indirect message to the Steamboat Springs community saying they value Steamboat's unique local character, just as they value the way the individual cultures of communities up and down the Roaring Fork Valley have informed their resort through the years and even set it apart from competitors.
Preserving Steamboat Springs' culture through resort changes
Aspen Skico executives send the right message, but that's no guarantee
Significantly, Aspen Skiing Company Chief Executive Officer Mike Kaplan and Chief Operating Officer David Perry said, “We’ll promote our way of doing business, but without any expectation that our new sister resorts should abandon any of their own unique attributes of culture and place. Quite the opposite, actually," their note read. “We’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of how the valley’s longstanding sense of character and place informs Aspen Skiing Company’s product and values, as we have entered into a partnership to acquire other ski areas."
The message appeared on the company's website in the context of a season-ending thank-you to the Aspen community. And while we're a bit mystified why they don't seem to have reached out directly to the Steamboat community, as well as those of its sibling Intrawest resorts and that of Mammoth, Calif., it's a positive message for everyone who lives in Routt County, second property owners here and loyal Steamboat vacationers.
Perhaps Kaplan and Perry are taking care to remain hands-off until the sale actually closes sometime beyond the end of summer.
All mountain ski towns have their obvious similarities — high elevation and winters that persist deep into April — but each also has its own peculiarities, both endearing and vexing. It's no surprise that Aspen executives recognize the brand value of both Steamboat and Mammoth.
Steamboat Ski Resort has, from the beginning, leveraged the community's legitimate claim to ranching and cowboy roots, and the merging of the two cultures has been apparent through Winter Carnival since the early 20th century, long before there were ski lifts on Storm Mountain (since renamed Mount Werner).
Steamboat's current niche includes its reputation as a family-friendly resort, predicated on the fact that working families still have a precarious handhold on their ability to live in the heart of the community.
Despite these bonds, it's not unreasonable for residents and homeowners to worry about the influence that Aspen, with its reputation for extreme wealth and celebrities, might bring.
Due to a shared motive to maximize profits, the new company being formed by Aspen Skico with KSL Capital Partners will inevitably exert some influence on Steamboat's culture over time. But let us recall that previous owners of Steamboat Ski Resort include a Dallas aerospace company and a Japanese resort operator, both of which completed significant upgrades to the resort.
With that in mind, we are prepared to share with Aspen Skico leaders some of the unique attributes of culture and place we treasure here.
• We still have a middle class prospering within the city limits, and we want to keep it.
• Steamboat's robust not-for-profit sector is a big part of why families can still live here.
• We regard open space and river access in close proximity to the city as a defining quality.
• Our arts and culture organizations have deep roots but are on the cusp of reaching new heights, and we celebrate them.
• Our workforce housing inventory has enjoyed big successes in 2017, but is not as highly evolved as that of the Roaring Fork Valley.
• Competitive skiing is a huge part of our culture.
• More so than many Colorado mountain towns, the Old West persisted into the 20th century here. Our wild west heritage, including open-range cattlemen and outlaws, is the real deal.