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Skico ups starting wages as part of $3M payroll investments

Aspen Highlands liftie Michael Johnson, left, helps skiers onto the Thunderbowl Lift on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

New employees at Aspen Skiing Co. this winter will have a beginning wage of $17 and others already on the payroll likely will see increases, company officials said Friday while announcing their $3 million investment in its payroll.

In 2019, Skico raised its starting pay to $15, which was $3.90 more than the minimum wage at the time. Colorado’s current minimum wage is $12.32 ($9.30 for tipped employees), so this latest Skico raise is $4.68 more than the current state wage. Colorado’s minimum wage in 2022 goes to $12.56 starting Jan. 1.

Skico also is investing $300,000 over the next three years in local child care programs. Half of that money will go to the Blue Lake Preschool, which is adding two classrooms, and the funds will help support teacher retention and student scholarships, according to Friday’s announcement. The other $150,000 will be for a program with the nonprofit Valley Settlement, which supports immigrant families, to train and certify child care providers in the Latino community.

Valley Settlement will hire a child care trainer to work with family, friends and neighborhood providers to improve the academic, socio-emotional, safety and nutritional quality of care and offer an option for certification, according to Hannah Berman, who is a senior manager in Skico’s Sustainability and Philanthropy department. After completing the training, some providers will be able to take on more kids given new classroom management skills and certification.

The latest announcements come as Skico works on the dramatic changes in employee cost of living and livability in the Roaring Fork Valley. Skico has increased its workforce housing to 1,000 beds. There are day care workers who live in The Hub at Willits, a new Skico employee housing complex with 150 beds that opened in May.

“It is vital that we continue to invest in our employees, and this is just one step along that path,” Mike Kaplan, President and CEO, said in Friday’s announcement. “We will continue to focus on our people, implementing initiatives around pay, housing, transportation, child care and overall cost of living in our communities.”

Skico also said it is raising its starting pay to $50,000 for salaried employees, and other second-, third- and fourth-year employees likely will see hourly-pay increases, according to the news release.

“Recent events have magnified the issues that all of our mountain communities face around housing and affordability,” Kaplan said in the news release. “This is not a one-and-done solution. This is just one of many initiatives we will undertake in the coming months and years to address these issues.”

There will be a Skico job fair Tuesday at the Hub at Willits (300 Robinson St .) in the Willits Town center from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Florida woman’s Aspen trip topped off with $23,000 FAA fine

A Florida woman accused of verbally abusing and physically striking an attendant on an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Aspen in March faces a $23,000 fine from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA, which said the woman was upset because her seat would not recline, announced this week it was proposing $225,287 in civil fines against 10 passengers as part of its no-tolerance policy declared in January to address unruly and violent passengers. So far, the FAA has proposed $1.45 million in fines against out-of-line air travelers. The FAA cannot prosecute criminal cases but it can impose civil fines.

The FAA’s announcement Wednesday included summaries of each of the 10 cases resulting in fines, including the Dallas-to-Aspen flight on March 11. The summary read: “The FAA alleges that the passenger verbally abused flight attendants after she realized her assigned seat would not recline. Multiple passengers offered to switch seats with her, but she repeatedly declined and kept yelling at flight attendants.

“She agreed to switch seats with another passenger but continued to verbally abuse flight attendants. She then struck a flight attendant on the right forearm, and attempted to do so again. Further, she repeatedly refused to comply with the facemask policy. Law enforcement met her at the arrival gate.”

Contacted Friday, the woman accused said she would not contest the fine but said it was not the amount of $23,000 stated by the FAA.

“I can’t compete with a lying stewardess,” said Kari Dimas, 60, of Palm Beach, Florida. “There was not an arrest because there was nothing criminal that happened.”

The FAA did not identify the people facing the fines, but a report from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office offered more details into the incident. Deputy Anthony Todaro was at the airport March 11 when the call came in to authorities about an in-flight disturbance involving a passenger who had struck a flight attendant in the arm and wasn’t complying with federal mask requirements, according to the report.

“The airplane was in the air, and that’s not our jurisdiction,” Todaro said Friday. “It was somewhere between Dallas and Aspen and what we did is respond. When we got there I contacted the passenger and took a very brief report.”

The report was sent to the FBI in Glenwood Springs, and Todaro said Homeland Security in subsequent months contacted him about the incident.

The deputy’s report identified the passenger as Dimas, who was the first woman to deplane the aircraft when it landed in Aspen. After the woman deplaned, Todaro and an American Airlines official escorted her to an office where the deputy interviewed her, the police report said.

Dimas told Todaro that she was upset because she had hip pain and had paid for a first-class seat expecting more comfort, only to learn its reclining function wasn’t working. While on the flight, Dimas told the flight attendant about the seat and at one point, “She got in my face so I pushed her back,” Todaro quoted Dimas as saying, according to the report. “Dimas then told me she pushed the flight attendant with her finger.”

In a separate interview with another deputy, the flight attendant said Dimas demanded a refund for the extra amount of money she paid to sit first-class, kept removing her face mask, and once “smacked” the attendant’s arm as she walked by.

Said Dimas: “They gave me a seat that did not recline. And when I wanted her name, she got upset.”

Dimas declined to answer any further questions.

The flight attendant, who lives in Louisiana, did not need medical attention, Todaro said Friday.

“It was a first-class regional seat, so it’s not much of an upgrade anyway,” Todaro said. “And she was crabby to begin with and wasn’t wearing a mask.”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Summit ski areas raise wages, hire international employees to contend with labor shortage

Keystone Resort employees greet a skier as she walks to the River Run Gondola on the resort's opening day Oct. 22. All four Summit County ski areas have raised their starting hourly wage to $15 to stay competitive in the area.
Lindsey Toomer/Summit Daily News

Employee hiring — or lack thereof — continues to pose a challenge for Summit County businesses. With ski areas being the largest local employers of seasonal workers, where do they stand?

Summit County’s four ski areas — Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Copper Mountain Resort and Keystone Resort — all had different responses to the ongoing labor shortage.

A-Basin spokesperson Katherine Fuller said the ski area’s main challenge is related to work visas. Copper spokesperson Taylor Prather reported that the resort is not having hiring issues.

Breckenridge and Keystone spokesperson Sara Lococo said this year has presented unique challenges on the staffing front but would not specify what those challenges are.

Copper typically hires about 1,600 employees for its peak winter season, and about 300 of those employees are part-time, Prather said Oct. 21. While hiring employees for the 2020-21 season saw many challenges related to the pandemic, including the suspension of international employee visas, Prather said the response to seasonal hiring this year is similar to what was seen in 2019. She said the resort is excited to welcome back international employees.

“Although it’s a small percentage of our overall workforce, it’s definitely helpful to be able to bring that program back,” Prather said Thursday, noting that the resort mainly uses the J-1 visa program.

As many local businesses are struggling to hire employees, Prather said she believes the reason Copper isn’t feeling the same strain is that the resort is a competitive employer within Summit County.

“Being able to offer some level of affordable housing to up to 45% of our workforce has helped us,” Prather said.

Across the county at A-Basin, hiring for the season has overall been on par with previous seasons except for food and beverage employees, which have posed unique challenges, Fuller wrote in an email. One of the main hiring challenges A-Basin is contending with is work visa caps, Fuller said.

“The H-2B out-of-country cap was met for the first time ever,” Fuller wrote, referencing the statutory limit on the total number of individuals per year who can be issued an H-2B visa. “We missed that cap, so we could not bring on the cooks we had hired. This has been our biggest challenge this season.”

Despite the setbacks with the H-2B visa cap, Fuller said the ski area was able to hire international workers and noted that there are a few more international workers than in past seasons. In addition to returning seasonal employees, A-Basin is hiring about 200 new seasonal workers this season. To attract employees, Fuller said the ski area did more local recruiting than usual.

“We have also reached out to social platforms that target under-represented populations within the ski industry,” Fuller wrote.

At Breckenridge and Keystone, the resorts are focusing on competitive wages, benefits, company culture and leadership development to attract employees despite labor challenges this year, Lococo wrote in an email. She noted that Vail Resorts increased its wages ahead of the ski season, bringing the minimum hourly wage from $12.50 to $15. The companywide announcement was made in June.

Summit County’s ski areas tend to keep their wages similar to each other to stay competitive.

Prather reported that Copper also raised its starting wage to $15 per hour as did A-Basin.

Lococo said seasonal employees from previous winters are working at the resorts this season along with new employees. She noted that most of the resorts’ workforce is seasonal but did not provide specific numbers.

Aspen Skico insurer sues Johnson couple for $5.2M over ski-selling scam

An insurance company is suing to collect just over $5.2 million from a couple criminally convicted of selling 13,000 pairs of skis belonging to Aspen Skiing Co.

National Union Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh’s civil complaint, which was filed against Derek and Kerri Johnson on Wednesday in Denver federal court, said the pair should be held responsible for the seven-figure sum the carrier paid to Henry Crown and Co. and its subsidiary Skico.

Skico and its parent company were reimbursed for their financial losses stemming from the scam under their “employee dishonesty” coverage with National Union Insurance. The Johnsons’ 12-year racket triggered the coverage payment.

“National Union issued a policy of insurance to Crown in which National Union agreed to insure Crown and Aspen for losses sustained due to employee dishonesty,” the suit said.

Reached Thursday, Kerri Johnson declined comment. Derek Johnson, who once ran Skico’s retail division, currently is serving a six-year prison sentence that Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin handed him in January 2020.

Though their criminal cases have been adjudicated — in February 2020, Kerri Johnson was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years of probation for her guilty plea to one count of felony theft — the civil court is the latest venue for the continued fallout from the scam that lasted from 2006 through November 2018.

It was during that time period that the Johnson couple, National Union’s lawsuit says, “engaged in a scheme whereby they misappropriated thousands of skis, snowboards and other related equipment from Aspen and resold them online for personal profit. Mr. Johnson, in his capacity as Managing Director for Aspen (Skico), was able to carry out the theft by purposefully purchasing more inventory than actually was needed by Aspen, so that any inventory misappropriated by the Defendants was more likely to go unnoticed by Aspen. Given his position as Managing Director and his control of Aspen’s ski and snowboard inventory, Mr. Johnson was able to conceal the theft from Aspen during the course of the scheme.”

Kerri Johnson was culpable as well, the lawsuit said, when she “removed any insignia from the inventory that identified it as property of Aspen (Skico), listed the misappropriated inventory for sale online, accepted payment from the sale of misappropriated inventory and shipped the misappropriated inventory to buyers in shipping boxes that also were misappropriated from Aspen (Skico).”

Derek Johnson
Colorado Department of Corrections photo

Skico discovered the theft activity in November 2018 and fired Johnson, who pleaded guilty to Class 3 felony theft in November 2019. Kerri Johnson, who was not a Skico employee, pleaded guilty to Class 4 felony theft in December 2019.

Under the terms of the Johnsons’ plea deals with prosecutors, they agreed to reimburse Skico with $250,000, which was the amount the company said it paid to satisfy its insurance deductible in light of the Johnsons’ ski-selling scam.

National Union’s lawsuit did not specify the amount coverage provided in Skico’s employee-dishonesty insurance policy, yet as “a result of the Defendants’ actions, (Skico), and thus National Union, suffered a loss in the principal amount of $5,212,484.”

National Union’s lawsuit consists of counts of conversion, civil conspiracy and unjust enrichment against both Johnsons, and separate counts of fraud and breach of fiduciary duty fraud against Derek Johnson.

“Pursuant to the Policy, National Union indemnified Crown and Aspen for the losses that they sustained as a result of the theft by the Defendants,” the suit said.

As a result, National Union is “subrogated to Crown and Aspen,” the suit argued.

“Subrogation is a well-known principle of insurance law. It allows an insurer who has paid a loss to its policyholder to ‘step into the shoes’ of the policyholder and attempt to recover its payment from a tortfeasor who caused or contributed to the loss,” according to Lawyer Monthly.

Victor M. Morales of the Englewood law firm McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter LLP filed the lawsuit on behalf of National Union Insurance. He did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment Thursday.

Skico also had no response when contacted about the matter Thursday.

The suit came the same week the Colorado Department of Revenue, in two filings with the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s office, said the Johnson couple had unsatisfied judgments of $37,794 and $69,827 for back taxes.

The Aspen Times reported in June that Johnson, a former Aspen City Council member and Skico executive, had been transferred to a halfway house in Jefferson County on the Front Range.

Johnson’s next parole hearing is scheduled for March 2022, and he is eligible for parole in June 2022, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections website. He was not available for comment Thursday, according to Kerri Johnson.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

PHOTOS: Steamboat’s rising stars celebrated at 20 Under 40 event

The newest group of 20 Under 40 honorees were celebrated Wednesday at the Yampa River Botanic Park in Steamboat Springs. The event is hosted by Steamboat Pilot & Today in partnership with the Young Professionals Network. Alpine Bank was the event’s presenting sponsor.

With this year’s Class of 2021, 100 young rising stars in the Routt County community have been honored since the program began in 2016. 20 Under 40 recognizes outstanding young professionals in the community for their career accomplishments and contributions to the community.

This year’s winners included Caitlyn Bambenek, Katie Carroll, Kelly Cook, Bill Crosby, Ian Frazier, Peter Hall, Emily Hines, Adrienne Idsal, Lennae Jenkins, Matt Johnson, Patrick Johnston, Kelly Latterman, Michael Marchand, Laraine Martin, Nelly Navarro, Jason Regan, Angelica Salinas, Maggie Taylor, Renzo Walton and Rebecca Williams.

The 2021 class of 20 Under 40 were celebrated Wednesday at the Yampa River Botanic Park. This year's group of winners included Caitlyn Bambenek, Katie Carroll, Kelly Cook, Bill Crosby, Ian Frazier, Peter Hall, Emily Hines, Adrienne Idsal, Lennae Jenkins, Matt Johnson, Patrick Johnston, Kelly Latterman, Michael Marchand, Laraine Martin, Nelly Navarro, Jason Regan, Angelica Salinas, Maggie Taylor, Renzo Walton and Rebecca Williams. The event is presented by Steamboat Pilot & Today with support from the Young Professionals Network. Alpine Bank was the event's sponsor.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Ian Frazier celebrates after being honored at the 20 Under 40 celebration Wednesday evening at the Yampa River Botanic Park.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Steamboat Pilot & Today Publisher Logan Molan presents an award to Lennae Jenkins at the 20 Under 40 celebration at the Yampa River Botanic Park on Wednesday.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
From left, Bob and Ropbin Schellen.
John F. Russell/Steamboat PIlot & Today
Reall and Jason Reagan
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today.

 

From left, Annmarie Blodgett and McKenzie Hughes.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Tara and Bill Crosby
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Colin Kemp and Maggie Taylor.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
From left, Rosanna Lobitz, Peter Hall and Anna Hall.
John F. Russell/Steamboat PIlot & Today
Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman presents an award to Matt Johnson and his daughter Kate at the 20 Under 40 celebration at the Yampa River Botanic Park on Wednesday evening.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Matt Johnson and his daughter Kate "The Great.“
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Steamboat Pilot & Today Publisher Logan Molen introduces Alpine Bank Senior Vice-President Andrew Zaback on Wednesday as they honored the 20 Under 40 class of 2021. Alpine Bank sponsored this year’s event, which was presented by the Steamboat Pilot & Today and the Young Professionals Network.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
From left, Cait Bambenek and Brian Huegel.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
From left, Elissa Greene and Katie Carroll.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
From left, Michael Marchand and Adrienne Stroock.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
From left, Angelica Salinas and Adam Basse.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
From left, Mary Schrader, Josh Schrader, Ian Frazier, Samantha Pal Frazier, Anna Cross and Mason Cross.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
From left, Josh Schrader, Ian Frazier and Mason Cross.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

 

From left, Mark Golembiewski and Chelsey Moffat.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Rebecca, Silas and Drew Williams.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Ian Frazier and Samantha Pal Frazier.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Ana Gomez and John Bristol.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Kelly Latterman and Harry Murray.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
From left, Patrick and Ginger Johnston.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Emily Hines and Glen Hammond.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
From left, Patrick Johnston, Ginger Johnston and Maddie Labor.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
The lawn at the Yampa Valley Botanic Park was full Wednesday night during the 20 Under 40 event.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Members of the Young Professionals Network of Steamboat Springs, including Zach Love, Sylvia Wappes, Maren Franciosi, Madison Keeffe, Angelica Salinas, Michael Marchand, Rachel Sinton and Alex Long.
John F. Russell?Steamboat Pilot & Today
Those who came out for Wednesday evening’s 20 Under 40 celebration toast the class of 2021.
John F. Russell/Steamboat PIlot & Today

IRS puts $1.4 billion liens on Brockman’s Aspen properties


Three Aspen properties purportedly owned by Robert Brockman were hit with tax liens totaling more than $1.4 billion last week as part of the federal government’s tax fraud and evasion case against the Houston billionaire.

Liens of the identical amounts also were filed against Brockman individually in both Pitkin and Eagle counties Friday, according to public documents.

The six liens are all for personal income taxes the IRS contends Brockman owes for the periods ending 2004 through 2007, 2010, and 2012 through 2018. Brockman’s unpaid balances to the IRS range from $7.487 million in 2007 to $302.227 million in 2004, according to the liens.

“We have made a demand of payment for liability, but it remains unpaid,” said the liens. “Therefore, there is a lien in favor of the United States on all property and rights to property belonging to this taxpayer for the amount of $1,418,272,371.71 these taxes and additional penalties, interest, and costs that may accrue.”

Robert and Dorothy Brockman. Federal prosecutors have charged Robert Brockman, who owns property in Aspen and Pitkin County, in a $2 billion tax fraud.
AP File Photo

Brockman, 80, has pleaded not guilty to 39 federal charges that include wire fraud and money laundering as part of an alleged $2 billion tax scheme, the largest amount ever for a U.S. tax case, the government has said.

Brockman is the founder and former CEO of Dayton, Ohio-based Reynolds and Reynolds Co., which sells business software to auto dealerships. He is accused of hiding income he made on his investments in private equity funds from the IRS.

Defense attorneys contend Brockman is incompetent to stand trial because he strains to understand and retain information, possibly a symptom of Parkinson’s or a sort of dementia. That matter is pending before a federal court judge in Houston.

Brockman’s indictment, issued in October, referred to two of his local real estate acquisitions and said he was a resident of both Houston and Pitkin County.

More ripples were felt locally when the feds in March expanded their probe into Brockman with a U.S. Attorney’s Office’s civil forfeiture complaint, which was filed in an attempt to seize a 100-acre property in the upper Fryingpan River Valley. Even though the ranch is not owned directly under the name of Brockman, he is still the one who owns it, the complaint said.

“The property is titled in the name of Henke Property, LLC,” said the complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado in Denver. “Henke Property, LLC, on paper, is 100% owned by Henke Holdings, LLC. Both entities were formed in Colorado on September 7, 2005, at the direction of Brockman.”

That case is pending, and Brockman’s attorneys argued in a July pleading that Brockman has only leased the Fryingpan property — which is located at 121 Ash Road — but has no ownership in it.

The tax liens filed last week said Henke Holdings is an “alter ego” of Brockman’s. Likewise, they said other limited liability companies — which are the owners in title of the properties in question — are Brockman’s alter egos.

Meanwhile, last week’s liens were filed on the following Aspen properties, details of which are based on information from the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder’s Office and the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office. All three properties are located on roads off Highway 82 leaving Aspen.

• The property at 10 Popcorn Lane is titled under Difficult LLC, based in Houston. The five-bedroom, four-bathroom home was built in the mid-2000s and remodeled in 2013. The Pitkin County Assessor’s Office gives the 4,271-square-foot property, which sits on 1.6 acres, an actual value of $9.117 million and an assessed value (the amount used to calculate property tax payments) of $651,870. Difficult LLC acquired the property for $5.26 million in March 2011, prior to the remodel.

• Under the ownership of Mountain Queen LLC in Aspen, 230 McFarlane Road also is located off Highway 82 toward Independence Pass. The 1987-built home has 5,811 square feet of habitable space. The assessor’s office gives it an actual value of $15.933 million and taxable value of $1.139 million.

• Down the road is 300 McFarlane Gulch Road, which is under the ownership of Henke Property of Aspen, which paid $4.6 million for the 12-acre property in September 2005. The land includes two cabins — a 2,977-square-foot residence with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a 1,391-square-foot home, also with two bedrooms and two baths. Both wood-frames were built in 1975 and have a combined actual value of $4.096 million and an assessed value of $292,930.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Epic Pass prices set to increase after Labor Day

Monday, Sept. 6, is the last day to get the lowest price on Epic Passes this season before prices go up Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Priced at $783 for adults, the Epic Pass offers unlimited, unrestricted access to 34 resorts in North America, including Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek, in addition to Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort in Summit County and Crested Butte and Telluride elsewhere in Colorado.

The Epic Local Pass, priced at $583 for adults, offers unlimited, unrestricted access to 26 resorts, including Keystone and Breckenridge, as well as 10 days total at Vail, Beaver Creek and Whistler Blackcomb in Canada.

For those who only ski a few days each season, there’s the Epic Day Pass, which allows users to purchase one to seven days at rates that are discounted depending on how many days are added and whether users want holiday access. A four-day pass, for example, costs $323, or $80.75 per day for adults, for access to all resorts but no holiday days. A seven-day pass with access to 29 resorts and no holiday days is priced at $396, or $56.57 per day for adults.

All pass prices represent a 20% decrease from last season. Vail Resorts announced the discounts in March, saying the move brings back prices last seen during the 2015-16 season, when Vail Resorts offered access to 11 North American resorts compared with 34 today.

The global resort operator said the move was part of an effort to grow the sport and make it more affordable. Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz added that he expected the change would also help improve the company’s bottom line.

All 2021-22 pass products come with Epic Coverage, which provides full or partial refunds for personal events like job loss, injury or illness, as well as for certain resort closures, including closures due to COVID-19. The coverage was introduced as part of 2020-21 season passes. However, Epic Pass holders from the 2020-21 season expressed frustration with the refund process.

The start to ski season is now just weeks away, with Vail Resorts announcing that it plans to open Keystone “as early as possible in October.” Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Loveland Ski Area also typically open sometime in mid- to late October, depending on conditions. Copper Mountain Resort typically opens in early November, and Breckenridge is set to open Nov. 12.

Aspen Skico’s branding reassessment led to change of iconic aspen leaf logo

New logos decorate the Elk Camp Gondola cabs in Snowmass Village on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

When Aspen Skiing Co. teased its new logo on social media last week, several observers said they had to call a spade a spade. What they saw was the Ace of spades from a deck of cards.

Skico chief branding officer Erin Sprague said Thursday she wouldn’t tell them they are wrong. “Everybody sees something different in a logo,” she said.

But in reality, the new logo is rooted in the company’s original iconic aspen leaf emblem designed by Herbert Bayer, the famed Austrian-American graphic designer who contributed so much to Aspen’s rebirth after World War II.

“This is the fifth iteration (of the logo),” Sprague said. “We really went back to the roots, the very beginning. We actually didn’t set out with the goal of making this change.”

Aspen Skiing Corp./Aspen Skiing Co. have used five iterations of an aspen leaf for its logo. The first, left, was designed by Herbert Bayer.
Courtesy image

The company hired Sprague three years ago and her team immediately embarked on a long process to assess Skico’s branding strategy. They dug into “who we are” and what Skico stands for.

“We were trying to understand what makes us special,” Sprague said. “We’ve been a company for 75 years, that’s a really big deal in this world.”

They interviewed 80 people within the company and from institutions elsewhere in the community. The process reinforced an image of the company as value-led and purpose-led.

“We sort of knew that,” she said, “but we decided we needed to express it more tangibly.”

The assessment of the branding strategy led to a reexamination of the company’s “visual identity,” Sprague said. That ultimately led to a decision to move on from the fourth iteration of the aspen leaf logo — one with a more clearly defined aspen leaf that subtly incorporated an “S” for Snowmass — at least in some observer’s eyes.

There was never a doubt that an aspen leaf would remain part of the logo.

“The leaf is an important part of who we are and where we come from,” Sprague said. “Design has always been an important part of the Aspen ethos back to Elizabeth Paepcke and Herbert Bayer. Great design is a part of the fabric of our resort and community experience.”

She added, “It had to be a leaf and it had to honor that heritage but we also wanted to simplify it.”

The new logo is an outline of a leaf that represents the natural world, according to Sprague. The open interior is “a window, an invitation to connect,” she said. “We’re really the outline and we want to enable any participant to have their own discovery and journey.”

R.J. Gallagher has helped conceptualize branding and refreshed brands for 40 years as the owner of an Aspen-based public relations and advertising firm. He has worked with everything from mom-and-pop stores to Fortune 500 companies. It’s complex work, he said, because you must engage old-timers, excite newcomers and “make what’s next the gotta have now. Many try, most fail.”

When contacted by The Aspen Times, he provided his opinion of Skico’s new logo with the understanding that he wasn’t part of the process and didn’t have insights into the team’s thinking.

“My first impression when I saw the refreshed ASC brand was that I’ve seen that before,” he said. “Not a bad thing and not really a negative. It’s an Ace of Spades to me. Again, not a negative, just a first impression.”

He said the logo is simple and clean, sexy with flowing lines of interconnectivity and grace.

“I am not a fan of ‘safer than sorry’ when it comes to a branding refresh,” Gallagher said. “I think the powers that be at ASC accomplished that challenge here.”

He said only Skico officials know how the new logo will reflect and represent their future business model.

“It hits me as a fashion brand,” Gallagher said. “It does not hit me as a great outdoors, adventure, energetic, wide open spaces brand. Again, not a negative.”

Skico opened itself up to comments Aug. 13 when it posted on Facebook a short video of the logo’s transformations over time and the teaser, “The leaves are changing early this year …”

One observer wrote, “Went from an Aspen to a spade? The old logo was more unique. The new has too much empty space.”

Another critic said, “I saw the logo go from Awesome to What?!?!”

But another urged observers to “Settle down.”

Sprague said she was prepared for a variety of reactions. Skico is fine leaving the logo to interpretation.

“I think when there is innovation and change, for some people it just takes them a little bit longer to see it,” she said. “Change can be good and bad but it’s inevitable. We think this is a change at the right time that sets up an optimistic future and one that is focused on how can we have the most positive impact possible. The logo is the foundation of that work. The logo is step one.”

The new emblem is emerging. It has been affixed to the cabins of the Elk Camp Gondola at Snowmass already and will soon adorn the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain. The logo will be on all on-mountain and base area way-finding signs, new uniforms for 2021-22, hotels, a new retail store and Skico’s new brand of luxury clothing and products called ASPENX.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Businesses raise wages, offer perks to try to combat labor shortage

Pedestrians walk toward Cabin Fever on South Main Street in Breckenridge in August 2020. Cabin Fever is just one business offering incentives to attract and retain workers.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography

Limiting the number of short-term rental applications, turning hotels into housing, building additional affordable apartments — these strategies and more have all been tossed around as possible solutions to help mitigate the county’s lack of workforce housing, which in turn has contributed to a labor shortage. Another suggestion by community members is for businesses to raise wages to help balance the high cost of living in Summit County.

Though this strategy might seem appealing on the surface, Sandy Struve said it’s not that simple. Struve owns multiple Breckenridge shops including The Christmas Store, Mountain Tees and Cabin Fever.

“It’s not coming out of their pockets,” Struve said about people who suggest raising wages. “Businesses do what they have to do. If we have to raise wages more, that makes our product cost more to the consumer. People have to realize that when they say to raise wages, the end product is going to cost you more.”

The lack of attainable housing in Summit County has caused a severe labor shortage, forcing many businesses to operate on limited hours or days. In an effort to attract and retain talent, business owners like Struve are offering signing bonuses, ski passes, discounts, flexible schedules, parking passes and more.

Struve has even gone so far as renting out a property in Breckenridge, which she subsidizes so that two of her full-time employees have stable living quarters.

“We’ve raised our wages, and we’re also in the process of renting housing to put employees in,” Struve said. “We’re willing to rent the housing, take the hit and make it affordable for the employee. Other than that, we offer some benefits like health insurance, ski passes, discounts.”

Duke Bradford, owner of Peak 1 Express, also offers housing to his employees. Bradford said he increased wages in the spring by 20% to 25% depending on the position and is now offering incentives to draw in applications for positions that are most difficult to fill. These incentives include bonuses ranging from $300 to $500, passes to ski resorts and recreational centers, family and friend discounts and more.

Bradford said, in general, he believes businesses should raise wages to support employees but that doing so isn’t going to mitigate the widespread housing issue.

“It’s not going to address the housing issue,” Bradford said. “This problem lies somewhere else. I’ll continue to meet the demands of my staff to make ends meet. I don’t see that solving the housing problem. I think that’s a bigger issue.”

Bradford noted that when businesses, including his, increase wages, that impacts the company’s bottom line and could be reflected in increased prices. Bradford said he’s had to increase prices in the past and that it’s likely to happen again in the future due to inflation.

“We’re struggling to keep pace,” Bradford said. “Eventually, this all gets passed on to the consumer, but that takes time. We can’t suddenly change our prices or make our prices retroactive, so we’ll take a hit in the short run, but eventually (prices) will have to increase.”

Struve said the last time she raised wages for her employees was a couple of years ago when she upped her hourly rate from $14 to $16 an hour. She noted the same thing as Bradford: When she has to raise wages, that money has to come from somewhere and could be reflected in her products’ prices. It also doesn’t help that supply-chain issues are disrupting operations, too.

“The vendors are raising their prices, too,” Struve said. “It’s a cycle.”

Dillon Dam Brewery in Dillon is another business in the county trying to appeal to potential workers. The restaurant is advertising $21 per hour for line cooks and promises a $250 signing bonus, plus another $250 bonus after a 60-day review.

Cornflower Boutique in Frisco is also offering monthly bonuses and flexible schedules to new hires in addition to an employee clothing discount.

All of these businesses are fairly small and are doing what they can to appeal to potential workers. But the larger the business, the larger the investment it is to make an impactful difference in employees’ pay.

Peak 1 Express employs about 150 staff members between its Breckenridge and Vail locations in addition to owning AVA Rafting and Zipline. Struve said she employs 16 staff members between her three shops. These operations are fairly small compared to Vail Resorts, one of the largest employers in the county.

In early June, Vail Resorts announced it was investing more in employee wages, including a $15 minimum wage at several of its resorts, including Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort. The company also plans to “adjust earnings for hourly employees who earn just above minimum wage to account for the raise across its properties.”

In addition to the wage increases, Vail Resorts also offers its employees six counseling sessions at no additional cost, an employee ski pass, daily $5 meals, food and drink discounts, and lodging and retail discounts.

Vail officials are calling the move the company’s “largest investment” in the upcoming winter season.

“Vail Resorts is committed to continuously investing in all parts of the employee experience,” Vail spokesperson Loryn Roberson wrote in an email. “We announced the decision to raise our minimum wage to $15 (an) hour in June based on our annual process of assessing wages and benefits. Coming out of the uncertainty of last winter season, we are thrilled to be able to invest in our employees with structural wage increases and through restoring our annual merit process.”

Despite pandemic, U.S. ski industry logs its fifth best season in 2020-21

A line forms on Bridge Street from skiers and snowboarders waiting to access Gondola One in Vail.
John LaConte/Daily file photo

While the U.S. ski industry logged its fifth-best season ever in 2020-21, Aspen Skiing Co. experienced a tough winter during the pandemic.

Denver-based National Ski Areas Association announced Tuesday that the country’s resort recorded about 59 million skier and snowboard rider visits this winter. Many resorts were able to capitalize on the high desire of people to get outside during the COVID-19 pandemic. One big trend was that people stuck close to home and skied at their hometown hills or ski resorts closest to them, according to NSAA.

Aspen Skiing Co. faced a tough time because international travel was almost non-existent and fewer “long haulers” within the U.S. ventured out for trips, according to Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.

“Those two pieces are really what we didn’t see this year,” he said Tuesday.

The year started slow for Skico because Australians couldn’t travel here in droves as they usually do in January. Group business was wiped out because of capacity limits and physical distancing requirements. Numerous domestic travelers canceled trips as the pandemic worsened and Pitkin County required arrivals to sign an affidavit acknowledging they hadn’t had COVID symptoms for 10 days and have either been vaccinated or have received a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of arriving in Pitkin County. Visitors also were required to quarantine for 10 days if they were not tested before arrival.

In addition, the snow was crummy in January. All those factors added up a rough start of ski season.

“January and the beginning of February were about as bad as they could be for us,” Hanle said.

Ski season by the numbers

– U.S. ski areas logged about 59 million skier visits. It was the fifth busiest season ever.

– Rocky Mountain region (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico) totaled 22.5 million skier visits. The average for the prior 10 years was about 21.1 million.

– Aspen Skiing Co. was just below 1.2 million skier visits. “It certainly wasn’t our fifth-best season ever,” spokesman Jeff Hanle said.

Sources: National Ski Areas Association and Aspen Skiing Co.

In contrast, mid-March to mid-April was better than even a “normal” year, according to Hanle.

“We came out just short of 1.2 million visits,” he said.

That was down between 3% and 4% from 2019-20, which was on pace for a record before ski season came to an abrupt end by order of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on March 14, 2020.

However, Skico was down about 20% in skier and snowboarder visits for its five-year average, according to Hanle.

Local skiers and riders took advantage of their opportunities on the slopes. Season pass sales and use soared.

“We did see really strong pass use,” Hanle said.

While Skico officials are optimistic about building off the late-season momentum next season, there is still plenty of uncertainty. The prime booking period for many overseas travelers is coming up soon. Skico and partners are providing incentives by promising full refunds on lift tickets and lodging for international guests who find they cannot travel next winter because of the pandemic.

“At this point we don’t expect to see the Australians in January (2021),” Hanle said.

For the U.S. ski industry as a whole, 2020-21 exceeded expectations. The latest season was on par with 2018-19 when there were 59.34 million visits.

The ski industry’s record season was 2010-11 when there were 60.54 million visits. The 2007-08 season was the only other one to top 60 million.

The 10-year average for national skier visits is nearly 55 million, so that puts the strength of the latest campaign into perspective.

After being forced to close abruptly starting March 15, 2020, most resorts were able to stay open the entire season this winter. The average U.S. resort was open 112 days this winter compared with 99 days the prior campaign. In NSAA’s annual Kottke End-of-Season Survey, 78% of resorts that responded said the season exceeded their expectations.

“Small- and medium-sized ski areas (defined by lift capacity) performed well this winter, with more guests choosing to stay close to home for ski trips, and increased local demand for outdoor recreation in general,” NSAA said in its statement.

Many resorts were forced to adopt capacity limits of skiers and riders on the slopes and at indoor facilities such as restaurants. The pandemic also enhanced the trend of the ski industry to encourage advanced lift ticket purchases.

Window sales of lift tickets fell from 46% in 2019-20 to just 17% in 2020-21, according to NSAA. Visits from pass use increased from 45% in 2019-20 to 51% this winter.

Skiers and riders also showed their flexibility by hitting the slopes more frequently on weekdays. Weekday visitation was responsible for 48% of total visits. That was up 27% from the season before, according to NSAA.

A strong season for skier visits didn’t necessarily mean resorts raked in the cash. Revenue data is still being analyzed, but NSAA noted that ski lessons fell by 30% season over season. Public health orders prohibited large groups, so ski areas had to offer smaller classes.

Hanle said Skico officials aren’t despairing because national visits were up while Skico was down. The 2020-21 season proved people want to be outdoors and they still want to hit the slopes, he said.

“We don’t look at it as people did better than us,” Hanle said. Instead, company officials say the message of the season is that people still want to ski and ride. “Better luck next year” is the prevailing attitude.

scondon@aspentimes.com