As outdoor industry embraces activism, Aspen Skiing Co. paves way by stepping into debates on immigration, LGBT rights and climate
Mike Kaplan, CEO of Aspen Skiing Co., says the activism is part business part community-building
The Denver Post
ASPEN — One of the first times that Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Mike Kaplan got a full understanding of the political power of his position overseeing the sprawling, ritzy resort came in 2006.
And it started with Kleenex.
A boycott of the paper tissues at Aspen’s four mountains and hotels over environmental concerns caused a national stir, prompting a trip to Colorado by executives from the multimillion-dollar corporation behind the popular brand. There were headlines and high-level meetings and even a Harvard University analysis.
“We actually didn’t mean for it to be this huge story,” Kaplan said.
The activism comes amid a federal report showing that the outdoor-recreation industry accounted for an estimated 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product last year, generating $374 billion in economic activity. With those deep pockets has come deep influence, especially in a place — such as Aspen — that’s frequented by the rich, famous and politically elite.Since then, Kaplan and his company have come a long way in their activism, stepping — purposefully — into the spotlight on testy issues and becoming arguably the most politically active of Colorado’s large outdoor industry businesses. The resort now champions some of the nation’s most divisive topics, from immigration to climate change and LGBTQ rights.
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If the coronavirus sparks migration, what will that mean for places like Eagle County, which local economic development officials say is well-positioned to offer people the recreation and lifestyle opportunities they may be seeking?