Aspen Skiing Co. to offer same-sex benefits
ASPEN, Colorado The Aspen Skiing Co. will start offering same-sex benefits to its employees this fall matching the existing policies of other major ski resorts and quelling growing criticism from the gay community.Health insurance and ski passes will be available to the domestic partners of employees by the time ski season starts, said Jim Laing, vice president of human resources. Benefits will be available to domestic partners who are the same sex or opposite sex, he said.The company has reviewed its policy for at least seven years and decided it was time for a change.Is it the right thing to do? Yes, Laing said. The timing seemed appropriate.He said outside factors didnt influence the decision. Nevertheless, the change comes at a time when the companys same-sex benefits policy was under growing scrutiny by the gay community. Jon Bagwell, who identified himself as a gay man from New York City, said there was growing awareness in the gay community this summer about the companys policy of not granting benefits to same-sex partners. As awareness grew, so did the determination not to attend Aspen Gay Ski Week, one of the most popular skiing and snowboarding events in the country for the gay community. The 31st annual Aspen Gay Ski Week is scheduled Jan. 11-18.The company teams with the Roaring Fork Gay & Lesbian Community Fund to host the annual event.Bagwell said in an e-mail interview that he has attended almost every Gay Ski Week in Aspen for the past 12 years. He was prepared to go to another resort this winter, such as Vail, which offers same-sex benefits.I think the seriousness of the issue is that, on its face, Aspen seems to be very welcoming to gays and lesbians, but when you are one of the only major resorts that doesnt recognize domestic partners then there is a huge disconnect that isolates the gay and lesbian community, Bagwell said.Laing said he and other company executives were unaware of the scrutiny from the gay community when they decided to offer benefits to domestic partners.We would not be leveraged or held hostage in this regard, he said. Were open to feedback, but were not going to be forced into any action.Bryan Gonzales, executive director of the Roaring Fork Gay & Lesbian Community Fund, said it was a nice surprise to hear about the Companys change in policy.The Aspen Skiing Company has taken such a leadership role in other key social issues, including the environment and climate change. We are encouraged by their efforts in extending that leadership to equality rights as well, Gonzales said.Vail Resorts has offered same-sex benefits to domestic partners of employees at its ski areas since Oct. 1, 2002, according to spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga. Vail Resorts owns Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. The benefits include health insurance and ski passes for the domestic partner and eligible dependents.We took the initiative as a company believing it was the right thing to do for our employees, Ladyga said.Intrawest, the other major player in the Colorado ski industry, also offers domestic partner benefits. That coverage is available to partners of employees at Copper Mountain, Steamboat and Winter Park as well as Whistler, British Columbia, according to representatives of the company.