Skico: Aspen ski business could drop 5 to 15 percent |

Skico: Aspen ski business could drop 5 to 15 percent

Paul Conrad/The Aspen TimesWill Nisbet of Aspen and other revelers dance to Ullr, the Norse god of snow, during KSNO's Pray for Snow Party on Saturday evening in downtown Aspen. Several dozen participants prayed and danced for the fluffy white stuff in hopes of a great ski season, but the Aspen Skiing Co. anticipates business could drop 5 to 15 percent.

ASPEN, Colorado ” The leadership of the Aspen Skiing Co. anticipates business could drop between 5 and 15 percent this season.

David Perry, Skico’s senior vice president, mountain division, said tough economic times make it difficult to gauge what will happen, but the company is braced for business to go downhill. The projection for a 5 to 15 percent decline is based on current lodge and hotel bookings in Aspen and Snowmass Village.

Skier and snowboard rider visits are the industry standard for gauging business. A visit is the purchase of a lift ticket or use of a season pass for any part of a day.

“This is an unprecedented circumstance we find ourselves in,” Perry said. “It’s really difficult to look historically at the business ups and downs and say ‘Oh, it’s just like ’91 or it’s just like after September 11th.’ It’s not. This is different. It’s global, it’s deep, and there’s still big turmoil.

“It’s more difficult to predict how business will be than at any other time in my career.”

Some resorts are responding to the global economic crisis by cutting back on staff. Intrawest, one of the giant operators in the ski industry, acknowledged last week it is laying off employees at resorts, including Steamboat, Copper Mountain and Winter Park in Colorado. Intrawest didn’t disclose how many people will lose their jobs.

Perry said the Aspen Skiing Co. will hire the same amount of staff as last season. At the busiest times of the year, it will employ about 3,500 workers at its four ski areas, the Little Nell Hotel and the Snowmass Club.

While the company has implemented plans to cut expenses, it won’t skimp on service, Perry said. That means staffing to traditional levels rather than gambling that fewer workers can deliver the same level of service.

Ironically, the battered national economy has made it easier than in recent seasons for the Skico to find seasonal employees. Young workers have applied in healthy numbers, apparently because job prospects in their home areas aren’t so great, Perry said. He noted that housing in the Roaring Fork Valley is also easier than usual to find this fall. A slump in the construction market has freed up residences.

The Skico is also committed to opening ski terrain as fast as snow conditions allow. There is no plan to close terrain on any of the mountains because of business levels, according to Perry.

He stressed that the Skico brass feels now is the time to reinforce the commitment Aspen/Snowmass has to service rather than make staffing cutbacks that could jeopardize that excellence. He and Skico President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Kaplan emphasize that in meetings with employees.

Opening all the terrain and keeping it open “is at top of the list as far as maintaining guest experience,” Perry said. “We will open terrain as aggressively as we can, as we always do. It’s 100 percent go.”

Perry said he hopes the entire tourism industry of Aspen/Snowmass ” the lodge operators, shopkeepers and restaurateurs ” focus on delivering the quality experience for which the resorts are known even in these tough times. That will pay off when the economy turns around.

“It’s going to be a tough year, but this is when we have our opportunity to shine,” he said.

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