Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan stunned employees at a meeting Wednesday night with the announcement of his retirement one year from now, in April 2023.
Kaplan made the announcement at a party celebrating multiple years of service by several employees. The party is held toward the end of every season.
One Skico employee who attended the meeting said the audience was caught off guard.
“There were a few hands over mouths and sad reflections,” the employee said. “I think everyone just thought he would be there (for a long time).”
Kaplan also disclosed the news in an employee newsletter that was released simultaneously with his announcement. A copy of that newsletter was obtained by The Aspen Times.
“Today, I write to you with a tear in my eye and a knot in my stomach as I announce my retirement as President and CEO from Aspen Skiing Company, effective next year, April 30, 2023,” Kaplan wrote in the opening line of his announcement.
His announcement did not offer details on his decision. He noted that next year will be his 30th year with the company and that “it’s time for me to step back and welcome new leadership and perspectives.”
There is no apparent rift between Kaplan and the Crown family, full owners of the company.
“You’ve heard me say many times that our ownership just gets it,” Kaplan wrote. “They have empathy and are steadfast in their commitment to our values, our community, and us as people. Ultimately, it is their belief that doing business right is good business which has allowed me to succeed and for our company to thrive. (Managing partner) Jim Crown has been a great mentor, friend and boss, and I know that he will steward this organization into the future by selecting a solid successor. He will keep our positive momentum moving forward.”
Kaplan took the reins of Skico in November 2006. He was 42 years of age at the time and had risen through the ranks of the company.
Kaplan worked at Taos Ski Valley during and after his undergraduate years in college. He immersed himself in all aspects of the operation. He told The Aspen Times in 2007 that he wanted to work in ski area operations but realized while at Taos he would plateau in middle management without further preparation. He earned his MBA from the University of Denver.
He was hired by Skico in 1993 to oversee the Aspen Mountain ski school. He worked through the combined ski schools and eventually switched to mountain operations. He was appointed chief operating officer in 2005 as second-in-command to then president and CEO Pat O’Donnell. That set him up to take the leadership role when O’Donnell retired a year later.
Kaplan is widely acclaimed by Skico employees as a popular and inspiring leader. As an executive in his late 50s, few people saw him bowing out of the leadership role at this point.
Kaplan’s email to employees said Skico would begin the search for a new leader immediately.
“We’ll engage a search firm to manage the process and aim to have someone in place for next winter,” Kaplan wrote. “Again, I’ll be here to support him/her/them once identified.”
He said he and his wife, Laura, will remain in the Roaring Fork Valley “and I will continue to work for the Crown family in an advisory capacity.”
He vowed to continue teaching, loading chairlifts or showing up on the front lines during busy times.