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Coping with change – The Aspen experience


"We thank the Aspen Skiing Co for a fine overall job this season under trying circumstances."

- Aspen Times, April 8, 2009

There are few towns in ski country where the every-day operations of the resort are more scrutinized than in Aspen, Colorado. "The folks at Intrawest think that The Pique is hard on them," laughs my friend David Perry. "Compared to how our media treat us, they've got it easy. I mean, one bad move and we get really hammered."

That's why the glowing kudos from the valley's most prominent paper last spring was so gratifying. "It was totally unexpected," confides Perry. "But when you get a third party acknowledgment like that - and with an editorial sporting a headline like "An Unexpected Gift" - you know you're doing something right..."

The senior vice president of the mountain division at Aspen Skiing Co (one of the most highly-visible jobs in the business), Perry is on the phone with me sharing some thoughts on the changing face of the industry. As usual, he isn't holding back.

"This year was tough for everyone," he says. "The recession hit all strata of society - from the very poor to the very rich." He stops speaking. Sighs. "Discretionary income all but dried up," he continues. But rather than panicking and retrenching, Aspen Skiing Co chose to step out and make a big statement. "We decided," adds Perry, "to let our customers know how much we appreciated their decision to spend their money skiing in Aspen."

Say what? While everyone else in the business was laying off staff and shutting down services and cutting corners wherever they could, the venerable Colorado company chose the opposite direction. They decided to stay the course instead. "We knew what was coming," he explains. "So (ASC president) Mike Kaplan and I put our heads together last fall and we came up with what we thought was the right strategy for such trying times."

Sure, there was cost-cutting. After all, even the deep-pocketed owners of the Aspen Skiing Co - the Crown family of Chicago - had been impacted by the recent financial meltdown.

But what was refreshing was the approach the two senior ski executives took in regards to their customers. "We had to find ways to save money where we could," says Perry. "But we applied a very different filter to that process: 'If it affects our customers negatively,' we decided, 'we don't do it!' And we stuck to that rule." Which meant? "No cut-backs in products or services," he continues. "And no cut-backs to our staff." His voice swells with pride. This is obviously an important point with him. "We even went to the community and told them publicly - 'we're not laying anyone off this year.' And that went a really long way in convincing locals that we really meant what we said."

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