Does Aspen use its bully pulpit to push societal benefits? Or is it preachy?
by Allen Best
ASPEN, Colo. – Perhaps no ski company executive has used the bully pulpit in Washington D.C. more often than Mike Kaplan of the Aspen Skiing Co. Some would say used it more promiscuously, but that will come later.
Starting his career at Taos before moving to Aspen, he went from snowmaking and ski instructing to the top job at North America’s best-known resort, Aspen, by 2005. He then was only 41.
As The Denver Post points out, Kaplan and Aspen have been stepping into the spotlight on many testy issues, “becoming arguably the most politically active of Colorado’s large outdoor industry businesses.”
The company, the Post goes on to say, “now champions some of the nation’s most divisive topics, from immigration to climate change and LGBTQ rights.”
Aspen, of course, draws the notables, both Democrats and Republicans and CEOs of every stripe. That has continued since the election of Donald Trump – also a frequent former visitor – in 2016. Last Christmas, Vice President Mike Pence and his family were there, and other Trump advisors have also vacationed at Aspen and skied at Snowmass.
“A lot of the leaders of the free world come here to ski and come here to spend some downtime,” Kaplan told the Post. “So if we can just get a little bit of their mind-space with this perspective, think about the leverage and the power of that – both in the public sector and private sector.”
A newspaper columnist formerly from Vail isn’t nearly as impressed. “Aspen always was more affected and preachy, oozing earnest authenticity as if they actually believed they were saving humankind, not merely providing skiing and opportunities to be seen for the rich and famous,” wrote Don Rogers in the Truckee (Calif.) Sun a few days before the Denver Post story was published.
Rogers, formerly the editor of the Vail Daily and now editor and publisher of several newspapers in the Truckee area, says he hears echoes of Aspen at Squaw Valley, which is about 10 miles from Truckee. “Look, look how responsible we are! Preserving winter and the environment for future generations! We care! We really do!”
Squaw is expanding its base village, which has drawn opposition, but is also aggressively pursuing a goal of 100 percent renewable electricity.
Rogers suggested gray shades, not black and white, describe what constitutes progress in Truckee and elsewhere.
“Let the battles roll over what most improves life here, but understand it’s never all one way, as much as we like to think so in these Trumpian times. Genuine improvement comes in shades of gray, rather than pure black or pure white. Hard choices, not easy answers, and always consequences.”
Other ski companies went unmentioned in these stories, but the comparison to the giant of Vail Resorts was easy to infer. Vail, a publicly-owned company, has been far more restrained, although it’s important to note that it has lent its name to some industry-wide initiatives in recent years.