Aspen’s use of the bully pulpit to preach and persuade

If Snowmass is where people who go to Aspen ski do in fact ski, the name Aspen resonates nationally. Photo/Jeremy Swanson.

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.”

Mike Kaplan

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.


Allen Best

1 thought on “Aspen’s use of the bully pulpit to preach and persuade”

  1. Aspen is much more than a ski resort and Mike Kaplan and other Aspen leaders are much more than ski company executives and businessmen and the combination has for more than 70 years made Aspen the premier mountain community with skiing in the world.
    Aspen is a world class community that has skiing and just should not be lumped in with Vail which was started by Pete Seibert in 1962 as a ski resort and a very successful ski resort.
    When Walter Paepcke purchased a single chair lift in Aspen in 1946 and called it the Aspen Ski Resort, he also funded and started the world famous Aspen Institute, Aspen Music Festival and later the Aspen Physic Institute and dedicated the opening celebration to Johann Wolfgang von Geothe and brought in world headliners: Albert Schweitzer, Jose Ortega y Gasset, Thornton Wilder and Artu Rubenstein to celebrate the beginning of one of the not just the great communities of the world, but the greatest small mountain community in the world–that also has skiing.
    As Geothe said:”Humans need help with three things: Art, Science and Nature” and without them they go haywire–are lost–and are not grounded.
    The Telluride Ski Resort was started by Aspen people in 1972 which is why Telluride is much more than a ski resort and has been named the Best Ski Resort Community in the World (Conde Nast) and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival the Best Music Festival in the World and the Telluride Film Festival the best in the world.
    Some thirty years ago a T-shirt slogan which we saw around said: “Skiing is Life” with the face of a very old man with a huge smile on his face.
    Life is Aspen and Telluride which also have skiing.

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