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Stirring up some excitement: Skico's outgoing CEO offers ‘Afternoon Blend’ of past, present and future

Aspen Skiing Co. president and CEO Mike Kaplan smiles for a photo during the 2021-22 ski season at Aspen Mountain. Kaplan has announced that he will step down from the helm of Skico at the end of this season.
Jeremy Swanson
Aspen Skiing Co.
Aspen Skiing Co. president and CEO Mike Kaplan smiles for a photo during the 2021-22 ski season at Aspen Mountain. Kaplan has announced that he will step down from the helm of Skico at the end of this season.

With opening day at the ski resorts less than a week away, Aspen Skiing Co. and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association provided a glimpse of the coming season during an “Afternoon Blend” event Tuesday.

The event marked Skico outgoing president and CEO Mike Kaplan’s last time leading the annual season preview — and he was feeling a little nostalgic.

Instead of the usual look ahead, Kaplan mostly looked back on his tenure at the helm of the company during his talk at the two-hour event. (He announced in the spring that he’ll be stepping down at the end of this ski season.)

“I've been reflecting a bit, and … one of the cool things about this business is no two years are the same, right?” Kaplan said.

That means big snow years and low snow years, and plenty of other trials and triumphs, too, from resort developments to employee housing to the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery from it.

Kaplan said he’s feeling good about the road ahead.

“We offer this opportunity to pursue what I call a meaningful life, and that, as I look back, is really powerful, and really one (thing) that has me moving on with no regrets,” Kaplan said. “As we do look ahead, I am optimistic about our future.”

As for his successor?

“You will be hearing news of that in the coming months, but in the meantime, you're in good hands,” Kaplan said.

After Kaplan spoke, Skico senior vice president John Rigney offered more of a glimpse at what’s to come this winter. And things are already off to a good start, he said.

“We're clearly staring at great conditions to start a season,” Rigney said.

Favorable conditions will allow Aspen Mountain and Snowmass Ski Area to open five days earlier than planned, with the season kickoff slated for Saturday instead of Thanksgiving Day.

According to Skico, 174 acres will be open on Aspen Mountain for opening day with top-to-bottom skiing. That means there’s enough snow for skiers to avoid downloading on the Silver Queen gondola. In addition to the gondola, the Ajax Express and Gent’s Ridge chairlifts will be running, and 15 trails will be open.

In Snowmass, Skico said 78 acres of skiable terrain will be open. Eight trails will be open to skiers, serviced by the Elk Camp gondola, Elk Camp Meadows chairlift and Village Express lift. The SkyCab gondola between Base Village and the Snowmass Mall will also be running. And the Sundeck at Aspen Mountain and the Elk Camp Restaurant at Snowmass will be open for business.

In the bigger picture of the ski-area landscape, resort visitors this season can expect a renovated base area at Buttermilk and more self-service technology across all four Skico mountains, Rigney said.

Crews this summer also began work for a lift-served terrain expansion into the Pandora’s sidecountry area on Aspen Mountain, but that area won’t be open to all skiers until the 2023-24 season.

“Keep in mind this year: It's still backcountry, it's gated,” Rigney said. “We may be doing work in there, we may shut the gate for a period of time. We ask you to observe that, but by and large, the excitement comes after next summer.”

Hallmark events are also on the calendar for this season. The Winter X Games take place at Buttermilk in January — and Rigney confirmed that the concerts held in tandem with the games will be back this year — and World Cup skiing returns to the slopes of Aspen Mountain in March.

Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.