The Aspen Way

The Aspen Way

At the end of 2016, Mike Kaplan, President & CEO of Aspen Skiing Co., wrote a post-election op-ed published in three Roaring Fork Valley newspapers titled: “We’re still here.” The article took issue with specific aspects of the incoming Trump administration’s campaign and policy direction from intolerance and discrimination to environmental regulation. Kaplan wanted to remind people what Aspen stands for, and that it’s not afraid to loudly proclaim those values to defend the people and causes it believes matter most.

“Aspen Snowmass, as a destination, and Aspen Skiing Co., as a place of business with nearly 4,000 employees, has always been and will always remain dedicated to tolerance, open-mindedness, environmental sustainability and civility,” wrote Kaplan.

Aspen Snowmass continued the conversation with an art installment called “The Aspen Way.” Four large-scale words—love, unity, respect, commit—were placed on the mountains last spring to represent the intersection of values, principles and ideas that Aspen Snowmass holds close. Rather than differences of opinions turning into shouting matches, Aspen Skiing Co. hopes the installations generate reflection and thoughtful discussion.

The Aspen Way
the aspen way lovers

Photo: Daniel Bayer


Seven-foot-tall aluminum letters filled with LED lights that made up the word “love” hung from the Aspen Mountain gondola cable for the duration of a sunset and fireworks show during the World Cup Finals in March. Kaplan stood up for the gay community in his op-ed, supporting Aspen’s popular Gay Ski Week and offering to stand beside LGBTQ friends, employees, guests and family members in defending civil rights and opportunities for all Americans to love each other equally. Aspen also fosters a sense of love on its mountains and within its community. Maybe it’s the large population of young people living here by choice, far from families, but people tend to take care of each other around here. Whether it’s a fundraiser to pay someone’s medical bills, lift tickets for disabled veterans or the Caring for Community Fund that helps Aspen Snowmass employees take care of their co-workers and neighbors, Aspen Skiing Co. contributes close to $3,500,000 annually in products and services to local non-profit organizations. You’ll notice the love on the mountain, where skiers lack attitude and everyone has friends on powder days. Visitors notice the welcoming vibe, too, and often leave with their hearts and minds a little more open.

The Aspen Way

Photo: Daniel Bayer


A custom ski rack at the top of Buttermilk proclaimed the word “unity.” Aspen Snowmass admits it’s not the most diverse melting pot, but it hopes all ethnicities, religions, genders and races come together to celebrate life, the mountains and being together with family and friends. The mountains certainly don’t discriminate. Last month, Kaplan made a statement to the DREAMers, those protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy: “Aspen Snowmass values you. To President Trump: the decision to rescind the DACA immigration policy can only be described as shortsighted and a direct violation of the principles and history that have made our country great… Stand up for decency. Stand up for humanity.” Aspen Snowmass believes that by introducing people to ideas, art and education in the exact place where they are most receptive to new thinking, they can return to their homes inspired, perhaps even more able to improve the world for their experiences here.

The Aspen Way

Photo: Jeremy Swanson


Alongside the boot pack up Highland Bowl, metal letters with subtext designed on wood veneer spelled out “respect.” When it comes to the environment, Aspen Skiing Co. doesn’t just fight for a stable climate, it recruits powerful allies to the cause and uses business as a lever for change. It has led the industry in reducing its environmental impact since 1997 through better use of green power (like capturing waste methane vented from a nearby coal mine), better energy efficiency and the adoption of “eco best practices.” The company supports a Vice President of Sustainability and more than half of Aspen Snowmass employees donate a dollar (or more) per week from their paycheck, which is matched by Aspen Skiing Co., the Aspen Community Foundation and Lavazza, to support environmental projects in the community. Aspen Snowmass respects the value of science and the certainty of facts, and the future generation of skiers and snowboarders. That respect fosters an environmental ethic and ecological awareness with its employees, guests and the surrounding communities.

Photo: Matt Power


Four-foot-tall foam letters in the Snowmass Park reminded skiers and snowboarders to “commit.” Hitting a new terrain park feature or hiking Highland Bowl for the first time and dropping into the fall line requires commitment—the same moxy that’s required to speak up for what’s right. Aspen Snowmass’ terrain demands commitment, from the steep Dumps on Aspen Mountain to the Burn Cliffs on Snowmass. Locals who commit to live in Aspen work hard to find jobs and housing. Even getting to Aspen requires commitment to flying into a small airport or to driving beyond Summit County, past Vail and 40 miles up the Roaring Fork Valley from Interstate 70. Here, you’ll find Aspen Skiing Company’s resolute commitment to “ensuring a stable climate and a tolerant civil society” on and off the mountain.

The Aspen Way

THE ASPEN WAY dates back to the 1940s, when skiing and its modern-day founders Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke arrived in town. With a vision for the community that focused on mind, body and spirit, the Paepckes developed an idea that drives the internal energy of Aspen today, which is what makes the place so much more than just a ski town.

WE AT FREESKIER continue to return to Aspen for weekend trips, week-long trips and events of all shapes and sizes (and much of our alumni has settled in Aspen). We consistently leave feeling better than when we arrived. Sure, we love the incredible and varied terrain among four resorts, the inspiring scenery, the lack of lift lines and crowds, the world-class restaurants, bars, mountains and music venues, but underneath we love Aspen for something subtler. There’s a special feeling downtown and on the ski hill that’s tangible—it’s one of community, a community we feel a part of, even only spending a few weeks a year in this paradise of nature, culture and ideas. We’re confident Aspen Snowmass will continue fighting for this community, especially when its values are threatened. With “The Aspen Way” installment finding its way back to the slopes of Aspen’s four mountains this season, we hope these values ring true to you, too.

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