Case Study: Skiing and Sustainable Tourism in Aspen, CO

Case Study Title: Skiing and Sustainable Tourism in Aspen, Colorado
Organization: Aspen International Mountain Foundation (AIMF)
Author(s): Linda Giudice
Submission Date: 12/30/14
Location: Aspen, CO

Purpose/Goal

The main purpose of this case study is to highlight an example of mountain eco-tourism in North America and particularly the socio economic benefits.

Background Information

Aspen is world-renowned for it’s skiing and is also a year- round tourist resort. Since 1996, the privately-owned Aspen Skiing Company, which operates four ski areas – Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass – and owns and operates Little Nell, a five-star resort, has been committed to achieving environmental stewardship along with social and economic benefits.

Status

There is no “blueprint” on how to achieve sustainable tourism, but in working towards this goal the Aspen Skiing Company (ASC) has adopted a number of guiding principles:

“We have a collective responsibility to ensure that our company is a rewarding place to work and our community a desirable place to live. We respect and nurture the delicate balance between “resort” and “community” that makes Aspen-Snowmass unique. The combination of our values-based company with unparalleled mountain sports, community, history, culture, and environment gives us a unique market niche. Our goal is to stay in business forever. To do that, we must remain profitable; treat our community well; and operate in a manner that doesn’t harm our local environment.” Aspen-Snowmass

In line with these principles, ASC endeavors to generate socio-economic opportunities and distribute benefits throughout the community and beyond.

Results

ASC is a major employer in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado’s Pitkin County, providing 869 year-round jobs (836 full-time, 33 part-time) and 2,383 seasonal jobs (1,579 full-time, 804 part-time). ASC also provides housing for up to 590 employees; other employees source housing throughout the valley. A large number of service sector jobs in the valley are indirectly created by the presence of ASC’s business operations. From 1970 to 2000, jobs in service-related industries grew from 3,468 to 16,904, an increase of 387%. A Profile of Socioeconomic Measures, Selected Geographies: Pitkin County CO.

ASC also plays an important local philanthropic role, contributing more than $2.2 million a year in products and services to local non-profit organizations, for example, to help pay local people’s medical bills or provide lift tickets for disabled military veterans. Almost half the company’s employees are members of the Environment Foundation, which has donated almost $2.5 million since 2006 to support over 400 projects. In addition full-time employees can take up to 16 hours of paid time off each year to volunteer in the community.

A primary goal for ASC is to foster an environmental ethic and ecological awareness among all of its employees, ski/snowboard area guests, and the surrounding communities. In partnership with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, the Forest Service, and the Department of Wildlife, ASC offers a variety of on-mountain educational programs for guests at all its resorts.

Findings/Lessons

While striving to make an important contribution to sustainable tourism with positive socio-economic impacts, ASC acknowledges that it has limited resources and must therefore prioritize initiatives to achieve the greatest and most beneficial impacts on the environment, society, and business. It also recognizes that it needs to continually engage all stakeholders in order to realize further socio-economic opportunities in the future.

 Aspen Skiing Company and Aspen Center for Environmental Studies collaborate on guest education and awareness programs on the natural environment. Snowshoe tour on top of Aspen Mountain. April 2013.  Photo by Dan Bayer. Courtesy Aspen Skiing Company.

Aspen Skiing Company and Aspen Center for Environmental Studies collaborate on guest education and awareness programs on the natural environment. Snowshoe tour on top of Aspen Mountain. April 2013. Photo by Dan Bayer. Courtesy Aspen Skiing Company.

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