The best CEOs know their company’s assets, and Aspen Skiing Company (aspensnowmass.com) President and CEO Mike Kaplan takes that adage to extremes. For the past 27 ski seasons since he first arrived in Aspen as a ski school supervisor, he has been “testing the product.”
For around 100 days each season (this past year, due to the truncated season, he was limited to 74 days), Kaplan has explored the nooks, scrutinized the crannies and absorbed the nuances of what each of the four ski mountains under the Aspen umbrella has to offer. A recent conversation began with, “So where do you like to ski?” Kaplan proceeded to provide an hourlong dissertation on each hill and his favorite runs.
“There’s so much more to Aspen Mountain than meets the eye,” he says, talking about the small but mighty 675-acre hill that is among the most treasured in all of skiing. “There are little pieces that take it from great to amazing. You can ski it every day and never have the same day twice.”
Kaplan has a point. “Bell Mountain is an entire ski area on its own, and you can connect runs there that you just don’t think are possible,” he says about the tri-sided ridge that offers different terrain on the front, back and nose, all accessible by dropping in on top or traversing from east to west. “Then there is the Lift 1a side of the mountain, which I think of as unique in its own way. And you never have a lift line over there.”
Aspen Mountain is a mere 675 acres but is among the most treasured in the world by skiers.
But his favorite part of Aspen Mountain is the great beyond. “The gated terrain has really evolved over the past few years. The ski patrol has done such a great job. The area below Silver Queen Ridge, and Trainor’s—they’re just so raw and rough. It’s like being in the backcountry.”
The Highland Bowl opened in 2002 when Kaplan was vice president of ski operations for the company, and he has an obvious affinity for what some say is the steepest in-bounds skiing in North America. But he also knows where to ski on busy powder days. “When everyone is in a hurry to get up the Bowl, I head to Temerity. My go-to is Soddbuster [named in honor of patroller Craig Soddy, one of three who died in the 1984 slide in the Bowl], but there are so many hidden gems in that area, some of it I don’t even know the name.” And Kaplan is one to stop and smell the roses. “I love the Oly Bowl and the views from the west side looking up the Maroon Creek Valley. You really feel like you’re in the elements on the west side of Highlands.”
“Friedl Pfeifer built the perfect learning mountain,” he says about Buttermilk. “Skiing Tiehack [on the east side of Buttermilk] with Klaus Obermeyer has always been one of my favorite Aspen experiences. The rolling side hill on Racer’s edge, the high-speed GS turns, that drop on Javelin that makes your stomach drop—it’s so underrated.” Kaplan also breaks out his snowboard for Buttermilk days. “I love to ride through the trees; you can really roll it over on edge. Whatever level or way you ski or ride, Buttermilk is just a great mountain.”
Kaplan is excited about the new six-pack lift installed this summer on the Big Burn at Snowmass, a mountain where he often plans his days. “You have to be purposeful when you approach Snowmass,” he says. “I ski it in chunks, depending upon the weather or my mood.” He often skis the far edges. “I love Campground for the solitude. There are these double fall lines on Powderhorn, and it’s just long and so peaceful.” On the east side, he’ll make the trek up to Longshot. “There are tree shots on the skier’s far left that hold the snow for five to six days. And you can still get fresh lines even after the storms have gone.”
Some CEOs have better days than others.
Photography by: From top: photo courtesy of Aspen Skiing Company; by Matt Powers