Aspen Skiing Co. considered 10 percent layoff during recession |

Aspen Skiing Co. considered 10 percent layoff during recession

BASALT – The Aspen Skiing Co. considered laying off as many as 10 percent of its workers during the height of the recession but ultimately decided that doing so wouldn’t match its core values, Auden Schendler, Skico’s vice president of sustainability, told the Basalt Town Council Tuesday night.

“We said, ‘We’re not going to lay people off at all,'” he said.

The disclosure came up during an informal “meet-and-greet” session Skico officials held with the Town Council. The Skico brass meets annually with elected officials from Aspen, Snowmass Village, Pitkin County and Basalt shortly before or early into the ski season.

Schendler said the Skico’s view of sustainability is about “more than making money” and beyond environmental activism. It means helping create a sustainable community, he said. Company officials realized after the recession struck in fall 2008 that their actions on everything from employment to marketing would have a ripple effect throughout the valley.

The Skico employs about 3,500 workers at peak season during Christmas and New Year’s Day. Its internal surveys show about 460 employees get their mail at the Basalt post office, officials told the council.

Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan, expanding on Schendler’s comments after the meeting, said the company looked at numerous scenarios for cutting expenses in the 2008-09 season, when the recession was at its worst. The broad menu of scenarios looked at what options the Skico could take depending on how much revenues fell.

Instead of relying on layoffs, Skico reduced positions through attrition and made more efficient use of its workforce, Kaplan said. The Skico is using fewer people to fill its seasonal positions. During the boom years in the middle of the decade, Skico had a lot of employees that only wanted to work part-time. Now that jobs in the valley are scarce, more people want full-time work. The Skico benefits from hiring fewer bodies because that means benefits like health insurance and ski passes are extended to fewer people.

The Skico froze wages for the 2009-10 ski season during the slow recovery from the recession. This season, returning employees were eligible for a raise of up to 5 percent, Kaplan said. The average increase was about 2.5 percent, he said.

Basalt officials acknowledged the importance of the Skico to the midvalley economy during Tuesday’s meeting. Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane, a former Skico planner, called the company the “economic driver” for the valley. He noted that other major ski resorts in Colorado laid off as many as 20 percent of their work force during the recession as well as reduced pay and benefits.

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