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Alumnus Mike Kaplan is Aspen Skiing Co.’s king of the hill

Mike Kaplan started as director of Aspen’s ski school then moved up to operations. In 2005, he was named chief operating officer; a year later, he was appointed CEO and president. Photo courtesy of Aspen/Snowmass

A lifelong skier who learned the sport on a tiny ski hill in Wisconsin, Aspen Skiing Co. CEO and President Mike Kaplan (MBA ’93) now runs one of the world’s top ski complexes.

Aspen has four resorts offering a wide range of terrain: the beginner’s paradise at Buttermilk; the steeps at Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands; and the sprawling, family-friendly Snowmass.

Kaplan set his heart on a career in the ski industry while ski bumming at New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley Resort, where he headed after earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado. At Taos, he taught skiing, worked the graveyard shift running the snow guns and learned the science of avalanche control on the ski patrol.

Needing a stronger foundation in management to make his next career move, he enrolled at DU’s Daniels College of Business to earn his MBA.

“I’d come to realize that most managers in the ski industry back then had come up through the ranks and had gotten on-the-job training,” recalls Kaplan, who lives in Aspen with his wife, Laura, and four children. “A business degree was a good next step.”

He started as director of Aspen’s ski school then moved up to operations. In 2005, he was named chief operating officer; a year later, he was appointed CEO and president.

Five years later, Kaplan says Aspen is poised for renewed growth. Health-conscious baby boomers are reaching their 50s and 60s still in shape, with money to spend, and with legs strong enough to head down a run in a foot of fresh powder. Better mountain grooming and improved ski technology has also improved the on-mountain experience.

Those years, however, won’t last forever, and Kaplan — like the rest of the ski industry — knows Aspen needs to reach out to the younger generation to get more skiers and snowboarders up on the mountain.

“Things are good right now, but down the road, we need to replace those baby boomers with Gen X and Gen Y,” Kaplan says. “We need to build and nurture Gen X, and Gen Y is a different generation. It’s more diverse, and our business is not that diverse. We need to diversify our customer base to compete for those vacation dollars.”

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2 Comments

  1. Dawn J. Frank says:

    I appreciate Mike Kaplan’s effort of developing Aspen and keeping it alive for the next generation of skiers. Along with Mike, there are people who also deserve an applaud or perhaps a standing ovation for their contributions on making Aspen ski resort a part of history: http://www.aspenspin.com/journal/2010/1/19/aspen-its-a-ski-town.html

    • Lee Mulcahy, PhD says:

      Kaplan acknowledged that a lot of people in Aspen, inside and out of the Skico, are anxious to see if he will be “an agent of change” for the Skico.-Aspen Times

      Dear Mike,
      Despite our differences, we both love the community our town creates. Although I have to ROFL when the local dukes and countesses line up to pay 10K to meet barefoot Michelle Obama at the castle General Dynamics built four blocks from my Communist public housing house. Rome in the 4th Quarter or Versailles?

      These days our politicians are just boring blowhards; whereas, our Revolutionary forefathers deeply respected a good fight. One of the more famous duels back in the day occurred when Vice President Burr fatally wounded former Secretary of Treasury Hamilton in a High Noon shootout.

      Taking inspiration from the Roger Marolt/Aspen Times and Lo Semple/Aspen Daily News current challenge: Why not a Mulcahy/Kaplan flip-off at the base of Aspen? Set up bleachers & the whole town could come…you’ll need to use the Little Nell suite above Ajax Tavern as a VIP section for Heidi’s crowd. Cheerleaders?—would Paula bring pom-poms and go all Dallas Cowboys for you?

      It’ll be hilarious: CEO vs. peon; big $ vs. white trash; Chicago North Shore vs. Fort Worth, Texas; Audi driving Master of the Skico Universe vs. pick-up driving Skico whistleblower; Aspen Institute green “limousine liberal” vs. “Don’t tread on me” NRA/Tea Party occupier; Castle Creek free market Denver University MBA vs. Burlingame public housing union organizing Sorbonne-attending PhD; Ski vs. snowboard; 1% vs. 99%.

      How ‘bout a moguls contest on AH’s Scarlett’s instead of all this legal stuff we’ll go through next? Man to man. The Old Guard of Aspen would love it and so in line with our local history. But if I win, Skico has to pay more than $9.25/hr. u call a “living wage” here and … I get my job back. Full disclosure: I was freestyle aerial certified. But I’ll even flip on a snowboard and u can use those skis Roger Marolt pokes fun of u about.

      These protests all over the world have the same message: Hey, 1%! Be fair and treat us with dignity.

      And that’s the paradox of the public space, everyone may kind of know something unpleasant, but once someone says it, it changes everything. Therefore, I cannot resist: Paula Crown, PhD candidate at the Art Institute of Chicago, is on President Obama’s arts council. Michelle has lunch at Paula’s palace. General Dynamics and JP Morgan Chase are very prosperous.
      What was that Dan Sheridan song Paula had banned? “Big $”?
      28th amendment anyone?

      So back to skiing, Mike, are you in?

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