Tom Hazard came to Buttermilk last Sunday morning to witness the “day-after” quality of the plaza — empty but for a few ambitious uphillers and a massive overstaffing of uniformed Aspen Skiing Company employees. “I walked outside,” he told a fellow employee, “and it felt like it was just another day…”

But of course, it was not. On Saturday night, the governor had told Aspen Skiing Company President and CEO Mike Kaplan (twice) that we had to shut down. And that’s why senior staff showed up to help manage the potential chaos on a Sunday morning coming down — not a day of worship or community or redemption, but what Kris Kristofferson once called “the disappearing dreams of yesterday.”

Over the past few days, we have been parsing through the ethical calculus of a once-in-a-lifetime, maybe once-in-a-century event, trying to make the right decisions in a pathless landscape without reference points. We weighed the loss of jobs by ski instructors who depend for their livelihood on these last few busy weeks in March. We weighed the long-planned vacation a family may have made a year ago. We weighed our employee health; our role in the region and in the country; and what our closing would do to other businesses in the community. And then, the Governor made the decision easier, and we closed.

Now the hard work begins. As Lee Solomon, one of our Food and Beverage Managers said, "maybe now, we’ll finally learn what we don’t know.”

What is out there? What does the future hold? What ought we do now?
The messaging around COVID-19 (already a clinical, robotic sounding ailment) has sounded like every-man-or-woman-for-himself. “Shelter in place! Socially isolate!” And so many Americans have rushed out to buy, of all things, toilet paper. But we’re not buying toilet paper at Aspen Skiing Company, unless it’s for our neighbors or employees. Because this moment in history is not about ourselves or our own protection. As many have pointed out, we are distancing ourselves only to the extent that it helps others. And while it is right and prudent for us to avoid physical contact, we must make every effort to extend connections — on phone and email, on social media and in the papers. Do you need food? Do you need help? Do you need advice, or just a chance to chat? Can I drop a pumpkin bread off on your porch? We know for a fact — through multiple decades of research through the Harvard Happiness Study — that social connection is literally what keeps us alive.

At Aspen Skiing Company, we are not sitting idle.

Bumps is being set up as a possible alternative Incident Management Team location for Pitkin County. Thanks to Jim Butchart and the entire Mountain Food and Beverage Division, Aspen Skiing Company restaurants gave employees pre-made meals and pre-packaged food on Friday, March 20th to avoid letting food in our on-mountain restaurants go to waste. We will donate any leftover food to local food banks. Aspen Skiing Company and the Caring for Community Fund donated to local nonprofits. Hannah Berman, our Sustainability Manager, organized a list of volunteer opportunities for idled staff and community members. It can be viewed here. The most pressing issue is staffing the Financial Assistance Call Center at Pitkin County, which will connect people in need with the right county, nonprofit or assistance program. In just two days, there have been more than 350 requests and thousands are expected in the weeks to come.

Societies do not survive great crises as individuals — they survive them as collectives, as communities. This crisis has only put in greater focus our dependence and admiration for the people and place around us.

There is no doubt that this crisis will have fiscal ripple effects for years to come, as was the case after the Great Recession. But that financial toll is dwarfed by the personal pain we know Americans will feel as our economy shuts down: 40% of Americans don’t have $400 extra dollars for an emergency.

And let's not forget the people who get sick. We healthy skiers can only feel with gut-pain the terror of knowing a loved one needs, but can’t access, a ventilator, the key to survival. We are working from home to protect the healthcare system for each other.

What we’d like you to know is this: Aspen Skiing Company is all-in on the fix. We are here and we have resources: whether it’s a woman who can drive a backhoe; a backhoe itself; a commercial kitchen; or a team of idled event managers. We are not waiting to be asked, but we are also here to help. If you, your people, your business or your government need guidance, direction, counsel, equipment or support, we will help. Email our Sustainability Manager, Hannah Berman, at hberman@aspensnowmass.com.

There is an ancient Hebrew concept called “Tikkun olam” that is particularly appropriate right now. It means “the obligation to repair the world.” Our business may have shut down, and things may seem bleak at the moment, but we at Aspen Skiing Company — 4,000 strong and in business for 75 years — are here to help us survive the temporarily broken world, then to repair it, and then to thrive in this beloved community.

About the Author

Auden Schendler Aspen Skiing Company
Auden Schendler

Auden Schendler

Auden is the Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Snowmass where he focuses on big-scale solutions to climate change, primarily clean energy and activism. He worked previously in corporate sustainability at Rocky Mountain Institute.