Monday, April 18, 2011
Michael Cleverly, VIle's Aspen Bureau Chief
Submitted by: Editor

Original Company Town - Part 7

“Company Town” traces the evolution of the influence of the industries that have driven Aspen’s economic life from its boomtown silver and gold mining days to its growth into one of the premier ski resorts in the world. It also traces the changes in Aspen society, from its mining days, when basically no one had any class, to the freewheeling 70’s when the place was so democratic as to be a classless society, to today, when the entire town is essentially a gated community. The gates are not made of steel, they’re economic, and the society now is far from classless.

Crimes against humanity, at least some of humanity

When DRC Brown was President of The Aspen Skiing Company he was fond of stating, “We’re in the skiing business, not the bed business.” This meant, quite simply, that the Skico wasn’t interested in owning lodges, restaurants or anything else peripheral to actual activity of skiing. Businesses that operated on National Forest land that the Skico leased gave them a taste, of course, but they were independently owned and operated and if they made big old piles of money, good for them, and if they didn’t, too bad. That was the way it had been since the beginning and that’s how it stayed until outsiders took over. The outsiders couldn’t help but notice that some of these businesses were making money, pile size, large or small, was irrelevant. This somehow didn’t seem right. The new Skico owners concluded that it should be in aforementioned peripheral businesses. 

Fred Iselin started the ski school at Aspen Highlands and operated it with four partners for years. When he passed on he willed the school to the partners. At that point the owner of the ski area simply stated that Highlands owned the ski school. The partners were frying other fish by that point and didn’t put up a fight. So, just by saying he owned the ski school, the ski area ended up owning the ski school. Eventually all the ski schools dominoed down the maws of the mountains they serviced, leaving the owners of these businesses standing and scratching their heads with no real recourse. Once the Skico decided there was all kinds of gold in them thar hills, no one who operated a business on Skico property, no matter how large or small, was safe. The singing cowboy who gave moonlight sleigh rides all of a sudden found that his little contract wasn’t renewed. The Skico bought their own sleigh and horse, hired their own cowboy at minimum wage and reaped what profits there were for itself. 

One of the earliest examples of the Skico beating up on the little guy was the Don Lemos affaire. Lemos taught skiing at Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk from 1961 to 1963. In ‘63 those ski schools changed hands and he left after a disagreement with the new management. He then found work with Iselin at Aspen Highlands where he remained till 1968. That year he had a beef with the owner of the mountain, the same guy who would hijack the entire ski school 3 years later when Iselin died. Lemos moved on to Snowmass where Stein Erickson ran the ski school, but was soon blackballed from teaching at all the Aspen ski areas when the director of the Aspen Mountain school complained to Skico Pres. Darcy Brown. Lemos, who had been an extremely popular instructor throughout his career and was fully certified, started teaching privately, with no connection to the established ski schools. European ski resorts will, as a matter of course, host a number of different ski schools at any given area, giving the skier a choice, and creating an atmosphere of healthy competition. American ski areas are different, one ski school per area, period, a monopoly. The idea of this guy Lemos running (skiing) around teaching on his own was anathema, it drove them nuts. The Ski Company put up posters at every lift with his picture on them and instructions to the attendants not to load him. Remarkably the lift attendants consistently failed to recognize Lemos. He was however arrested 5 times by the constabulary, occasionally being physically carried off the mountain. Once, having been pulled off his night job as wine steward at a fancy restaurant and hauled to jail, his wife had to put up the deed to their house to bail him out. The Aspen District Attorney’s office never once proceeded to prosecute. 

Lemos wasn’t the only underground (as the Skico characterized him) ski instructor, but he was the highest profile, he started skiing in disguise. The Skico stiffened their corporate back, and Lemos sued the Department of Agriculture that oversees the Forest Service. His lawsuits never were successful, but he taught underground for 12 years and never missed a lesson. In 1980 public opinion in Aspen was so charged against the Skico that they gave up and asked him to rejoin the ski school. Today at age 73 he happily teaches still. 

That was not the last time the Ski Company bowed to public pressure, but examples are few and far between. The “steamroll the bastards” technique is much more common.

Part 8: The Wages of Celebrity

Posted by Editor on 04/18/11 at 02:26 PM •  (0) Comments

Tags:  wealth, aspen, cleverly,

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