ASPEN SKIING QUITTING COLORADO TRADE GROUP

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Colorado Ski Country USA, the Denver-based trade association that promotes skier visits to the state, has lost one of its most visible members in Aspen Skiing Co.

Aspen Skiing, a founding member of Ski Country in 1963, concluded that its alliance with the trade group "no longer seemed like a good fit," said Bobbie Jacobs, Aspen Skiing communications director.

She added that Aspen Skiing "is revising everything we do right now." Ms. Jacobs declined to say how the company might alter its advertising or marketing efforts, noting next ski season's projects will be set up this summer. Aspen Skiing handles most of its marketing in-house, using the Bomb Factory, Venice, Calif., for creative only, a spokeswoman said.

Aspen Skiing owns four ski areas in Colorado-Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk. The company suffered a 5% drop in lift ticket sales this year for the 1994-95 season in part because Continental Express, which had operated 18% of the flights serving Aspen, discontinued service there and to other mountain resorts, Ms. Jacobs said.

Reports had indicated that Aspen Skiing quit Ski Country because it wasn't getting enough international exposure through the group. Ms. Jacobs disputed that, saying the association didn't need to provide global marketing for Aspen Skiing since the resort operator is already targeting international customers through a joint marketing agreement with Colorado ski resort operator Vail Associates.

"Of course, we were surprised and very disappointed" with Aspen's decision to quit Ski Country, said association Communications Director Kelly Ladyga, though she acknowledged Aspen's discontent had been known all season. Ski Country doesn't run advertising but promotes Colorado's skiing industry to travel groups, tour operators and consumers, and lobbies legislative and regulatory bodies. A spokeswoman said the group is seeking a small public relations agency in the New York area to help with East Coast promotions.

Ski Country has shouldered considerable responsibility for marketing the state since citizens voted in 1993 to discontinue funding the Colorado Tourism Bureau, leaving local communities and industry groups to come up with their own promotional activities.

"Aspen's pullout will not affect any of our programs or staffing for 1995-96," Ms. Ladyga noted. "It does not have a significant impact on our budget."

Ski Country partially funds its budget by selling $2,000 "gold" ski passes that allow skiers to visit any member resort any time. The association's 1994-95 budget of $1.8 million included $900,000 raised through the sale of those passes. Aspen and Vail are the top two towns visited by buyers of those passes, Ms. Ladyga said, so Aspen's absence might affect future sales.

The group also assesses membership fees based on gross lift ticket sales. Neither Aspen Skiing nor Ski Country would state what Aspen had been paying for its membership, but the four Aspen mountains garner about 13% of all Colorado skier visits. The state racked up 10.9 million skier visits this past season, down 2% from 1993-94's record-breaking season.

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