As a destination for many snow sport enthusiasts, escapists and work-from-homers alike, ski resort Aspen Snowmass has a built-in following and brand awareness. Now the Aspen Skiing Company is rolling out a retail and experience brand: AspenX.
Skiers, shoppers and vacationers know the Aspen Skiing Company as owner and operator of Aspen Snowmass, The Little Nell and Limelight Hotels. Artist and entrepreneur Paula Crown conceptualized the label as a global performance living brand, as opposed to a lifestyle brand. It debuts today with ski apparel, gear and accessories and the launch of an online store. Coming up there will be limited-run collaborations with Prada and the Burton-owned Anon.
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Later this month, holiday visitors will be able to shop in the first AspenX brick-and-mortar store at Aspen's Gondola Plaza. There, visitors will be able to pick up the performance wear, as well as "brain bread" - espressos and other food serviced by the five-star, five-diamond Little Nell. Bowing Dec. 20, the on-mountain shop will be open through April 17, before shuttering temporarily for a few weeks before reopening in May for the summer crowd.
In 2019, 55 million skiers visited Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk. All the finery and new label are arriving shortly before Aspen's 75th anniversary, coming up on Jan. 11. In an interview Tuesday, Crown, principal of Henry Crown and Co., said the name AspenX is meant to indicate "a multiplier and how we can do more things for the world." The brand signifies a shift in the business approach. As a home to Olympians, bikers, hikers and other talent, the company tapped some of those athletes to wear-test and offer input about the new products. This formula was different than a sponsorship approach, which had been done in the past.
As a family-owned entity, the Crowns are long-term investors and aim to help affect the industry. "We can do R&D. Hopefully, at some point we can develop the safest [ski] helmet or the best lenses or the best materials. The timing seemed to be right with our AspenX name to go out and synthesize all these things to create new things…to advance the performance and experience for our guests, and anyone using our apparel or merchandise," she said, citing a mask that easily magnetized on and off as an example.
Rather than rehash old ideas, AspenX wants to incubate companies and ideas. Investing in start-ups is something that the family business already does through growth equity or other means.
The Crown family bought into the Aspen Skiing Company in 1985 and is one of the largest family-owned stakeholders in the American Skiing Company. The Crown family also has a 50 percent stake of Alterra Mountain Company and owns 17 properties through that in a private equity structure The family patriarch started out earning $4 a week as an errand boy before going on to amass a great family fortune. James Crown, Paula Crown's husband, is chairman and chief executive officer of the Aspen Institute and she is on its arts committee.
The performance wear may be offered in a limited way at another location via a pop-up. While Aspen-branded basics have been sold on the mountain for years, the idea behind AspenX is to connect with a different customer base, who "want certain experiences, including lower friction in terms of booking, different kinds of hospitality and of course limited-edition retail and apparel." (Skiers and snowboarders there can get on the slopes faster by using a RFID tag instead of fumbling in their pockets for a ski pass or standing in line at a desk to buy one, Crown said.)
Private cat skiing tours on the backside of Aspen can be scheduled and exclusive dining can be arranged by The Little Nell's culinary director Matthew Zubrod. "The idea is to invite our guests in and take great care of them. Our interests go beyond just the property. We are part of the community." Crown said, emphasizing that means locally and to the world at large.
As for whether AspenX was inspired by SpaceX, Crown said although the latter is one of the coolest places that she has ever been to, she never made that connection between the two companies. Her focus was on the multiplier angle as being "something that is compounding and expansive."
AspenX ties into the heritage of Aspen, which goes back to Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke family, who were "so much about art, culture, the sustainable environment, ideas and intellect. Aspen is the birthplace of the Aspen Institute, the Aspen Design Center, the Aspen Music Festival and School and Aspen Skiing [which was incorporated in 1946]. So you have this beautiful confluence of humanness. It's about what's possible for anyone there to expand their world, to push themselves a little bit or a lot out of their comfort zone, or to attend a master class with Renée Fleming, or to watch the X Games. This is just a natural evolution."
She added: "To be honest, we've been doing this for decades. We're just starting to structure it in a more specific way. But we have been offering bespoke experiences and doing this for so long. We just think it's time that we tell the story that relays the significance and substance."