Aspen Snowmass has been the #1 ski destination for Aussies heading to America for a long time.
We are their #1 source of international skiers too. From celebrities and billionaires to regular snow holiday travellers, it occupies a unique place in our ski hearts.
The reason for that has a lot to do with one man, David Withers, who put it on the itinerary of his nascent Travelplan Ski Holidays business back in the 1972-73 season.
From a trial tour back then, over 26,000 happy clients have followed. To show their thanks, the City of Aspen proclaimed a ‘David Withers Appreciation Day’ on his 80th birthday on February 23rd 2023.
Fifty years ago there were basically two main types of international snow travel for Aussies: the working holiday for the impecunious, with Europe, especially Austria, the favoured destination; or, for the better off, tours to Europe or North America, often accompanied by tour hosts. NZ was barely on the radar, Japow not invented.
Catering to the latter group, Withers knew he had to meet his client’s high expectations.
After three years of European tours he took a punt on the USA, with a new trip to Aspen and Vail spending a week at each resort.
Vail was the cheaper option then, with more modern accommodation, but from the get go the feedback Withers got was the clients preferred Aspen, which had had a 20 year head start on Vail as a ski resort, and benefited then (and now!) from being an original historic town, not being 100% purpose built from scratch.
Travelplan added Steamboat as a third option not long after, but more and more clients just preferred Aspen. And preferred to stay there for their whole trip, rather than have to pack and travel between resorts.
That preference for the longer stay has become the hallmark of Aussie snow travel to a lot of places now. Early on, the accommodation operators and the lift company started to appreciate that fact. Compared to the local market who, however well-heeled, tended to come for just a few nights, it became obvious to smarter hotel and apartment operators that instead of having gaps in their bookings they could fill up for longer with the ever growing numbers of Aussie guests.
The popular and ideally located – next to the gondola on Aspen Mountain -North of Nell apartments are a good example.
Withers was pro-active in suggesting ways to maximise that to benefit the operators and the clients. Which was pretty much the start of the now widely accepted and hugely popular long stay discounts. Pay 10 stay 14 nights etc. Plus the lift company came to the party with some great longer stay deals, which now run up to the SKI30 pass for 30 days skiing at Aspen Snowmass’ 4 mountains, plus a bonus 2 days in 2023 season at Thredbo.
The need to secure flights meant earlier booking was always a feature, and not surprisingly the best deals became linked to Early Bird cut off dates, which is still the case today.
The whole ‘Early Bird’ ski holiday deals concept really began with Travelplan at Aspen all those years ago, and continues today, spread widely across the industry.
Post the covid hiatus demand is strong – right back to pre-pandemic levels Withers reports.
But airfare gouging played havoc with bookings last season. Business class fares were up to 5 times as much as previously, and economy fares also much higher.
Wither’s success was based on an amazing work ethic. I know; he contracted my design business to do their snow brochures for several years 20 odd years ago, and the 3AM phone calls when he remembered an extra deal or something else to include were frequent. He was ever the perfectionist.
We wish him all the best and hope he keeps traveling to Aspen for many years to come. Son Toby now runs the business, but I’m sure dad still has the odd bit of advice for him.
Our advice is, to paraphrase the legendary Warren Miller, every year you don’t go skiing you’ll be a year older when you do. Ditto for going to Aspen – you really should go check it out. – Owain Price
Grab a Great Aspen Deal
There are some great deals to do that still on offer – like 30% off apartments and either the SKI10 or SKI30 day 4 mountain lift passes, that latter also including 2 days at Thredbo. They lift pass deals must be booked in conjunction with your accommodation booking.
More at www.travelplan.com.au