Aspen is one of the wealthiest places on the planet. But in the mountain town for the mega-rich, who owns the mountain itself?
Today’s post is all about who owns the legendary Aspen Snowmass ski resort.
We’ll run through a detailed history of the ski company and break down everything there is to know about its wealthy owners. We’ll look into their current net worth, where the money came from, and even interesting relationships between Aspen, the U.S. Government, and the grounbreaking Alterra Mountain Company.
Strap in for a ride along with the rich and famous!
- Who owns the Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort?
- Who were the previous owners of Aspen Skiing Company?
- Does Aspen Ski Co. actually own the mountains?
- Does Alterra own Aspen?
Who owns the Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort?
Aspen ski resort is a family business owned by the Crown family.
Henry Crown and Company, currently overseen by Lester Crown, first purchased a partial interest in Aspen Skiing Company in 1985. In 1993, they bought out Aspen’s other investors to become the sole owners of Aspen Skiing Company.
Today, the company remains held by Lester Crown, his children, and several members of their extended family. Of note, Lester’s son, Jim Crown, is the current Managing Partner of Aspen Skiing Co.
Where did the Crown family wealth come from?
The Crown Family’s wealth started with Henry Crown. Henry’s parents were Lithuanian and Russian immigrants who left their village in the 1890s and arrived in Chicago with next to nothing. At age 23, Henry Crown used a $10,000 loan to launch a building materials company in Chicago. The company supplied construction materials, mainly gravel and sand, throughout the city’s booming growth.
For the next 40 years, Material Services Corporation’s wild history included surviving The Great Depression, defense against hostile takeovers, and even Henry leaving to enlist in World War II. After WWII, the construction materials company especially thrived during the United State’s post-war construction boom.
By 1959, Henry’s company merged with the nation’s largest defense contractor at the time – General Dynamics. (General Dynamics is best known for building advanced missiles, nuclear submarines, and even the F-16 fighter jet.)
Over time, Henry formed Henry Crown & Company to diversify his wealth into other investments. For a brief period in the 1950s-60s, this even included full ownership of The Empire State Building in New York City!
By the 1980s, Henry’s son, Lester Crown, took over most leadership for both General Dynamics and Henry Crown & Co. Lester continued diversifying the business with investments in the Chicago Bulls, New York Yankees, JP Morgan Chase, and the Rockefeller Center in New York.
In 1985, Lester added Aspen Skiing Co. to the family’s long list of investments, and by 1993 Lester and his family were the ski resort’s sole owners.
What is the current net worth of the Crown family?
Today, Forbes estimates the Crown family fortune at $10.2 billion dollars.
This places the Crown family at #34 on Forbes’ list of richest families.
Who were the previous owners of Aspen Skiing Company?
Aspen Skiing Company was originally founded in 1946. The founding members included:
- Friedl Pfiefer: An Austrian ski instructor and racing champing
- Walter Paepcke: An executive of the Container Corporation of America
- William E. Doyle: A judge
- James J. Johnston, and H.F Klock
In 1978, the company was purchased by Twentieth Century Fox, before changing hands several times over the next decade and a half.
A Complete Timeline of Aspen Skiing Co.’s Ownership
- 1946: Aspen Ski Co. is formed by Pfeifer, Paepcke, Doyle, Johnston, and Klock.
- 1978: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp, then a publicly held company, buys 100% of Aspen Skiing Co.
- 1981: Marvin Davis purchases Twentieth Century Fox and takes Aspen Skiing Co. private
- 1981: Marvin Davis sells a 50 percent interest in Aspen to Aetna Life Insurance
- 1983: Aetna Life Insurance sells its 50 percent interest to Miller-Klutznick-Davis-Gray
- 1985: Lester Crown, on behalf of the Crown family, purchases the 50 percent interest held by Twentieth Century Fox / Marvin Davis.
- 1993: Lester Crown purchases the remaining 50 percent from Miller-Klutznick-Davis-Gray, making the Crown family 100% owners of Aspen Ski Co.
Source: Aspen Times
How Aspen grew into Aspen / Snowmass / Buttermilk / Aspen Highlands
Aspen Ski Co installed the first chairlift on Aspen Mountain on December 14, 1946. (It was the world’s longest chairlift at the time!)
For the next decade, the company continued to operate only Aspen Mountain.
In 1958, Friedl Pfeifer (the ski instructor of the original Aspen group) opened and operated Buttermilk Mountain individually. Five years later, Aspen acquired Buttermilk.
Also in 1958, local Aspen resident Whip Jones developed the land at Aspen Highlands into a new, competing ski resort. Jones would continue operating Highlands independently of Aspen until 1993, when he donated the resort to Harvard University. In a strange turn of events, Harvard sold the resort to a Texas developer, and it was later bought by Aspen Ski Company.
In 1967, Aspen opened Snowmass Mountain in order to compete with the country’s ever-expanding ski boom of the 1960s and 70s.
Today, a single lift ticket grants you access to all four resorts of Aspen Snowmass. You can read SlopeLab’s full review of these mountains here.
Does Aspen Ski Co. actually own the mountains?
No, not completely.
Aspen leases most of its ski resort land from the U.S. Government.
To get specific, in 2011, The Aspen Times reported that Aspen Ski Co. leases over 7,500 acres of national forest from the U.S. Forest Service. The company pays the government a fee for the land use, which varies each year.
How much land the company leases varies by mountain. According to the report, they leased the following amounts of land for each of the company’s four mountains:
- Snowmass: 4,997 acres leased for $1.1 million
- Aspen Highlands: 1,620 acres leased for $140K
- Buttermilk: 835 acres leased for $149K
- Aspen Mountain: 326 acres leased for $34K
So then, what exactly does Aspen Skiing Company own?
Since many of the favorite runs you’re skiing at Aspen are technically on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service, you might be wondering what exactly, does the Aspen company own?
Aspen Ski Co. owns each mountain’s ski lifts, the on-mountain restaurants and chalets, and many of the base area hotels and amenities. The company also owns the Aspen Ski School, which is a major source of revenue for the company.
And, to a certain extent, they do own notable portions of the mountains. For example, the company only leases approximately 300 acres at Aspen Mountain. Considering that mountain boasts nearly 700 acres of skiable terrain, that’s a lot of mountain land owned by the company!
Does Alterra own Aspen?
Nope, not exactly.
When Alterra Mountain Company announced itself to the world in 2018, it was described as a joint venture between KSL Capital Partners and Henry Crown and Company. The new company owns a dozen or so flagship ski resorts, including such big names as Mammoth Mountain, Steamboat Springs, Winter Park, and Palisades Tahoe, among others.
This led to a lot of people assuming that Aspen Snowmass was one of those resorts owned by Alterra, but that’s not technically true. While the Crown family does own Henry Crown and Company, and KSL is a business partner of theirs, Alterra does not own Aspen.
Instead, Aspen Ski Co (including Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass) remains held separately by the Crown family, who are still the resort’s sole owners.
For skiers, this might explain Aspen’s unique positioning on Alterra’s Ikon Pass. Currently, Aspen Snowmass is not included on the Ikon Base Pass, and even the most expensive Ikon Pass only has limited days at Aspen Snowmass.