To woo skiers, Aspen may resort to the racy

It's tony, it's chic, it's ... stodgy? To attract a younger set, ski mecca wants a makeover.

A sultry blond with mussed hair leans against a wall, hips forward. She's wearing faded jeans and a cowgirl shirt tied to expose her midriff. In a casual scrawl, the magazine ad beckons: "In Aspen, you might meet someone dynamic, exciting, attractive, athletic, witty, charismatic, and (in bigger letters) sexy."

Though Aspen is the quintessential ski town, the ad makes no mention of winter sports. In fact, the photos don't suggest the outdoors at all.

With the winter recreation industry stagnating from coast to coast, cities and resorts are trying everything to lure customers - from heavily discounted lift tickets to aggressive advertising.

Now, even Aspen - whose very name is a trademark for the trendy - is being forced to market itself. And instead of the traditional image of skiers in snow up to their chinchilla hats, it is trying something you normally don't get from chambers of commerce - pulchritude.

"The ski industry is scrambling," says Joy Spring of the Boulder-based Leisure Trends Group.

Younger vacationers wanted

For many resort towns, the key to revival is attracting younger crowds. As baby boomers age, many younger people in the same or similar economic brackets are not coming to the slopes. Snowboarders are the notable exception, and, last year, the number of snowboarders in the nation dipped for the first time.

"In Aspen, in particular, the demographic is skewed older. How do they get younger visitors? How do they get rid of the stigma that Aspen is for rich, old farts?" Ms. Spring says.

Last week, Snowmass Village, a resort about eight miles from Aspen, was advised by a consultant to appeal to young families with a "warm for parents and cool for kids" campaign, according to The Aspen Times. On the Aspen Chamber's website, a note to journalists begins, "You think you know Aspen's reputation: star-studded and snooty," before citing points to the contrary.

The ad, which is part of a $540,000 taxpayer-funded campaign, is expected to meet with approval in the Aspen City Council today. If they do, the sultry blond soon will appear in regional editions of six magazines, including Bon Appétit, This Old House, and Metropolitan Home. The campaign will also include ads on Internet sites like Bloomberg.net and radio spots on National Public Radio.

Unlike Vail or Telluride or even Glenwood Springs, all of which are Colorado ski towns with larger-budget advertising campaigns, Aspen has never funded its own campaign - it never needed to.

After all, there aren't many small mountain towns where the local head of the music festival moves on to Carnegie Hall for his next job. "I mean, this is Aspen," said Christine Nolan, the head of the city's resort association.

However, a brief scan of headlines in the town's two newspapers shows the city is entering the second year of an economic slump. Art galleries and shops are closing down.

During the last two decades, the issue of a publicly-funded campaign surfaced three times. In 1983 and 1988, the city residents voted down the ballot measure. In 1992, it failed to get the necessary signatures to make it onto the ballot. Last year, the measure finally passed. "It became clear that we needed to (begin marketing the town)," Ms. Nola said.

To start, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and the Denver office of Praco Limited - the firm handling the campaign - located young, well-off people from cities like Dallas and Los Angeles who vacation in places like Belize, the Hamptons, or Kuai and tried to figure out why they weren't coming to Aspen.

"We asked 200 people what they expected from their vacation," said Will Seccombe, who heads the campaign at Praco. "People said, 'I want to taste the food, reunite with my spouse, be energized. I want to have lived.' Nobody said they wanted skiing or scuba-diving."

The result is a campaign that markets the experience, instead of the activities. "If people want to experience life to the fullest, then why don't we tell them that's what we'll give them?" he asked.

The ad with the blonde also has three smaller photos down the left side of the page. The first is a shot from above of a girl dancing in a club. The middle is a partial shot of a man's face, with several day's growth of beard. The bottom is the naked shoulder and neck of a woman with full lips gazing out from the page. On the right side of the page is a paragraph saying that Aspen will "introduce you to a more intriguing, sensuous ... reflection of who you are at home."

Spring questions a campaign directed mostly toward males: Wives and girlfriends, she says, make most vacation decisions. But she also notes that Leisure Trends' research roughly corresponds with Praco's findings.

"It's about promoting the lifestyle," she said, "instead of the sport. Whatever the case, one thing is certain. News travels fast, and if Aspen is successful, you can expect to see a lot more ads like it in the future."

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