bY KEllY j. hAYES | January 1, 2015 | People
New young mayor Steve Skadron is determined to put Aspen on the 'leading edge' national map and still find time for his first passion: skiing.
Honor role: Mayor Steve Skadron came to Aspen to ski. While he got what he was looking for, he also got a lot more: a future at the helm of the city he loves.
It’s an old Aspen story: Ski bum catches cheap flight to Aspen for a vacation, sleeps on a friend’s sofa for a few nights, and then never leaves. “[All] I had [were] a pair of K2 TRC Comp 195s and Solomon SX82 rear-entry boots,” laughs Steve Skadron, whose journey began in 1995.
The O. Henry twist on this tale is that less than two decades later, Skadron was elected mayor of Aspen, one of the most fabled ski towns in the world. “I still smile a little when someone calls me mayor. It’s something I still haven’t gotten used to, and I hope I never do,” says the impish, curly haired incumbent, who looks decades younger than his 52 years. “It is such a privilege to be able to serve this community.”
Under Skadron’s leadership, Aspen has focused on moving closer to its 100 percent renewable energy goals and has tightened building codes that threatened its small-town character. In addition, he has initiated plans to help maintain Aspen’s position in the outdoor sports arena. “I’m currently spearheading an economic development program focusing on uphill sports and building an uphill economy,” he says.
Skadron grew up in Minnesota and developed a passion for the wild that was nurtured by summers spent in a family cabin on a remote Wisconsin lake. It is his lifelong love for the outdoors that informs his governance to this day. “I do my best thinking in the backcountry,” says the long-distance runner and ski touring enthusiast. “If you live in a ski town, you should have a relationship with the mountain.”
It was a chance encounter at a Saturday-morning yoga class that sparked Skadron’s turn to public service. “I was working in marketing and I had wanted to get involved with the community,” he recalls. On the mat next to him was the incumbent mayor, Helen Klanderud. “I asked her how to get involved and she told me to check out the Planning and Zoning Commission. I had no idea what that was, but I went and signed up.” Four years of service gave him a feel for the community and how to make an impact. “It took me two years to figure out how things worked at P&Z. But I learned how to make an argument.”
His success on the commission led to a six-year run on the City Council, where his most memorable vote was in dissent of majority approval of the Aspen Art Museum, which opened this year to much fanfare. It is a vote he does not regret. “I was recently asked, ‘Knowing what you know now, would you change your vote?’” he shares. “I said, ‘Absolutely not. I stand by it.’” His objection is based on both size and context. “While I’m not opposed to the concept of an art museum in the city core, I think the building could have been more sensitive to our standing historic structures. I think the mass and scale are out of tune with our community assets. I just think it’s too big.”
An avid cyclist, Skadron now uses his peddling passion politically.
His ascent to mayor (he bested fellow Councilman Torre—he has just one legal name—in a runoff by a mere 84 votes in June 2013) has given Skadron an opportunity to change the tenor of Aspen’s government. “I think we have a more collaborative working relationship between the council and staff,” he says. “It’s an easier place, which encourages constructive dialogue. We state on our meeting agendas that ‘tone and tenor matter,’ and it’s true. My goal was to make great strides toward civility in our public process. While confrontation is inevitable, citizens need to feel they can present their interests without fear, and be respected even when there’s disagreement.”
This spirit of communication has also extended to the mayor’s relationship with the business community, including the Aspen Skiing Company, Aspen’s most visible employer. “Steve is a good listener who clearly cares about the community,” says Ski Co. President Mike Kaplan. “He’s also an incredible aerobic athlete who not only supports but lives the ‘Aspen Idea.’ That means you should never go for a run with him—it will hurt!”
Skadron is regularly seen running the trails and backcountry of Aspen. He lives alone in the Hunter Creek condo he purchased years ago and is an eminently eligible bachelor. “I never dreamed I would still be single at this point in my life,” he laughs. “But I firmly believe that Aspen needs a first lady, so I’m working on it.”
Skadron makes no bones about being bullish on Aspen’s role as a leading-edge community. “Aspen has an opportunity for leadership on a local, regional, and national scale,” he enthuses. “We operate more like a big city. The value of our development decisions can range into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The way we build and develop an affordable housing program, which is second to none, is extraordinary. The type of environmental leadership and the values we support both philosophically and financially are remarkable. We get national exposure.”
Whenever possible, Skadron likes to combine his profession with his passion. In March of this year, in a show of civic cooperation, he paired with his counterpart, Aaron Huckstep, the mayor of Crested Butte, in the epic Grand Traverse. The race takes competitors over the top of the Elk Mountains in the middle of winter, in the dead of night, on a journey between the two ski towns. It is not for the faint of heart.
Just like being mayor of Aspen.
photography by billy rood