Aspen Skiing Company v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corporation

Citation86 L.Ed.2d 467,472 U.S. 585,105 S.Ct. 2847
Decision Date19 June 1985
Docket NumberNo. 84-510,84-510
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Respondent, which owns one of the four major mountain facilities for downhill skiing at Aspen, Colo., filed a treble-damages action in Federal District Court in 1979 against petitioner, which owns the other three major facilities, alleging that petitioner had monopolized the market for downhill skiing services at Aspen in violation of § 2 of the Sherman Act. The evidence showed that in earlier years, when there were only three major facilities operated by three independent companies (including both petitioner and respondent), each competitor offered both its own tickets for daily use of its mountain and an interchangeable 6-day all-Aspen ticket, which provided convenience to skiers who visited the resort for weekly periods but preferred to remain flexible about what mountain they might ski each day. Petitioner, upon acquiring its second of the three original facilities and upon opening the fourth, also offered, during most of the ski seasons, a weekly multiarea ticket covering only its mountains, but eventually the all-Aspen ticket outsold petitioner's own multiarea ticket. Over the years, the method for allocation of revenues from the all-Aspen ticket to the competitors developed into a system based on random-sample surveys to determine the number of skiers who used each mountain. However, for the 1977-1978 ski season, respondent, in order to secure petitioner's agreement to continue to sell all-Aspen tickets, was required to accept a fixed percentage of the ticket's revenues. When respondent refused to accept a lower percentage considerably below its historical average based on usage—for the next season, petitioner discontinued its sale of the all-Aspen ticket; instead sold 6-day tickets featuring only its own mountains; and took additional actions that made it extremely difficult for respondent to market its own multiarea package to replace the joint offering. Respondent's share of the market declined steadily thereafter. The jury returned a verdict against petitioner, fixing respondent's actual damages, and the court entered a judgment for treble damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting petitioner's contention that there cannot be a requirement of cooperation between competitors, even when one possesses monopoly powers.


1. Although even a firm with monopoly power has no general duty to engage in a joint marketing program with a competitor (and the jury was so instructed here), the absence of an unqualified duty to cooperate does not mean that every time a firm declines to participate in a particular cooperative venture, that decision may not have evidentiary significance, or that it may not give rise to liability in certain circumstances. Lorain Journal Co. v. United States, 342 U.S. 143, 72 S.Ct. 181, 96 L.Ed. 162. The question of intent is relevant to the offense of monopolization in determining whether the challenged conduct is fairly characterized as "exclusionary," "anticompetitive," or "predatory." In this case, the monopolist did not merely reject a novel offer to participate in a cooperative venture that had been proposed by a competitor, but instead elected to make an important change in a pattern of distribution of all-Aspen tickets that had originated in a competitive market and had persisted for several years. It must be assumed that the jury, as instructed by the trial court, drew a distinction "between practices which tend to exclude or restrict competition on the one hand, and the success of a business which reflects only a superior product, a well-run business, or luck, on the other," and that the jury concluded that there were no "valid business reasons" for petitioner's refusal to deal with respondent. Pp. 600-605.

2. The evidence in the record, construed most favorably in support of respondent's position, is adequate to support the verdict under the instructions given. In determining whether petitioner's conduct may properly be characterized as exclusionary, it is appropriate to examine the effect of the challenged pattern of conduct on consumers, on respondent, and on petitioner itself. Pp. 605-611.

(a) The evidence showed that, over the years, skiers developed a strong demand for the all-Aspen ticket, and that they were adversely affected by its elimination. Pp. 605-607.

(b) The adverse impact of petitioner's pattern of conduct on respondent was established by evidence showing the extent of respondent's pecuniary injury, its unsuccessful attempt to protect itself from the loss of its share of the patrons of the all-Aspen ticket, and the steady decline of its share of the relevant market after the ticket was terminated. Pp. 607-608.

(c) The evidence relating to petitioner itself did not persuade the jury that its conduct was justified by any normal business purpose, but instead showed that petitioner sought to reduce competition in the market over the long run by harming its smaller competitor. That conclusion is strongly supported by petitioner's failure to offer any efficiency justification whatever for its pattern of conduct. Pp. 608-611.

738 F.2d 1509 (CA 10 1984), affirmed.

Richard Melvyn Cooper, for petitioner.

Tucker Karl Trautman, Denver, Colo., for respondent.

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In a private treble-damages action, the jury found that petitioner Aspen Skiing Company (Ski Co.) had monopolized the market for downhill skiing services in Aspen, Colorado. The question presented is whether that finding is erroneous as a matter of law because it rests on an assumption that a firm with monopoly power has a duty to cooperate with its smaller rivals in a marketing arrangement in order to avoid violating § 2 of the Sherman Act.1


Aspen is a destination ski resort with a reputation for "super powder," "a wide range of runs," and an "active night life," including "some of the best restaurants in North America." Tr. 765-767. Between 1945 and 1960, private investors independently developed three major facilities for downhill skiing: Aspen Mountain (Ajax),2 Aspen Highlands (Highlands),3 and Buttermilk.4 A fourth mountain, Snowmass,5 opened in 1967.

The development of any major additional facilities is hindered by practical considerations and regulatory obstacles.6 The identification of appropriate topographical conditions for a new site and substantial financing are both essential. Most of the terrain in the vicinity of Aspen that is suitable for downhill skiing cannot be used for that purpose without the approval of the United States Forest Service. That approval is contingent, in part, on environmental concerns. Moreover, the county government must also approve the project, and in recent years it has followed a policy of limiting growth.

Between 1958 and 1964, three independent companies operated Ajax, Highlands, and Buttermilk. In the early years, each company offered its own day or half-day tickets for use of its mountain. Id., at 152. In 1962, however, the three competitors also introduced an interchangeable ticket.7 Id., at 1634. The 6-day, all-Aspen ticket provided convenience to the vast majority of skiers who visited the resort for weekly periods, but preferred to remain flexible about what mountain they might ski each day during the visit. App. 92. It also emphasized the unusual variety in ski mountains available in Aspen.

As initially designed, the all-Aspen ticket program consisted of booklets containing six coupons, each redeemable for a daily lift ticket at Ajax, Highlands, or Buttermilk. The price of the booklet was often discounted from the price of six daily tickets, but all six coupons had to be used within a limited period of time seven days, for example. The revenues from the sale of the 3-area coupon books were distributed in accordance with the number of coupons collected at each mountain. Tr. 153, 1634-1638.

In 1964, Buttermilk was purchased by Ski Co., but the interchangeable ticket program continued. In most seasons after it acquired Buttermilk, Ski Co. offered 2-area, 6- or 7-day tickets featuring Ajax and Buttermilk in competition with the 3-area, 6-coupon booklet. Although it sold briskly, the all-Aspen ticket did not sell as well as Ski Co.'s multiarea ticket until Ski Co. opened Snowmass in 1967. Thereafter the all-Aspen coupon booklet began to outsell Ski Co.'s ticket featuring only its mountains. Record Ex. LL; Tr. 1646, 1675-1676.

In the 1971-1972 season, the coupon booklets were discontinued and an "around the neck" all-Aspen ticket was developed. This refinement on the interchangeable ticket was advantageous to the skier, who no longer found it necessary to visit the ticket window every morning before gaining access to the slopes. Lift operators at Highlands monitored usage of the ticket in the 1971-1972 season by recording the ticket numbers of persons going onto the slopes of that mountain. Highlands officials periodically met with Ski Co. officials to review the figures recorded at Highlands, and to distribute revenues based on that count. Id., at 1622, 1639.

There was some concern that usage of the all-Aspen ticket should be monitored by a more scientific method than the one used in the 1971-1972 season. After a one-season absence, the 4-area ticket returned in the 1973-1974 season with a new method of allocating revenues based on usage. Like the 1971-1972 ticket, the 1973-1974 4-area ticket consisted of a badge worn around the skier's neck. Lift operators punched the ticket when the skier first sought access to the mountain each day. A random-sample survey was commissioned to determine how many skiers with the 4-area ticket used each mountain, and the parties allocated revenues from the ticket sales in accordance with the survey's results.

In the next four seasons, Ski Co. and Highlands used such...

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