Top Five Fridays - April 19, 2019 // Ski Industry News
#1: Czech Billionaire May Have Used European Ski Resort to Defraud Investors:
There’s an old saying that goes, “If it happens once, it’s an occasion. Twice, it’s a coincidence. But three times? That’s a trend.” Okay, so that’s probably not actually a thing that anyone’s said, but it could be, right? Regardless, the reason we’ve created this new-old saying is because this week we learned about a Czech billionaire who is being investigated by the Swiss over accusations that he violated financial codes. It’s a complicated financial situation, but the bottom line is this: Radovan Vitek, owner of a property company called CPI PG, utilized his partial ownership of Crans-Montana in Switzerland to raise funds for his property company (CPI), only to then use that money to retain a controlling interest in Crans-Montana. With a controlling interest in Crans-Montana, Vitek then invested company funds into local property developer CMA Immobilier SA. If that seems like a complex scheme, it’s because it is. Essentially Vitek’s goal was to setup a scenario in which Crans-Montana owned stake in a property development company, which would then be given privileged access to developing at the resort. At present, this strategy is what’s being investigated by the Swiss to see whether or not it violates the Swiss Code of Obligations.
What catches our attention most about this article, is that it’s the third instance that we can think of in recent memory in which ski resorts have been used in fraudulent economic activity. As you’re likely aware, the trend was kicked off just north of the SkiEssentials headquarters at Jay Peak and Burke Mountain, where former resort owner Ariel Quiros is accused of defrauding EB-5 investors out of roughly $200m. Then, more recently, Australian developer Sebastian Monsour announced plans to buy Maine’s Saddleback Mountain, only to be accused of fraudulent activities himself. With those two incidents in mind, and now a third story regarding the use of a ski resort to commit fraud, what we’re starting to see is a troubling trend.
Of course it’d be irresponsible of us to definitively say whether or not fraud is currently occurring at any other ski areas, but what we can say conclusively is that the constant state of competition, upgrades, and development at ski areas has clearly made them fertile ground for those looking to commit illegal financial activities. That said, it’s also important to note that in these instances, nearly everyone involved at the resorts are unaware of the activity, and only those at the very top of the organization are involved in illicit activities. While we hope this is the last time we hear of anything like this occurring at a ski resort, you can be sure that we’ll keep you updated when and if we hear more. To read more about the Crans-Montana incident, we’ll refer you to the full Bloomberg article.
#2: Former Aspen City Councilman Charged with Stealing $2.4m Worth of Rental Skis from Aspen Ski Co.:
In related but different news, an Aspen man and his wife were formally charged on Monday with the theft of over $2.4m in skis from the Aspen Skiing Co. While the story sounds simple, the reality is much more complex, and dates all the way back to 2001 when Derek Johnson sold the D&E Snowboard Shop to the resort and became the managing director of Aspen’s retail-rental division. For the first several years, it would appear that all went well. Then, sometime between 2008 and 2012 (depending on varying accounts), Johnson began stealing demo and rental skis from the resort and reselling them on Ebay. To make matters more confusing, Johnson also sat on the Aspen City Council from 2009-2013, ending with a run for city mayor in 2013. It is believed that his illegal business was put on hold during this time, although the entire story seems contingent on who you believe the most as there are a lot of shady and inconsistent assertions being made. Regardless, the end result is the same as an estimated total of $2.4m worth of skis were stolen from Aspen and sold by the Johnsons over a number of years. All in all, it’s a strange, convoluted story, but one that’s worth reading. To get all of the details, including the incidents that lead to Johnson’s downfall, check out the full report from Aspen Times.
#3: A Dark Week for Backcountry Skiing: Two Deaths Highlight Dangers of Spring Touring:
Now, let’s move on to some somber news. Here on Chairlift Chat, we rarely discuss deaths related to skiing for the very simple fact that the last thing we would ever want to do is use someone’s loss of life as a marketing tool. To be frank, even just the idea of doing such makes us uncomfortable. Still, within the last week there were two major headlines that we feel compelled to share to not only honor the lives of two lost skiers, but to also spread awareness regarding the potentially overlooked dangers of late-season skinning. To avoid controversy, we’ll discuss the two incidents chronologically.
Last Friday, shortly after posting our Top Five Friday recap, we learned that Nicholas Benedix of Campton, NH had died in an avalanche on Mount Washington near Tuckerman’s Ravine in New Hampshire. Benedix was wearing a beacon, but was touring alone when a 135’ wide avalanche broke out, carrying him down the mountain and burying him 1 meter deep. While U.S. Forest Rangers were able to dig him out and perform CPR, their efforts were too late and Benedix passed away. We find this story crucial to share as Tuckerman’s Ravine is a popular late-season destination for East Coast skiers, and literally hundreds will make the trek in the coming month. As such, we urge everyone who plans on heading there this season to be well prepared and aware of current conditions. Avalanches can happen on the East Coast, especially in an exposed area like Tuckerman’s Ravine. With the warming weather, snow melt can create a liquid layer, leading to more significant avalanche risk than might be expected. If you’re planning on skiing there, please play it safe.
The second piece of heartbreaking news from this week is in regards to professional freeskier Dave Treadway who was killed while skiing near Rhododendron Mountain in British Columbia. According to accounts, Treadway was skiing across a snow bridge when it collapsed, causing him to fall approximately 100’. While emergency responders were quick to the scene, the rescue mission itself took 14 people about an hour to pull Treadway from the crevasse. Unfortunately by that time, it was too late. In this incident, a second significant spring time danger is brought to light: the melting of snow leading to unpredictable crevasses. On Monday, temperatures in the area were estimated to be about 60 degrees, leading most to believe that Treadway likely didn’t realize he was even on uncertain terrain until the warm snow he was on collapsed. In his passing, Treadway leaves behind a wife, son, and an eternal imprint on the sport of freeskiing.
On that note, we send our deepest, most sincere condolences to the family and friends of both Nicholas Benedix and Dave Treadway. The ski community will truly miss both of these athletes. For those who are making plans or considering a late-season touring expedition, we urge you to be well prepared and knowledgeable about both the terrain and snow conditions you’ll be involved in. To learn more about the incident regarding Nicholas Benedix on Mount Washington, click here. To learn more about Dave Treadway’s life and passing, click here.
Editor’s Note: Just before publishing, we also learned of the presumed deaths of renown alpinists Jess Roskelley, David Lama, and Hansjorg Auer. They were caught in an avalanche in the Canadian Rockies. Our condolences are with their friends and family as well.
#4: The Antithesis to Ikon and Epic Passes: Resorts With No Lifts:
Finally, let’s round things out on a lighter note. This week, we caught an article from Outside Online that presents a novel idea: ski areas without chairlifts. It’s an idea that writer Marc Peruzzi first proposed back in mid-March while musing over the concept of avalanche control in the backcountry, but has gained more merit this week as Peruzzi has published a follow up. After posting that initial article, a group called Bluebird Backcountry reached out to let him know that they’re already working on a similar idea. In short, their concept is this: create a number of “ski areas” in backcountry zones that are all accessed purely by human power (aka skinning and split boarding), that feature basic structures and amenities for shelter as well as avalanche mitigation operations. In other words, these ski areas would target skiers and snowboarders looking to escape the growing crowds at resorts, and who prefer the backcountry skinning experience.
Currently, Bluebird Backcountry is testing the concept through a series of prototype sessions in which they host groups of up to 100 backcountry skiers and snowboarders in areas like Mosquito Pass, CO and at Winter Park (after closing). In doing so, the group hopes to learn more about skin-track logistics, sustenance requirements, and ideal ticket prices for their service. While the entire idea is still in the proof of concept stage, the team behind Bluebird Backcountry likens their vision to the way climbing gyms have transformed and grown the sport of climbing by creating easier access as a means of introduction. If Bluebird Backcountry can prove their concept, and if their analogy is accurate, it could ultimately result in a significant change to the landscape of skiing in a number of ways. To learn more about their mission, check out the full writeup on OutsideOnline.com. If you’d like to join Bluebird Backcountry on one of their upcoming prototype sessions, they have one scheduled for April 27th and 28th at Winter Park. You can find out more information here.