Top Five Fridays - August 9, 2019 // Ski Industry News
#1: Arapahoe Basin Plays Chess with Multipass Suitors:
First up in ski news this week, is a big update from Arapahoe Basin who just played the politics of consolidation as well as any ski resort we’ve seen. Before we dive into this week’s news, we need to lay some groundwork so that you can fully appreciate the chess moves being made by Arapahoe Basin’s management. As you might recall, A-Basin announced back in February that it would be ending it’s relationship with Vail/The Epic Pass, citing parking and facility capacity as key reasons for their decision. Along with that announcement, the team at A-Basin also mentioned that they were discussing opportunities with other resorts and resort groups, prompting us to wonder what their next move would be.
This week, we found out the answer to that lingering question. To kick this update off, Arapahoe Basin announced last Friday, August 2, 2019, that it had agreed to become a part of Alterra’s Ikon Pass, the Epic Pass’s main competitor. For a few days, that news alone was monumental enough to capture numerous headlines. Then, four days later, on Tuesday, August 6th, Arapahoe Basin made a second announcement: it has also agreed to become a part of the Mountain Collective multi pass. This tandem of announcements is incredibly interesting as it’s one of only a few ski resorts that have signed up to multiple multi passes while remaining independents*.
As such, this recent news sets A-Basin up as an interesting case study. First up on the “developments to watch” list has to be whether or not these new agreements will result in any change in regards to overcrowding which was cited as A-Basin’s original reason for leaving the Epic Pass. Secondly, it will also be interesting to take note of whether or not these new partnerships will bring enough business to the resort for it to remain independently owned, and not succumb to the trend of resort consolidation. If Arapahoe Basin can prove that partnering with multiple multi passes can bring in enough visitors to grow the business without selling to a conglomerate such as Vail or Alterra, it may have finally cracked the code, creating a roadmap for other resorts to follow to avoid being purchased. Regardless or where the story goes from here, it’s guaranteed to be fascinating to follow. For more on Arapahoe Basin’s agreement with the Ikon Pass, click here. To learn more about their announcement regarding the Mountain Collective, click here.
*A couple of quick notes here: Arapahoe Basin is owned by Canadian development company, “Dream.” So, while it’s not family owned or a small business, it remains independent of ownership by a ski conglomerate. Also, we should also point out that there are a number of mountains on the Mountain Collective Pass that are also a part of the Ikon Pass, such as Sugarbush, Alta, Snowbird, and Mammoth, so it’s not necessarily alone in it’s dual-multipass partnership position. The rollout and recent departure from the Epic Pass however, make it an interesting case to follow.
#2: The Detrimental Impact of Climate Change on the Italian Alps:
In other prevailing ski theme news this week, we caught an insightful, yet grim story covering climate change’s impact on the Italian Alps. In an article published by the New Republic that’s part science report and part pictorial, a number of alarming statistics are shared in just a brief writeup, followed by equally startling images. The combination of the two results in a powerful piece that yet again highlights the fact that the ski industry is on the forefront of the battle against climate change. For evidence of this statement, look no further than the fact that there are nearly 200 abandoned ski areas in the Italian Alps as a result of a climate that’s approximately 2° Celsius warmer due to global warming (as opposed to the worldwide average of 1° Celsius). That increased temperature and decreased snowpack has resulted in ski seasons that are an average of 38 days shorter than they were in 1960.
Of course the impact of this change isn’t purely environmental, it’s also very human. As a result of the struggling ski areas, local mountain town economies are being impacted. With tourism down and ski resorts closing, businesses such as lodges, restaurants, and ski shops are all struggling or even closing as a result. The long term impact of this trend is that communities that call these mountain environments home are slowly dwindling in population as residents are forced to relocate to a more economically viable area. All told, the article itself offers a gloomy outlook for both the region and mountain towns on the whole, without much reprieve or reason for optimism. But, perhaps that’s what we need: more reality checks with less unadulterated optimism. To read the story and check out the incredible photos of Tomaso Clavarino, we encourage you to check out the article from NewRepublic.com.
#3: A Racing Reality- Life After Skiing:
Remember last week when we shared the story of Alice McKennis, an olympic ski racer who’s had to battle multiple injuries throughout her career, while also managing to earn some impressive results? Well, keep that story in mind as you read this highlight regarding what life’s like for retired ski racers. Between those two stories, highlight #4 this week, and our ongoing coverage of Mikaela Shiffrin’s fascinating career, we’re starting to be able to get an understanding of what life’s like for ski racers at all levels.
This week, we caught an article from SkiRacing.com that takes a look at what happens at the end of a ski racer’s career. As it turns out, it’s not all roses. For starters, consider the fact that most ski racers don’t have any formal training in another career as they likely made the decision to commit to ski racing at about the same time that their peers were heading off to college or trade schools. Now, fast forward 10-15 years to the point in which an athlete either decides it’s time to retire, or simply doesn’t make the team again. At this point, according to both SkiRacing.com, as well as a report from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team called, “The Athlete Project,” ski racing alumni are more or less left hanging, with limited resources and limited contact with the world that they’d dedicated their lives to.
The result of course, is a pretty significant problem. According to former athletes such as 4 time Olympic athlete AJ Kitt and Olympic silver medalist Hilary Lindh, leaving the world of ski racing is a bit like jumping off a cliff. There are no resources, no programs to keep former athletes involved, and no extending benefits such as retirement packages.
Until recently, that’s simply just the way it was. As a result, a group of former ski racers decided to join together on their own under the moniker “The American Downhillers.” United under a common identity, this group has taken it upon themselves to make appearances at different ski areas around the globe, while also connecting with the ski racing community. Due in part to these efforts, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team is finally beginning to take notice and released, “The Athlete Project,” a report that shares its findings in regards to how the industry treats winter sports athletes before, during, and after their professional careers. Truth be told, the process of discovering and solving the issue is still relatively new, but recent developments indicate positive potential. To read more about this story, check out the writeup from SkiRacing.com. If you’re interested in reading the official “Athlete Project” report, click here.
#4: A Post-Retirement Check in with Lindsey Vonn:
Finally, with an entirely different take on life after skiing, is the Aspen Times which took a moment to check in on Lindsey Vonn’s retirement this week. We’ve touched on this topic a couple of times already, but it’s always interesting to see what Vonn is up to as her ambition has clearly opted out of an early retirement. In addition to the ventures we’re already familiar with, such as her involvement with a nutrition brand alongside Lebron James and Arnold Schwarzenegger, her increased focus on her foundation (the Lindsey Vonn Foundation), and the upcoming HBO documentary highlighting her final season, we’ve also learned about even more endeavors that Vonn is embarking on.
Sticking with the media theme, the Aspen Times shares the knowledge that Lindsey has plans to executive produce a film with Hollywood legend and avid skier Robert Redford, although details remain sparse. Additionally, the article also shares the exciting announcement that DICK’s Sporting Goods Foundation has partnered up with the Lindsey Vonn Foundation to award $500,000 in scholarships. Finally, as if this laundry list weren’t enough, we also learned that Vonn is looking to release a written memoir at the start of next year. This last point is both exciting for book nerds, and slightly ironic as it’s quite clear that Vonn’s journey is far from over. While she may not admit it, we suspect this upcoming memoir is simply part one. As for skiing? Well, let’s just say that it seems highly likely that Lindsey Vonn’s professional ski career is officially over, with an infinitesimally small chance of a comeback tour. To read all of the details of Lindsey’s Life after skiing, check out the article from Aspen Times.