Top Five Fridays - March 1, 2019 // Ski Industry News
#1: World Cup Ski Racing News: U.S. Juniors Shine at FIS Junior World Ski Championships:
With Lindsey Vonn officially retired, and Mikaela Shiffrin taking a short hiatus to do some recovering, things were a bit more mellow on the FIS World Cup circuit than we’re used to. So, rather than dive into results from last weekend (which, you can do here if you’d like), we figure we’ll take the chance to take a second look at an idea we shared a couple of weeks ago. As you’ll recall, Associated Press writer Andrew Dampf wrote a widely shared article discussing the idea that, in the wake of Lindsey Vonn’s retirement, the U.S. Ski Team’s future looks murky at best, after having just seen something of a golden era through most of the 2000’s. Now, Dampf reasonably argues, the future of the U.S. Ski Team appears to be laying solely on the shoulders of Mikaela Shiffrin.
We rehash all of this because we caught a pair of headlines this week as we perused the latest in ski racing news that challenge that notion. As it turns out, the U.S. has a pair of highly talented ski racers who recently competed at the FIS Junior World Championships in Val di Fassa, Italy. There, Ben Ritchie and River Radamus put on a heck of a show, and gave those following the U.S. Ski Team a glimmer of hope. At the event, Ben Ritchie earned himself two silver medals in the past week, both in slalom races. In addition to Ritchie, River Radamus also had a strong run, winning two gold medals in a Super-G race last week, and a GS race on Thursday. Additionally, Radamus just barely missed the podium in an alpine combine event, ultimately finishing fourth. Now, we’re not necessarily saying that these two have got the future of U.S. ski racing in the bag, that would be ridiculous. Rather, we’re simply pointing out that there’s hope for the future, and much like Ted Ligety astutely pointed out in Dampf’s article, “You never know. Next year you could have somebody else.” With that, we’ll leave the speculation up to you while we congratulate both Ben Ritchie and River Radamus on their successes!
#2: Wolf Creek Ski Resort Developers Get the Green Light, Again:
Moving right along from our weekly ski racing recap, we jump right back into a story that we’ve found ourselves covering quite a bit as its unfolded over the years. We’re talking of course, about the ongoing battle between environmentalists and developers who want to turn Colorado’s Wolf Creek ski area into a full blown resort. At this point, it’s become a cumbersome story to explain, but the gist is this: the owner of the property wants to develop the area, but is currently being held back by a lack of access to the resort. In order properly develop the area, a major road would need to be built to provide access. The catch is, that road would have to be made on protected, National Forest land. If you’re at all familiar with the difficulties of developing protected land, then you already know how the rest of this story goes.
We revive all of this for one main reason: this week, the Rio Grande National Forest Service Supervisor, Dan Dallas, decided to officially grant developers the right to build a road that would allow access from U.S. Highway 160 to the resort. While environmentalists are certainly upset by the decision and will likely challenge it, Dallas is simply following what he believes is a precedent set by the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act. That law states that adequate access must be granted to any private citizen who owns land that is surrounded by National Forest. As such, Dallas felt compelled to grant access. For more on this latest development, as well as more on the backstory, check out the writeup from the Durango Herald.
#3: A Week of Wild Weather:
Next up is a topic we make an effort to discuss only on occasion: the weather. While we typically try to avoid weather talk due to its relevance to only a selection of our audience, as well as its repetitive nature, this week things felt a bit wild no matter where you are. Most significantly, ski areas in the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas have been getting absolutely pounded with snow as of late, leading to incredible resort skiing, as well as incredible avalanche danger and sketchy driving conditions. In Jackson Hole, the avalanche danger has been so great that the resort’s backcountry gates were closed for three consecutive days, setting a record. Elsewhere, Soldier Mountain in Idaho was forced to close on Thursday due to too much snow. In addition to these highlights, social media was also ablaze with images being shared from a number of snowed-in locations, including Tahoe and Northern California.
Here in New England, a few mountains also experienced extreme weather, although not in regards to snowfall. Instead, wind was the culprit as evidenced by the destruction of a communications tower at Maine’s Sugarloaf resort. There, wind gusts at the peak of the mountain exceeded 100 MPH, ultimately causing a 120’ tall tower to bend. Thankfully, due to lifts being on wind hold, no one was in the area when the incident occurred, and no injuries were reported. Additionally, the tower is owned by a third party, and has nothing to do with resort operations. As such, Sugarloaf continues to operate as usual.
In other high wind news, approximately 135 miles to the Southwest, Mount Washington also felt the effects of the same storm. There, recordings instruments measured sustained winds of 124 MPH, with a top gust speed of 171 MPH. As luck would have it, that speed set a new record for February, beating the former mark of 166 MPH which was set in 1972. So there you have it! A very rare Top 5 Fridays weather report!
#4: Sensational Forecasts Becoming a Significant Problem for Ski Areas:
Finally, we round things out this week with another story regarding the weather, and one that presents ample opportunity for a smooth transition from our previous news item. Unfortunately, we’ve decided to forgo that opportunity and instead will just come right out and say it: ski resort officials are getting sick and tired of weather reporters sensationalizing the severity of storms, as they claim that it’s affecting business on days when the conditions are all-time. To be honest, there’s quite a bit to unpack here, and this Outside Online article does a great job of thoroughly covering the discussion, so we’ll keep things basic. In short, high ranking members of the ski industry, such as Kelly Pawlak (current president of the NSAA, former General Manager of Mount Snow), are growing more concerned, and more frustrated by weather reports that over-hype winter weather, urging viewers to remain inside if at all possible. As a result, resort managers and ski organizations are attempting to open a dialogue with local meteorologists, with the Vermont Ski Area Association even hosting a “weather summit” in an effort to educate meteorologists on the impact their forecasts have on their business.
This is, of course, a tight line to walk. On one hand, ski resort managers are likely right: there are definitely times when weather reports sensationalize the forecast, causing would-be skiers to stay home. On the other, there are also times when winter weather can be absolutely brutal, and it genuinely isn’t safe to be outside for long periods of time. Additionally, as we saw in our previous report (as well as throughout the season), winds can cause significant problems as well, leading to lift closures or worse. All in all, it’s not for us to pass judgement or take sides on this one, and there are plenty of other ideas to consider here (such as the overall decline in skiing’s popularity amongst the younger generation), but the concept itself is interesting and the article from Outside Online is well worth reading.