Top Five Fridays - March 16, 2018 // Ski Industry News
#1: World Cup Ski Racing Update:
For the second to last time this season, we’ll start our Top 5 Fridays with a recap of World Cup Ski action. As you might recall, last week was pretty mellow for the ladies representing the U.S., leading us to wonder if the Olympic excitement had ultimately taken the wind out of their sails for the homestretch. Knowing how competitive both Shiffrin and Vonn are though, we should’ve known that wasn’t the case. For Mikeala Shiffrin, the highlight of the week was her first place finish in the second to last slalom event of the year. That result, combined with a third place finish last Friday added to her lead in the overall standings. For Lindsey Vonn, the week was likely bitter sweet as she managed to mirror Shiffrin’s results with a first and third place finish in a downhill and super G event, respectively. Unfortunatly, Sofia Goggia came in right behind Vonn in the downhill, earning herself 80 points towards the overall downhill standings. In the end, that was three points more than she needed to keep Vonn of the overall downhill podium’s top spot, relegating her instead to a second place finish on the season. Still, considering the adversity that Vonn has faced over the past couple of seasons, a second place finish remains an incredible accomplishment. Looking ahead, there are just two more days of race action, and three more races total for the women. Check back next week for our final World Cup recap of the season!
#2: Elan Currently Prototyping "Smart" Skis:
Shifting gears a bit, we came across an eyebrow raising bit of news from our friends over at Elan. Never ones to shy away from pushing the envelope (Amphibio anyone?), Elan recently released a video describing what they call a smart ski concept. Chances are, that phrase alone is enough to conjure up a pretty good idea of what Elan’s trying to do here. In essence, their smart ski concept is essentially the implementation of digital sensors in your skis directly below your foot. By constantly measuring the forces at work while you ski, your skis are able to provide feedback in a number of ways. For those of you interested in on hill coaching, the skis aim to provide realtime feedback via headphones connected to a device utilizing their app. For those of you who don’t want someone in your ear, commenting on your every move, the app will also be useful for retroactive feedback. In other words, you’ll be able to pull up the app while you’e kicking back Aprés style and analyze the data from your day. As you can see in the video above, one theoretical use for this app could be assessing turn technique and analyzing which parts of your skis you use the most. Now, the key word in that previous sentence is “theoretical”, because at the moment these skis are not for sale and exist only in the prototype stage. Still, knowing Elan’s history of thinking outside the box and willingness to put forth big concepts with a high price tag (again, think early Amphibio skis), we’re pretty optimistic that having this technology on the slopes is just a matter of time.
#3: A Mess in the Making: Saddleback’s Australian Suitors Reportedly Eyeing EB-5 Jackpot:
Next up: the start of a situation which promises to grow and explode over the summer. As you might recall, Saddleback Mountain in Maine has been going through a tough transitional period. After failing to open for the 2015 - 2016 ski season, Saddleback has sat dormant, frustrating the locals who formerly depended on the mountain for fun and funds. This summer however, an Australian investment firm called Majella purchased the mountain, restoring hope that it might even be able to open for the 2017 - 2018 season. Now, in the middle of March, it’s become clear that not only is that not happening, but there’s a solid chance that the Australian suitors may never own or operate the resort at all.
This week, News Center Maine received an audio recording of Majella’s CEO Sebastian Monsour telling employees at a meeting that he’s not particularly concerned with actually opening the resort, going so far as to say, “We are not going to deliver on Saddleback… opening the mountain at Saddleback for the Saddleback Resort is not a primary concern for us. Getting Saddleback is. The EB-5 program is the reason we are actually buying Saddleback.” And that, is where this situation really takes a turn for the worse.
Those of you who follow Top 5 Fridays, or really ski news in general, are probably familiar with the EB-5 program thanks to it’s role in the federal seizure of Jay Peak and Burke Mountain a couple of years ago. For those who are unaware, the EB-5 program is a means in which foreign investors can invest in U.S. infrastructure as a way to earn a green card. So in other words, the CEO of Majella is interested in owning an American ski resort so that he can have access to the EB-5 program. At the moment, it’s not clear whether his interest is in buying himself access to a green card, or if his interest is in inciting more foreign investors to contribute to his cause, using a green card as an added incentive. Regardless of the baseline motivation here, the circumstances don’t look great for those who just want to see their beloved mountain operating again. We’ll be sure to keep you posted as this story progresses.
#4: Updates From the World of Consolidation:
Finally, we’ll round out this week in ski news with a quick recap of updates on the consolidation front. For starters, Bloomberg posted a pretty great audio interview with Alterra’s CEO Rusty Gregory. Apart from the interviewer seeming to be totally blown away by some pretty straight forward comments, the discussion on the whole is incredibly interesting, and acknowledges some of the big themes occurring within the industry. Consolidation, climate change, and engaging younger generations are all addressed. We won’t go too deep here (because we’ve got more news to cover in this section), but if you’ve got 6 minutes to spare, it’s an interview worth listening to.
In other Alterra news, a plan to spend $555 million over the course of 5 years was announced. To get the ball rolling on their planned upgrades, Alterra will spend approximately $130 million over the next year on major upgrades, the highlight of which is a new 10 person gondola at Winter Park resort to replace their Zephyr lift. In addition to this new gondola, Alterra also plans enlarge Steamboat’s Bear River Restaurant, add new lifts at both Stratton and Tremblant, as well as update snowmaking capabilities at several resorts. While the article we’re referencing from the Denver Post focuses on the upcoming spending spree, it also contains a ton of tidbits referencing Alterra’s bigger picture plan, as well as the financial landscape of skiing (for example: Vail sold 750,000 Epic Passes last year). Much like the Bloomberg interview, this article is highly recommended for those interested in the business side of the industry.
Not to be left out, Vail made sure to make some more noise with their Epic Pass this week. As the ski resort “arms race” rages on, multi pass offerings continue to grow. This week, Vail announced that they’ve entered a partnership with Triple Peaks, LLC. - the owner of Crested Butte in Colorado, Okemo Mountain in Vermont, and Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire. As a result, those three resorts have been added to the Epic Pass for the 2018 - 2019 season. Now, one thing we want to quickly point out is that resorts joining a multi pass does not mean that the resorts are now owned by the company behind the pass (i.e. Vail, Alterra, etc.). Rather, we’ve been seeing a lot of resorts align with these passes as a way to get in on the action, hoping to win over more guests. As such, not every resort that’s part of a pass offers unlimited skiing, so we definitely recommend doing your research before actually buying a pass!