Top Five Fridays - August 2, 2019 // Ski Industry News
#1: The Saddleback Saga Continues:
We kick off this week’s news recap with back to back updates on stories that we’ve been following as they’ve developed over the last few years. First up on that list is an update from Saddleback Resort in Maine, where a series of unfortunate events has resulted in zero operations since 2015. Last we checked in, hope was on the horizon for the resort as Boston based investment firm Arctaris had initiated talks to buy the ski area. That was back at the end of March, and while the news seemed quite promising, no new information or announcements had emerged since. That is, until we caught an article from the Press Herald this week.
When an official announcement was made regarding Arctaris’s interest in buying the property back in March, many expected a purchase agreement would be announced soon. When that didn’t happen, speculation turned towards the fact that Arctaris was struggling to earn $10 million in federal tax incentives that it could potentially receive for investing in an “Opportunity Zone.” Without that guarantee, many speculated that this deal, like those before it, would fall through. This week’s news however, renews hope while also painting a clearer picture of where Arctaris’s motivations lay. As it turns out, Arctaris was just approved for an equivalent $10 million in loan guarantees by the state of Maine, theoretically sealing the deal. But, as Arctaris’s managing partner Jonathan Tower will tell you, the tax breaks and loan guarantees aren’t going to make or break the deal. Instead, both Tower and the attorney representing the Berry family (the current owners of the resort) have confirmed that negotiations have been ongoing and are “serious.” In other words, Arctaris seems to have a genuine interest in making an investment in the community, regardless of the level of financial support they receive from various levels of government. It makes sense, as Arctaris was founded as a social-impact investment group, focused on stimulating rural economies.
What all of this week’s news boils down to is ultimately this: both the Maine ski community and Arctaris want this deal to go through, regardless of financial aid. The problem however, seems to be something in regards to the deal itself between the Berry family and Arctaris. This could either be a good sign, or a bad sign depending on how you want to read it. Still, we’re hopeful that the two parties both want this bad enough that the details will eventually melt away and a deal will be made. If that happens sooner rather than later, there’s a chance the resort could open for the 2019-2020 season. For more on this, check out the full writeup from the Press Herald.
#2: Big SNOW America's Big Opening Date Announced:
Next up in update news: a check in with Big SNOW America, North America’s first ever indoor ski area. Last time we visited this story, developers had pushed the opening date back from Spring to Fall, marking yet another delay in the development’s progress. This week however, the news surrounding Big SNOW America feels a bit more optimistic as an opening date has been announced, as well as a number of other interesting details in regards to how the whole thing will work.
First up, for those planning to visit, you should know that the opening date for the American Dream complex, as well as Big SNOW America, will be Friday, October 25, 2019. As for what you can expect, well, that’s where it gets interesting. In regards to size and capacity, the slope at Big SNOW America will be 12-stories tall, 180,000 square feet in size, and able to host 500 skiers at a time. Of those skiers, Big SNOW anticipates approximately 70% will be new skiers and snowboarders. As such, the facility is built to accommodate that demographic first and foremost, with a focus on providing the gear, tutoring, and terrain that first time skiers and snowboarders will need. For first timers, Big SNOW will offer a 2 hour introductory package that includes a lesson as well as a full equipment kit, from gloves, hat, and a jacket, to skis, boots, and poles. To expedite the learning process, Big SNOW will also implement a terrain based learning system, which essentially uses bumps and berms to corral and control inexperienced skiers and snowboarders. As for those who might visit that are well versed in skiing or snowboarding? Well, we can tell you that there will be a 4-hour pass available, although no promises have been made yet in regards to price, advanced terrain, or snow parks. For that information, we might have to wait until October 25th. For now, you can soak up the available details from this report on NJ.com.
#3: CDOT Announces "Snowstang" Ski Bus Pilot Program:
While not technically an update, highlight #3 this week features a familiar theme: traffic congestion. If you’re a skier in either Colorado or Utah, you’re likely very familiar with the growing issues with traffic. In Utah, the canyon roads have been becoming more congested each year, with the problem reaching new heights last year, partially as a result of multi-passes. In neighboring Colorado, it’s a similar issue as traffic on I-70, the state’s primary ski corridor, can slow to a standstill. It’s been a growing issue in the state, and while express toll lanes have eased the problem in some areas, they haven’t proven to be the final answer.
In an effort to continue battling the infamous I-70 traffic problem, CDOT announced this week that it’s Bustang program will be doing something of a pilot test this upcoming season. Being branded as “Snowstang”, this new program is set to operate on 40 dates between December and April, with many dates happening on weekends and/or holidays. At the moment, the Snowstang service is lined up to run to Loveland and Arapahoe Basin, with Copper Mountain also expressing interest. In addition to these three mountains, Bustang Operations Manager Mike Timlin hopes to add even more resorts to the list. If he can, the service will ultimately cost tax payers less as its cost is being subsidized. Currently, the Snowstang is set to launch with a $25 bus ticket to a ski area, with the 60% of the costs of the service being shouldered by participating ski resorts, while the remaining 40% is covered by fare revenue and tax subsidies. If this year’s test program goes well, it’s fair to assume that Snowstang will be back again for future seasons, ideally making a difference in traffic congestion. For more on this, check out the full report from the Denver Post’s “Know the Outdoors”.
#4: Ski Racing Realities: Alice Mckennis May Be the Most Determined Athlete in Ski Racing:
Finally, let’s round out this week with an excellent story from the world of ski racing. Not excellent because it’s a story full of happiness and excitement, but excellent because it’s a well written piece that explores the true story of Alice McKennis, a current ski racer who’s been put through several physical and mental tests as she continues to pursue her dreams in the sport she loves. We’ll keep our recap intentionally brief here as the story deserves your full attention, but here’s the overview: way back in the 2012-2013 season, Alice McKennis found her way to her first World Cup podium. Then, she shattered her right tibial plateau, ending that season and most of the following one as well. Undeterred, McKennis immersed herself in rehab and training, an effort that ultimately paid off. In the 2017-2018 ski season, McKennis experienced a comeback of sorts, finishing 5th at the Olympic Downhill race in Pyeongchang, as well as third in the World Cup Finals Downhill race (which just so happened to be Lindsey Vonn’s final victory). Then, it happened again. At a Summer training camp in 2018, McKennis suffered another injury which would force her out of another year of racing. Now, just over a year removed from her most recent injury, McKennis has her sights set on proving that she has more fuel in the tank as she hopes to find her way onto more World Cup podiums in the upcoming season. All in all, it’s an interesting story of grit and determination, and one that Vail Daily does an excellent job of covering. To read the full story with all the details, we highly recommend checking out the article in full, right here.