Top Five Fridays - May 24, 2019 // Ski Industry News
#1: Ski Tourism Hit an All Time High in Utah This Season:
This week, the top news highlight has roots that go back 11 years, to when Vail first launched the Epic Pass. Since then, Vail has grown its holdings substantially, ultimately changing the name of the game for ski resorts through the creation of the multi pass. We bring this up for one main reason: this week, we learned that Utah hosted the most skiers ever, having topped 5.125 million skier visits in the 2018/2019 season. Previously, the record was set in the 2016/2017 season when the state hosted just over 4.5 million skiers. While snowfall surely played a significant factor in this year’s success, it would be difficult to argue that the rise of multi passes hasn’t had an even more significant impact. In fact, Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, has even stated that multi passes are, "a great tool industrywide,” which allow people to have, “more options and make skiing more affordable.” For the cluster of mega resorts centered around Salt Lake City, the multi passes have been a definitive boon for business.
As you know, however, we like to make things a bit more complicated here on Chairlift Chat. While this week’s lead news is undoubtedly favorable, we also feel compelled to play the role of devil’s advocate. Even if we were to overlook the fact that the success of Utah ski areas may come at a cost for smaller ski areas across the U.S. that don’t share a multi pass (hopefully there will be an article discussing this one day so we can learn more), there are still a number of issues caused by the influx of traffic in the areas receiving the benefit of the business. In the article published by Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, Rafferty cites difficulties with availability of seasonal employees, increased traffic congestion, and environmental impacts as three areas which will need assessment if this level of tourism is maintained. Each of these issues, as you might guess, have their own layers of complexity to deal with. Again, we don’t mean to devalue what is undeniably good news for Utah, but we do want to remind our readers that the world of skiing can be quite complicated, with seemingly separate issues having unexpected impacts on others. For more on this, check in with the Deseret News.
#2: Tariffs on Chinese Goods Set to Impact Outdoor Industry:
Speaking of complicated issues, the next topic on this week’s list is chock full of complexity for both the ski industry as well as North American businesses on the whole. As our American readers likely know, President Trump has recently announced he will increase the tariff on goods imported from China to 25%. While that decision will impact a number of industries, our focus is on outdoor brands who haven’t been hesitant to voice their displeasure with the administration on a variety of topics. In regards to this particular issue, the Outdoor Industry Association has already submitted a letter expressing their concerns regarding the damaging impact that the tariffs will have on the industry. Amongst the troubles caused by the tariffs is the issue that next year’s products will likely be hit with the extra fee, despite already having been sold to retailers. In other words, if a company like Flylow expected their cost for a pair of snow pants to be $50 and they sold them at a wholesale cost of $100 to a retailer, they’re expecting to make $50 per pair of pants. With the 25% tariff however, their cost would be $62.50, leaving $37.50 profit. While that may not seem significant, the decrease in profit could make operating costs such as employee salaries and benefits, warehousing space, and shipping costs much more difficult to manage. In future years companies will likely raise their prices as a result, but the upcoming season could be especially difficult due to the fact that the cost of goods are set to rise on sales have already been made. Ultimately, this means there’s a very real chance that the tariffs could put some companies out of business if they’ve adopted a low-margin, high-volume sales model.
Of course, as with all things, not everyone is heartbroken over this development. Other brands who make their skis and gear elsewhere will likely see this as an advantage as their competitors will now have to work to overcome the higher costs while remaining competitive. It would be a bit reckless to speculate here in regards to how the management teams at specific brands might feel, so we won’t. Instead, we’ll turn you over to the Colorado Sun, who published an article this week which shares the views on the issue from a handful of outdoor brands.
#3: Revitalized Public Ski Area Coming to Cuchara, Colorado:
One of the toughest parts about reporting the latest in ski news on a weekly basis, is that there’s a very definite off-season. Typically we fill that void with updates regarding the sale of ski resorts, upgrades, and quirky one-off stories (like that time a man claimed he was stuck on a chairlift overnight, but no one believed him). While we could certainly do that this week, we figure there will be plenty of time in the coming months to keep you up to date on all of the latest summer developments. Instead, we’re going to backtrack slightly with the next two highlights to bring to your attention a couple of cool news items that we’ve skipped over in the last couple of months.
First up on that list is the news of a new public ski area coming to Cuchara, Colorado, a mountain town that’s approximately 200 miles due south of Denver. There, Huerfano County has purchased 50 acres at the base of the former Pandero Ski Area, allowing them to engage in efforts to revitalize the area and turn it into a community recreation area and event center. In addition to the 50 acres now owned by the county, the rest of the mountain is owned by the National Forest Service which has allowed public use of the land since Pandero Ski Area closed in 2002. In other words, as it stands, the lower 50 acres at the resort are currently being updated and leveraged for a pitch towards future development while the upper mountain is open to public recreations, although with limited infrastructure.
If all goes to plan, the team behind the Cuchara Mountain Park hopes to eventually be able to operate a whole slew of activities encompassing the entire mountain. In their master plan document, organizers lay out an ambitious, yet obtainable, four phase plan that will slowly allow them to develop a community focused resort that provides everything from lift access skiing, to mountain biking, rock climbing, ropes courses, events, and more. While the current status of the area as a community owned backcountry ski resort is appealing, the hopes and dreams of the organizers are equally exciting. To learn more about the potential future of Cuchara Mountain Park, you can check out their website here, and their master plan here./p>
#4: Meet “The Mohawk”, Skiing’s First Augmented Reality Ski Helmet with Integrated Camera:
Next up in our “catchup” news, and last in this week’s Top 5 Fridays, is a new ski helmet that’s slowly emerging into the market. To be fair, we wouldn’t normally find something like a new ski helmet company news worthy, but this one is different. Convinced that the future of skiing involves augmented reality, the team behind Ride On Vision has recently released a new ski helmet/vision shield combo that offers a whole suite of interactive features. While the helmet covers the basics like speed, altitude, weather, and other conditional stats, it also includes next level features such as an integrated 4k Video / 10 MP camera capable of live streaming, a linkable communication system for on-hill contact with your group, maps, music, and more. In terms of features and functionality, the helmet is objectively impressive, there’s no arguing that. As skiers though, we genuinely wonder, is this what we want? On one hand, the features do seem to make a lot of sense in terms of group communication, condition reports, and trail maps. On the other hand though, isn’t there some aspect of exploration, discovery, and adventure that gets wiped out by all of this readily available information? Also, on a more practical note, how do we feel about having all of that data digitally displayed on your visor while you’re skiing? Do you think you would find it helpful, or distracting? As technology continues to evolve, there’s no doubt in our minds that it will become more integrated and prevalent in ski equipment. Still, there’s a part of us that’s already longing for simpler times. How do you feel about it though? Let us know in the comments below!