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Ski Industry News

Top Five Fridays: July 31, 2020

#1: Upcoming 2020 Boston & Denver Snowbound Festivals Cancelled:

We start this week on a bit of an unfortunate note: the Boston Snowbound Festival (formerly known as the Boston Ski Expo) and the Denver Snowbound Festival that were scheduled for this upcoming Fall have both been cancelled. For those unaware, these expos have been a hallmark event for regional skiers for years as they ramp up for the season ahead (this year would’ve marked the 39th iteration of the Boston event). One part trade show, and one part massive ski sale, these expos give eager skiers the chance to check out the latest gear from tons of brands, both large and small, talk to representatives from nearly every resort in their area, and share an air of excitement with their fellow skiers. Unfortunately, it’s that very air that’s the issue this time around as concerns surrounding the spread of Covid-19 in a crowded indoor space have forced event organizers to cancel the event months ahead of time. There is however, a small silver lining to be found.

Last fall, the Snowsports Industry of America (SIA) purchased both events. While it’s impossible to say how the previous event owners would have handled this situation, we can say with certainty that SIA intends to use its resources to attempt to create a digital ski show experience that will give those interested a chance to check out the latest gear in a digital format. This is a concept that we’ve been seeing popping up at other post-Covid trade shows, and while it’s admittedly not the same experience, it does seem to be a suitable solution at the very least. Still, it’s hard not to feel slightly disappointed by the news, even if the circumstances are understandable. For more on this, check out the writeup from the Ski Journal.

#2: Open Letter Week: Vail CEO Rob Katz and Aspen CEO Mike Kaplan Publish Letters Addressing the Season Ahead:

Top Five Fridays July 31, 2020: Aspen Snowmass Solitude Skiing Image

The image accompanying Mike Kaplan's open letter is a perfect reflection of his sentiments for the upcoming season: an old school, back to basics experience. Image: Aspen Snowmass's Website

If you were hoping our next highlight this week would be anything other than pandemic-related news, we’re sorry. In fact if that was your hope, you may as well just scroll to highlight #4, or even this week’s edits. Unfortunately it would appear as though pre-pandemic-season news may be the new norm for the foreseeable future as uncertainty surrounding the health crisis looms while ski season creeps ever closer. It’s with that less than ideal note in mind that we share the news that both Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Mike Kaplan and Vail CEO Rob Katz published open letters sharing their most recent views on the season ahead. We talk about Rob Katz quite a bit here, so let’s start by sharing Mike Kaplan’s perspective.

In an open letter published on the Snowmass Aspen website, and subsequently shared by numerous Colorado news outlets, Mike Kaplan penned his thoughts regarding the upcoming season. What makes his letter feel a bit different than most ski resort CEO transmissions is the level of introspection woven throughout his words. In his assessment, Kaplan refers to the upcoming season as “an old school experience,” and one that he hopes will provide us with the opportunity to reflect on the deeper meanings associated with being in the mountains. Read into that perspective as it relates to capacity caps as you’d like, but from our perspective it sounds like Aspen Snowmass is considering limited crowd sizes a foregone conclusion. In addition to these introspective observations, Kaplan also subtly leaked a few logistical updates, such as the fact that the resort is planning on creating heated outdoor eating environments (editor’s note: self-shout out to us for calling that one just last week!), as well as a number of touchless, digital experiences like purchasing lift tickets and browsing menus that we expect to stick around even after we collectively kick this pandemic. To give Kaplan’s letter a read in full, click here.

On the Vail side of things, CEO Rob Katz also wrote an open letter sharing expectations for the season. For his part, Katz’s tone was decidedly different and expressed extreme concern and caution for the safety and health impacts of the season ahead. If you’ve been following along with Vail’s messaging throughout the pandemic, this should come as no surprise. Since the early days of the outbreak, Vail’s position has been singularly focused on ensuring the safety of it’s employees, communities, and guests. While it’s not the most lighthearted and fun approach to take, it’s one that we can’t help but respect as it’s entirely on brand for a man who’s repeatedly made charitable contributions and general stewardship priorities. The message behind Katz’s letter can be summed up quite succinctly, thanks in part to his own use of numbers to highlight his two main points: “1. We cannot get complacent,” and “2. Safety is not optional.” Still, despite the more serious tone of Katz’s letter, he does share one core sentiment with Kaplan: optimism that the 2020-2021 ski season, while different, will still be amazing. To read Katz’s letter in full, click here.

#3: Wolf Creek, CO Taking a Smart, Novel Approach to Prepare for Upcoming Season:

Top Five Fridays July 31, 2020: Wolf Creek Bulldozer Blockade Image

A message of optimism blocks visitors from entering Wolf Creek's parking lots this summer. Image: Wolf Creek Ski Resort on Facebook

In other, “what does the upcoming season hold,” news, we caught a story from the Durango Herald this week that gives us some insight into how Wolf Creek Resort is preparing for the season ahead. While there are certainly many familiar themes and concepts throughout this piece that don’t exactly qualify as new news, the theme of the story highlights Wolf Creek’s unique, proactive approach to ensuring that they’re in the best possible position to succeed next season. Put succinctly, the management team at Wolf Creek’s biggest concerns seem to stem from their relationship with government regulations. In the article, Wolfcreek co-owner Roseanne Pitcher recalls, “We were told at nine o’clock at night on March 14 that we had to be closed the next day.” It’s important to note that the statement comes off as more of an observation than a complaint, and that at no point do either Rosanne or Davey Pitcher criticize or complain about the way last season ended. They do however recognize the difficulties that came along with such sudden, drastic decisions and are making an effort to be proactive in terms of creating stronger, more organized communication with Colorado Governor Jared Polis.

One way they’re doing that, is through the dispersal of a survey intended to collect a wide range of information regarding their guest’s behaviors. In the 16 page survey, which you can view here (although we’d ask you to please not submit your responses unless the survey is relevant to you), guests are asked about everything from their abilities and frequency of visitation, to their enthusiasm for lower-density skiing and what they might do if a member of their family shows symptoms before a trip. What strikes us as the most interesting and valuable part of this survey, is that it’s the first time skiers are being asked for their thoughts, opinions, and information regarding their habits and expectations. Until this point, we’ve heard a lot from representatives of ski resorts (highlight #2 this week, for instance), but we have yet to hear what the ski community has to say, apart from message boards and comments sections strewn across the internet. By collecting data in the form of a survey, Wolf Creek is making the first attempt that we’re aware of to accumulate hard data on the matter from the perspective of individual skiers.

Of course data collection is great, but what does Wolf Creek hope to accomplish by collecting all of this information? Again, the answer is so level headed and simple that it’s impressive. By accumulating data regarding their customers over the Summer, the Pitcher’s hope to be able to present the information the Governor Polis in an effort to show that their resort shouldn’t necessarily be automatically lumped in with other ski resorts when it comes to potential regulations and restrictions. In other words, Wolf Creek isn’t the same business as Aspen or Vail, so it seems unfair to automatically force the resort to close should larger, more centralized ski resorts in Colorado become too problematic to operate. By offering this information well in advance of the ski season, they hope to establish some sort of procedure and regulations that will prevent any unexpected, overnight forced closures, thereby allowing them to plan ahead and continue successfully operating their resort amidst the pandemic. As per usual, despite the word count of this highlight, we’re far from being able to cover all of the great details within this story. To get the full scoop, we highly recommend checking in with the Durango Herald.

#4: Saddleback Saga Continues: Ski Resort Excited to Reopen This Fall Despite Uncertain Pandemic Climate:

Top Five Fridays July 31, 2020: Saddleback Resort Construction Image

Work is well underway at Saddleback Resort as crews work excitedly to prepare the mountain for its reopening this upcoming season. Image: Saddleback Ski Resort on Facebook

Finally, we round out this week with an update from a story we’ve covered numerous times in recent years. First, the news: despite all of the aforementioned uncertainty, Saddleback Ski Resort is still on track to re-open for the 2020-2021 season after being forced to close after the 2014-2015 season. Since we first covered the story way back in 2015, the resort’s remained shuttered as the story of its ownership has been an absolute rollercoaster. We’ve covered nearly every hill, valley, twist, and turn in this 5 year long saga, and we’d recommend revisiting some of our coverage over the years to get the full story. You can start with this recap from November 2, 2018, moving to this one from September 6, 2019, and ending with this one from September 27, 2019. If you’re uninterested in reliving each moment of the story, here’s an extremely abbreviated version:

In the aftermath of being unable to reopen for the 2015-2016 season, many approaches were taken in an effort to find a new owner, ranging from local business owners combining funds, to turning the resort into a co-op, a la Vermont’s Mad River Glen or British Columbia’s Red Mountain. Then, an Australian developer announced that he would be buying and revitalizing the resort using the U.S.’s EB-5 program in which foreign investors can obtain green cards through financial contributions to U.S. development projects. If you’re familiar with the Jay Peak disaster of recent years, then it’ll be no surprise to hear that the Australian suitor came to be accused of fraud in an unrelated EB-5 effort, resulting in the collapse of the deal. Fast forward to the summer of 2019 and a Boston investment firm called Arctaris that specializes in revitalizing rural areas made their intention to purchase the resort known. Then, that deal came dangerously close to falling apart as the parties involved in the deal were struggling to finalize the details. Fortunately, they were able to work out their differences and now, the resort’s reopening is back on track under Arctaris’s ownership. For thorough coverage on the Arctaris chapter in this saga, we recommend reading this article from Maine Biz.

Ultimately, all of this background information is to set the scene for this week’s news: despite the ongoing pandemic, the team at Saddleback is making significant progress in their $38 million development plans, and the resort is on track to reopen this upcoming season. Amongst the resort’s upgrades are everything from renovated lodges and restaurants, to freshly cleared trails, and most importantly, the addition of a new high speed quad. The feeling of the moment is best captured in a news report from local WMTW news, which you can view here, so we’ll let them do the heavy lifting on that end. For our part, we’ll just say we’re ecstatic to see a positive outcome to this long, emotional journey for the people of Rangeley, Maine.

#5: And Now, Your Edits of the Week: A Classic Post-Season Jump Session::

Full Disclosure: We Experienced a Bit of a Ski Edit Draught this Week, So Please Enjoy This Classic Armada Film, “Retallack: The Movie”:

Finally, While We’re at it, Enjoy Another Classic: Jesper Tjäder’s “Unrailistic 2”

Written by Matt McGinnis on 07/31/20

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