Lead Image: For employees at Park City, as well as a handful of other resorts, employee housing for next year just got easier. Image: Park City on Facebook
#1: The Amount of Detail Involved in Designing FIS World Cup Speed Courses is Fascinating:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the April 15, 2022 edition! This week, we’ve got a pair of articles that provide incredible insights into the behind the scenes efforts required to create World Cup speed courses. After that, we’ll bring some exciting news from Vail who’s already making good on their promise to correct some of the difficulties they experienced last season. Following those two thought provoking pieces, we’ll switch over to a lighter note as we share some news from Sierra-at-Tahoe and Japan. To kick this week’s ski news cycle off, let’s jump into an interesting story from the world of World Cup course setting.
Over the course of the last couple of weeks, SkiRacing.com has posted a pair of articles that bring us insights from FIS Race Director Hannes Trinkl and FIS Technical Expert Atle Skårdal who both have unique responsibilities in developing and improving World Cup Downhill and Super G courses. In the first of the two articles, SkiRacing.com checks in with Hannes Trinkl, whose job is to actually set speed courses. As it turns out, the challenge in that role is to find the perfect balance between excitement and safety. In the world of speed races, spectators and athletes alike find the most thrill when combining speed with hair raising features such as banked turns, rollers, and jumps. With each of these elements though, there comes a certain amount of inherent risk. As such, course designers look to include these features strategically, using them in ways that create the safest courses possible. While spectators might assume these courses follow the traditional path of the trail they’re on, it turns out that an incredible amount of consideration goes into the placement of each feature, with a particular focus on controlling an athlete’s speed and balance. To be fair, this article is absolutely packed with fascinating anecdotes, often offering insights into specific features on specific courses. One of the most interesting examples for us, was when the article turned its attention towards the area on the Kitzbühel course that caused Ryan Cochran-Siegle to crash back in 2021. In that passage, Trinkl describes changes they’ve made to the course to eliminate the compression coming into the roller that Cochran-Siegle experienced, ultimately causing him to lose control.
In the second story of this two part series, SkiRacing.com checked in with Atle Skårdal who shared some insights regarding how the FIS is working with cutting edge technology to analyze each course to continue to finetune details. More specifically, the FIS is working with the University of Innsbruck’s Institute for Sports Science, the Norwegian School of Sport Science, and other partners to generate computer models that provide the team with information regarding the physics of jumps on each course, helping to ensure that they’re being built to optimize safety. For example, the team can use GPS data to determine the peak height of a skier who’s gone off a jump, and use it to calculate the force of impact upon landing. That data, combined with calculations regarding the slope and caliber of the landing zone, can help the team determine which changes need to be made to which jumps in order to create exciting yet safe courses. All in all, if you’re someone who’s interested in what goes into setting World Cup race courses, this series of articles is a must read. You can check out part one here, and part two here.
#2: Vail, Sugarloaf Stepping Up to Help Solve Employee Housing Crisis:
In other big news this week, we caught a pair of articles that bring good news for the state of employee housing in mountain towns. We’ll start this highlight by sharing news from Vail, who just last month announced plans to dedicate $175m annually towards the housing shortage issue. This week, Vail issued a press release in which they laid out plans at four different resorts to house a combined 876 employees. Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s happening where: in Park City, Vail has signed a five year lease with Columbus Pacific Development to house 441 employees in a development in Canyon’s Lower Village. This housing is located next to the Cabriolet lift and the Canyons Village Transit Hub. To the north, in Whistler, Vail has announced plans for a new “Glacier 8” development, which would house 240 employees. In tandem with that, Vail will also contribute $1m CAD to improve transit to the new development. In Vail, a new housing development has been approved and the resort will move forward with construction, ultimately providing housing for another 165 employees. Finally, here on the East Coast, Vail also announced that it is under contract with a property in Ludlow, home of Okemo Mountain, which would provide housing for another 30 employees. As the trend of unaffordable housing in mountain towns has ramped up in recent years, ultimately culminating in a difficult 2021-2022 season as resorts struggled to find adequate staffing, these actions to begin rectifying the problems can only be seen as massive steps forward. Kudos to Vail for taking steps in the right direction. You can read more about this here.
What makes this particular highlight even more exciting though, is that it’s not only Vail who is making moves towards correcting the employee housing issue. Also in the news this week was Maine’s Sugarloaf Mountain, who has just purchased the Herbert Grand Hotel which features 25 guest rooms as well as a restaurant. In terms of employee housing, Sugarloaf hopes to utilize the building to house up to 40 of its employees. Alongside that announcement, Sugarloaf also shared news that it will be installing a new T-Bar, increasing snowmaking capacity by roughly 75%, and breaking ground later this year on its 450 acre expansion into West Mountain. All in all, it’s a package of big news for the resort, the highlight arguably being its forward thinking measure to ensure housing for its employees as it continues to expand its footprint. You can learn more about these announcements in this writeup from The Irregular.
#3: Devastated by the Caldor Wildfire, Sierra-at-Tahoe Reopened Last Weekend for a Two Day Celebration:
Next up in ski news is a brief update, but one that we’re ecstatic to bring you. As you might recall, late last summer the Caldor wildfire ripped through the Tahoe region, ultimately running directly into Sierra-at-Tahoe. While the resort initially reported manageable damage and hoped to be open in time for the season, officials learned upon further review that the devastation to the resort was more exhaustive than expected. As a result, crews have been working tirelessly since the days after the fire, fixing damaged lifts, reestablishing communications lines, and clearing debris from the mountain. When we last checked in with the resort back at the end of February, officials were hopeful that they would be able to reopen before the season ended. Last weekend, they did just that.
After months of effort and setbacks, the team at Sierra-at-Tahoe officially reopened for the first time since the 2020-2021 season. While the resort was only open for two days, last Saturday and Sunday, it was a symbolically significant move as it not only represented their triumph in overcoming the disaster, but also allowed the resort to celebrate its 75th Anniversary. While a full season would’ve been the best case scenario to celebrate such an occasion, the fact that mountain staff worked hard enough to make sure the resort was able to open for two days in mid-April in order to celebrate is an arguably even more powerful statement, and a real testament to the passion of the community there. In addition to this weekend’s celebrations, it was also announced that Sierra-at-Tahoe plans to be 100% open next season. While the resort itself will have been altered by the fire, it’s all but guaranteed that the community spirit will be back in full force. To learn more about this, check out the brief post over on the Sierra-at-Tahoe website.
#4: Japanese Ski Area Boasts of Having a 72’ Base This Season:
Finally, we round out this week with a highlight that falls under a theme that we rarely feel compelled to share: snowfall totals. To be sure, there are numerous times each season when a storm will drop an unfathomable amount of snow in one particular region and there’s a real temptation for us to share the news. But, because it’s regional, recurring, and happens in numerous places across North America each season, it feels a bit boring to update you all whenever it snows somewhere. That being said, we came across an Instagram post this week that we simply couldn’t ignore. This season, at Lotte Arai ski area in Japan, it’s been reported that 22 meters of snow fell on the season. For us yankees, that translates to just over 72 feet of snow, or 866”. To put that in perspective, Alta’s average annual snowfall is about 457”. That means this resort in Japan nearly doubled Alta’s average. What’s more is the fact that most of that fell between December 17th and February 24th, at an average rate of about 12” a day. In other words, for nearly two months straight, every day was a powder day. Of course with that much snow brings a considerable amount of baggage, such as digging out your vehicle and clearing the roads every day for two month, not to mention questions about where to put all that snow once the snow banks are literally 30 feet high, or what to do when the chairlift keeps getting buried. That said, for most of us here in North America where Winter 2021-2022 was largely lackluster, these are issues that many of us would’ve welcomed.
While most of the time we find ourselves sharing stories that tie into the larger themes at play within the ski industry, this time around we wanted to share a story that’s simply cool in the most simplistic way. The moral this time around isn’t particularly heavy or thought provoking, it’s simply: d**n, that’s a lot of snow. To learn more and to check out some ridiculous pictures, check out the coverage from SkiAsia.com.