Lead Image: At Vermont’s Jay Peak Resort, relatively cool temps and regular bursts of snow have enabled the lifts to keep spinning straight through April and into the first weekend of May. Image: Jay Peak Resort on Facebook
#1: As Ski Resorts Across the U.S. Extend Their Seasons, We Can’t Help But Wonder, is the Ski Season Shifting?
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the April 29, 2022 edition! Last Friday we celebrated Earth Day here in America, and as such there was quite a bit of eco-friendly ski news to be had these past seven days. Amongst the plethora of eco-content was the announcement of a cool initiative to return your unused, harmful fluorocarbon wax, as well as news of a new recyclable ski program from Rossignol. We’ll get into those details in the second half of this week’s highlight, but before we do, let’s start this week by focusing once again on the world of ski resorts.
As you might recall, a few weeks ago we said we rarely cover snowfall news here on Chairlift Chat, right as we shared headlines from Japan highlighting their insanely deep season. While we stand by that position, our first highlight this week does have some overlap with that concept as a slate of headlines have us wondering whether the ski season is shifting to start and end later in the year than we’re used to. Our first case in point is the state of Washington, where a number of ski resorts have decided to extend their winter operations through this weekend. There, according to the Seattle Times, The Summit at Snoqualmie, White Pass, Stevens Pass, and Mission Ridge have all extended their seasons through this weekend. Crystal Mountain Resort also remains open, with a currently scheduled closing day of May 30th, which is Memorial Day. Particularly relevant to our assertion in this highlight, is a quote from Crystal’s Vice President of Marketing & Sales Tianna Anderson, in which they said, “With a later start to the season we are excited to be able to extend the ski season.” Again, notice the shift.
What really has our attention with this concept though, is that it’s not a regional situation as resorts across the country are extending their schedules. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Mt. Bohemia has announced they will also be reopening this weekend. Making that news even more notable is the fact that the resort relies on natural snow to open. Closer to home for us here in Vermont, Jay Peak has also announced that it will be reopening for at least this weekend, a result of a series of late season, moderate accumulations and temperatures. In other words, resorts spanning from Washington to Vermont have extended their seasons. Now, to be clear, this concept of ours that the ski season is shifting isn’t based on any science or research whatsoever. It’s merely observational. Still, it has been interesting to see the slew of ski resorts deciding to keep winter going. On a closing note here, we’re nearly certain there are additional ski resort extensions that we’ve missed. If that’s the case, let us know in the comments below!
#2: Winter Park Reveals Updated Master Development Plan, Including a Gondola Connecting the Resort Directly to the Downtown District:
Next up in ski resort news this week is a big time announcement from Winter Park. Just like snow accumulations, specific resort expansions are something that we tend to cover as infrequently as possible (although the Summer months can make them hard to ignore altogether) as they tend to be more regional in significance. That said, there’s an element to Winter Park’s latest Master Development Plan that makes us consider a possible theme developing in ski resort traffic management. We’ll get to that in a minute, but let’s start by taking a comprehensive look at Winter Park’s latest announcement.
Operating on federal land using a Special Use Permit, Winter Park is obligated to submit a Master Development Plan every 10-15 years. With their last plan coming in 2005, it means that Winter Park was due for an updated Master Development Plan, thus leading to this week’s big reveal. One aspect of this plan that we found interesting is that not only does it include plans for the development of the resort, but it also includes a comprehensive overview of the resort’s current infrastructure. Think of it as like a 15 year long State of the Union, but specifically for Winter Park. If there’s a hint of nerd in your DNA, as there is ours, you’ll have a blast scrolling through the pages of this document. If you’re not at all a nerd and just want the synopsis, here’s the long and short of it: by 2037, Winter Park is looking to complete a rather large expansion.
Within the proposed packages, which will be subject to several rounds of comments, revisions, and approvals, the resort hopes to expand both their existing infrastructure and footprint. Most notably, the resort is hoping to develop Vasquez Mountain, adding four lifts to service the peak, a significant number of new trails, and snowmaking to go with it. Additionally, they’ll improve snowmaking across other areas of the mountain, replace or add additional chairlifts, and complete tree thinning programs to make glade skiing better than ever. When all is said and done, the resort will hope to add a total of 6 new lifts, an additional 358 acres of developed terrain, more than twice their current snowmaking capacity, and increase their comfortable capacity just over 40%, bringing it from 15,830 skiers and riders to 22,375. In other words, the proposed expansion is massive.
As significant as all of those updates and developments are, there’s an additional concept in this Master Development Plan that really caught our attention: the creation of a gondola that would transport skiers and riders directly between the base area of the resort and the downtown district. If completed, the longest stretch of this gondola would run about 1.75 miles, which is on par with the River Run gondola at Keystone, and would serve a similar purpose to that lift as well as Breck’s village gondola. While the Master Plan itself doesn’t contain any written context for the intention of this lift, we can assume it will serve two primary purposes: to alleviate parking and traffic issues at the resort, and to make it easier for guests to travel between the downtown area and the resort, further stimulating the local economy.
Seeing this gondola news got us thinking. We’ve recently covered the proposed gondola up Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, as well as a number of stories covering paid and reservation parking*. Taking note of those two ongoing stories, as well as Winter Park’s solution of running a gondola directly into town, it makes us wonder how many other resorts might be able to pull off something similar. Here in Stowe, our town center is closer to 7.5 miles from the base of the resort, so an identical model couldn’t work. That said, linking a gondola from our closest base area (the Toll House Double) in the direction of town could feasibly reach far enough that an additional parking area could be created. Now, to be clear, we’re not necessarily advocating for the idea as there would be a number of variables to think about before considering it a good idea, but the concept alone is interesting, particularly when you start thinking about other resorts where this concept might work. Again, just like our first highlight this week, we’re simply in speculation mode. To learn about something that’s actually happening, check out Winter Park’s Master Development Plan, as well as this recap from Out There Colorado.
*Editor’s Note: Park City also announced this week that they’ll be rolling out a new paid reservation system for parking next season, but seeing as we just covered this issue at Stowe last week, we elected to leave it out of our news cycle this time around. You can learn more about that update here if you’d like.
#3: Colorado College Students and mountainFLOW Eco Wax Announce Fluoro Wax Take Back Program:
Alright, moving on from that lengthy report, let’s focus our attention now on a feel-good story coming out of Colorado that serves as a positive reminder of the creativity that resides within the ski community. As you’ve likely heard in recent years, the ski industry has come to realize how harmful fluorocarbon ski wax is for the environment, both in its production and use. As such, it’s been banned in a number of competitive racing organizations, as well as the EU. While those changes have been helpful in curtailing the continued production and use of these waxes, there’s still plenty in circulation that’s continuing to be used. Enter: this week’s news.
Over the course of 10 weeks, students from Western Colorado University’s Outdoor Industry MBA Program, Colorado Mountain College’s Leadville Campus, and Colorado Mesa University’s Outdoor Industry Studies Program have participated in The Wright Collegiate Challenge, an event in which teams of students from each college compete to solve real world problems presented by local outdoor businesses. While that event produced a number of great projects, the one that caught our eye this week was a result of Western Colorado University’s Outdoor Industry MBA’s collaboration with mountainFLOW eco-wax. In short, mountainFlow challenged the team to create a buy back or take back program to help encourage skiers and riders who have stashes of fluorocarbon wax to resist using it, and to send it to mountainFLOW for proper disposal instead. The cool thing about the outcome of this project is, it’s actually happening.
This week, mountainFLOW announced that for the entire month of May, they’ll be taking back fluorocarbon wax. To give the wax to mountainFLOW, wax holders will be able to drop their unwanted waxes off at three locations in Colorado. For those out of state, mountainFLOW will also accept returns by mail. In exchange for the unused wax, mountainFLOW will be giving out some of their own gear and product to those who return their waxes in person, and discount codes for those returning their wax by mail. The idea behind the program is that there are likely skiers and riders out there sitting on stashes of fluorocarbon wax without any intention of using it, and no good way to safely dispose of it. This program gives them a way to be sure that it’s disposed of properly, while also getting a discount on new wax. All in all, it’s a pretty cool concept, and we love the way Colorado college students were tapped to generate some ideas about how to actually pull this program off. To learn more details about it, click here.
Before we wrap up this highlight, we’d be remiss not to mention our favorite solution to a more eco-friendly ski wax alternative: DPS’s Phantom Base Treatment. We don’t want to turn this into a sales pitch, but long story short, DPS has developed a way to make the need to wax your skis obsolete. We happen to offer this service as an add on to any skis purchased through us, or you can buy an at home kit here. To learn more about DPS’s Phantom Wax, check out our overview of it right here on Chairlift Chat.
#4: Rossignol Releases New Highly Recyclable Ski, Their First Step Towards Becoming a More Recyclable Ski Brand:
Finally, rounding out this week, as promised, we have a second eco-friendly highlight. Before we dive into the story itself, here’s a quick question to consider: what do you do with your old skis? Build Adirondack chairs? Make a fence? Let them collect dust in your basement? It’s a question that’s nagged at skiers for decades, and one that our very own Jeff faced head on back in 2016, before he became the prolific ski reviewer that he is today. Still, despite the longevity of the issue, very little has been done to provide an eco-friendly solution. That is, until recently.
This week we learned about the Rossignol Essential. Obviously we were immediately enamored with whoever came up with the name for the ski, but as we read more about it, we became even more impressed by the ski itself. Acting as something of a proof of concept, the Rossignol Essential’s primary goal is to be highly recyclable. At present, most skis have a typical recyclability rate of 10%, meaning that’s what percentage of their materials can be reused. The Rossignol Essential however, has a recyclability rate of 75%. Now, just to be clear, that doesn’t mean you can just slam these things in your blue bin when you’re done with them, but it does mean that if they’re shipped back to Rossignol, their factory, in partnership with MTB Recycling, can recover 75% of the materials used to make them. To achieve this, Rossignol focused on a simplified construction that uses just 5 main materials: aluminum, Poplar, steel, plastic, and fine wood. By keeping construction simple, Rossignol and MTB are able to separate the materials back at the factory and send them off to be reused in other industries, such as construction.
All in all, it’s a super cool start to a program that Rossignol is hoping to build over the next 5 years. With this initial ski, Rossignol is proving a concept: that they can build a ski in this way, and that they’re able to recycle it. As such, the Rossi Recycle line (our name, not theirs) currently features just the Essential, an advanced intermediate frontside ski. In the years ahead though, Rossignol hopes to expand this approach to building skis to make up about one third of their line, including a wider variety of ski types such as all mountain and powder. At the moment though, the Rossignol Essential is a cool ski that’s perfect for the early adopter type who just wants a fun, low radius frontside ski to play around on while also supporting this exciting new initiative. To learn more about the program surrounding this ski, check out this article from Outside Online. To learn more about the ski itself and to put yourself on the waitlist for when they’re available to buy, check out the product page from Rossignol.