#1: Vail CEO Rob Katz Announces Resignation, Kirsten Lynch to Take Over:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, August 13, 2021 edition! This week we have some major news, so we’re just going to jump right in: it’s just been announced that Vail CEO Rob Katz will step down from his post as CEO, effective November 1, 2021. At that time, Vail’s current Chief Marketing Officer, Kirsten Lynch will take over as CEO and Katz will become the executive chairperson of the board of directors. Taking over Lynch’s position will be Ryan Bennett, Vail’s current vice president of marketing and lift revenue. Now, there’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start with the biggest aspect of the headline: Rob Katz will no longer be Vail’s CEO. Here on Top Five Fridays, we find ourselves extremely tapped into ski news as scouring headlines on a weekly basis results in a consistently deep level of knowledge about the ski industry. While we’ve discussed Katz countless times here on our blog, there’s been far more times where his name makes headlines and we simply don’t have the space to cover it here. In other words, in his role as Vail CEO for the past 15 years, Rob Katz has undeniably been one of, if not the most, influential people in skiing. During his tenure, Katz conceptualized the concept of consolidation after initially noting the increasingly unpredictable weather patterns that would result in regional boom or bust weather conditions. Seeing resort acquisitions as a way of enabling skiers to affordably ski the best conditions in any given season, Katz initiated a new era of ski resorts which grew into the multi-pass culture that we have today. In addition to his business acumen, Katz has also proven to be an excellent steward of mountain culture, consistently making sizable donations to mountain communities and putting in place initiatives like the Epic Promise, which aims to reduce the environmental impact of ski resorts. While there is a contingency of skiers who will forever hold a grudge against Katz for his role in the consolidation of ski resorts, it remains difficult not to appreciate his contributions to making skiing more accessible than ever. As reporters of ski news, it’ll also feel extremely odd to not see his name pop up on a regular basis after being a mainstay for well over a decade.
The announcement itself however, is certainly bittersweet. Regardless of how you feel about Rob Katz and his role in creating the concept of the multipass, it’s hard not to be excited for Kirsten Lynch, the first ever CEO of Vail resorts. While that in and of itself is noteworthy, and continues to build on Vail’s claim of being one of America’s best employers for women, it’s also worth emphasizing that Lynch appears to be a great fit for the role. Growing up in Chicago, Lynch grew up skiing at Wilmot, one of the first feeder hill resorts purchased by Vail as part of their strategy to enable skiers in metropolitan areas to have an affordable ski vacation. Prior to joining Vail in 2011, Lynch had already been on senior leadership teams at PepsiCo And Kraft Foods. After joining Vail, Lynch’s career continued to develop, ultimately earning her the recognition in 2019 by Forbes Magazine as one of the top 50 game-changing marketing leaders. Now, just two years later, Lynch’s career continues its trajectory with this week’s announcement that she’ll be the next leader of one of the largest businesses in skiing. While only time will tell what she does with this opportunity, we very much look forward to covering her in the years to come. On that note, we’d like to offer a massive congratulations to Kirsten Lynch, as well as luck to Lynch, Katz, and Bennett as they all take on new roles in just a couple of months. To learn more about this shakeup in management, check out the press release from Vail Resorts.
#2: Ryan Cochran-Siegle Announces Switch to Head Skis, Teaming Up with Linsey Vonn’s Former Ski Tech:
While it’s not quite the blockbuster headline that our first highlight was, our second topic this week is still pretty significant news for those interested in the world of ski racing. This week, rising U.S. Ski Team star Ryan Cochran-Siegle announced that he’s moving on from Rossignol, his longtime sponsor, and is joining the HEAD team. In his announcement, Cochran-Siegle made sure to express his appreciation for all that Rossignol has done for him and the support they’ve given him over the years, from his early days when they were his first sponsor, to periods of injury in which neither he nor Rossignol knew whether or not he’d return to the top of his game. Still, after 17 years with the brand, RCS has decided to move on, joining the team at HEAD skis. Adding another layer to this story, RCS’s switch to HEAD will also see him teaming up with Heinz Hammerle, the world renown ski technician who worked with Lindsey Vonn for a number of years. While RCS hasn’t cited any specific reasons for this change, it’s hard not to think that the opportunity to partner with someone of Hammerle’s experience and stature didn’t play into his decision. At this point in his career, it appears as though RCS feels like he’s on the verge of a potential breakthrough, and is willing to make any change that could help him capitalize on his full potential. One way or another, it’s shaping up to be a telling year for the promising ski racer, and we look forward to covering his performances in the months ahead. For now, check in with SkiRacing.com for a brief recap of this announcement.
#3: Aspen Skiing Co. Launches Branded Skiwear Line:
In other news, we’ve got a highlight that’s both interesting, and incredibly unexpected. This week, we learned that the Aspen Skiing Co. has decided to launch its very own skiwear line, available for public purchase. Being dubbed ASPENX, the inaugural lineup is one simple style, called the Ajax Line, which will consist of three pieces: a jacket, an insulator, and snowpants. These items will be available to purchase at a new ASPENX store located in the gondola plaza, as well as at the resort’s Four Mountain Sports stores and online. Now that we’ve got the basic details out of the way, let’s step back and look at the bigger picture. As far as we know, this is the first time a ski resort has opted to start its own line of technical wear, going far beyond the scope of traditional merchandising. While it might seem like an audacious assumption to make, that customers want to wear the Aspen logo on themselves whenever they ski, the idea itself actually came about as a result of constant inquiries from guests who wondered how they could get their hands on the same gear that Aspen employees were wearing. Noting this, but also realizing that they couldn’t dress guests in employee uniforms, Aspen took the novel step of adapting their uniforms into a consumer version that would provide guests with the look they’re asking for without causing confusion. From a business perspective, it feels like a great move. While there’s a real possibility that the effort fails to prove worthwhile, there’s an equally strong chance that guests purchase the gear and become advertisements for the resort, both on the slopes and in the social media content they share. Of course if the effort does fail, in the grand scheme of things, it was a low-cost gamble that could’ve paid off in a big way for the resort. Either way, it’s an interesting move and one that we’ll be curiously observing as the season goes on. Afterall, if the move is deemed a success, it’ll only be a matter of time before other resorts follow suit. To learn more about this, check out the report from the Aspen Times.
#4: Ski Resort Updates: Indy Pass Expands to Japan, Mayflower Resort Eyes 2023-2024 Opening with Possible Partnership with Deer Valley:
Finally, we end this week with a two part highlight from the world of ski resort news. First up on that mini list is the news that the Indy Pass has expanded its reach yet again, this time in a pretty significant way. Over the course of the summer and in recent years, the Indy Pass has been growing rapidly, continuously adding small to midsize North American ski resorts to its unique pass offering. This week though, the pass upped the ante quite a bit when they added four Japanese ski areas located in the interior of the northern Tohoku region. Sticking to the same strategy they’ve been leveraging in North America, these four resorts all fall into the midsize ski area category, as opposed to the larger resorts currently included on the Epic and Ikon passes. That said, based on the description provided in the announcement from the Indy Pass, it sounds like these resorts might be considered hidden gems as they offer the same incredible snowfall that’s made Japan something of a mecca in recent years, while avoiding the growing crowds found at these larger resorts. In addition to adding these four resorts, the Indy Pass has also partnered with Japan Ski Tours, an organization that specializes in curating trips “off the beaten path” for international skiers and snowboarders looking to receive an authentic and exciting Japanese ski experience. To learn more about these latest additions, check out the announcement from the Indy Ski Pass.
In other ski resort news, we also have a modest update from Mayflower Ski Resort, the ambitious ski area being developed on the backside of Deer Valley. We’ve shared news of this planned resort before, but in case it’s new to you, here’s a recap: New York City real estate developers Extell are planning on developing a ski resort on a plot of land near the Jordanelle Reservoir, on the backside of Deer Valley. Part of their development plan is to receive approvals by creating specific recreational opportunities for members of the military. Another element of their plan is to work in tandem with Deer Valley to allow skiers to access both resorts under one pass. So far, the military component has gone to plan, while their desire to team up with Deer Valley remains in limbo. This week, we learned a few more details regarding the future of the resort, including the anecdotes that the developers hope to begin installing the first chairlift next Spring, with a project opening date of Fall 2023. Additionally, we’ve learned that the management team is actively in discussion with members of both Deer Valley and Alterra, even going as far as naming Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory as a person who’s been involved in discussions. All of that said, there’s not a whole lot of new news on this front this week, other than confirmation that things are still progressing. To learn more about this most recent update, check in with KPCW.