#1: Speed Bumps for the FIS: Skepticism Around Upcoming Season and the Proposed 2022 Matterhorn Race:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the August 20, 2021 edition! This week we’ve got a number of interesting topics to discuss, so let’s jump right in! First on our list is FIS news, where we caught two articles worth sharing. The first of the set is a brief article from SkiRacing.com that shares some of FIS Race Director Markus Waldner’s concerns regarding the upcoming FIS race season. To sum up his worries in a nutshell, Waldner is eyeing a difficult dynamic being created from a combination of more races than last season, an uptick in Delta cases, and having to account for both vaccinated and unvaccinated athletes. Whereas last season the Covid crisis was all encompassing, resulting in an environment where wide policies such as regular Covid testing and no fans were easy to implement, the situation has become much more fluid, resulting in a number of variables to account for. For instance, this season there will likely be both vaccinated and unvaccinated athletes, creating logistical difficulties in terms of containing any potential outbreaks amongst athletes, their teams, and fans. Additionally, the travel aspect of the season is likely to be fraught with difficulty as some nations are requiring proof of vaccination to enter. For athletes and team members who are unvaccinated, this might result in an inability to compete at certain venues. This would obviously be significantly detrimental to any unvaccinated athletes looking to earn as many points as possible. While some would argue that the solution for these athletes is to simply get vaccinated, as Waldner points out, “There can be no compulsory vaccination for athletes, that would be an encroachment on human rights.” So, with that in mind, it feels safe to say that the season ahead still won’t be a return to normal for the FIS. It’ll be a step forward, without a doubt, but in terms of returning to full normalcy, we’ll likely have to wait until the 2022-2023 season. You can read more about this story here.
In other FIS news this week, we caught a second article from SkiRacing.com highlighting an entirely different set of concerns surrounding FIS racing. Back at the end of May, we shared an article mentioning that the FIS was planning to start the 2022 speed racing calendar off with a Downhill race at the iconic Matterhorn in October. As fans of the sport, we loved this idea. This week however, we caught some perspective from professional ski racers who find themselves opposed to the idea. In short, their concerns are that due to the elevation and time of year, conditions on the Matterhorn are likely going to be incredibly difficult for athletes, especially in their first race back. As a result, top athletes are finding themselves concerned for their safety as the innate dangers of downhill racing, combined with the elevation, weather, and shortened training season all add up to a reasonable cause for concern. For more on this perspective, check out the full writeup here.
#2: Jackson Hole Facing Backlash After Owner Hosts Fundraising Event for Far Right Political Group:
Next up this week is a story that has roots from a few weeks back, but grew in scale this week. To be perfectly honest, we’ve been trying to avoid it as it’s politically charged and we do our best to stay apolitical here on Top 5 Fridays, as we hope to provide a place to simply enjoy conversations surrounding skiing. That said, sometimes ski news inevitably blends with politics, and sometimes it’s the end of August without much else to discuss, leaving us in the unenviable position of having to share stories laden with politics. So, with that preface in place, let’s talk about the recent political backlash in Jackson Hole after Jay Kemmerer, one of the resort’s owners, hosted a political fundraising party for the House Freedom Caucus back on August 5, 2020. That group, as you may or may not know, consists of far-right political figures such as U.S. Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). These three, as well as the group as a whole, are proponents of the idea that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump as a result of widespread voter fraud. Additionally, they have a questionable stance on numerous environmental issues.
In the wake of that event, the resort has faced backlash, initially from locals and now from Patagonia as both groups find themselves enraged that one of the resort’s owners supports far-right politics. In the days immediately following the fundraising event, locals took to the street to show their displeasure with Kemmerer’s actions, calling for a boycott of the resort. Of course boycotting Jackson Hole as a local would involve both significant sacrifice in terms of access to skiing, and would likely barely impact the resort’s bottom line, making the entire initiative a bit futile. This week however, Patagonia announced that it’ll be cutting ties with the resort, including ending its accounts with all of the resort’s retail outlets. Noting that the resort is the brand’s largest account in the area, Patagonia’s head of communications and policy, Corley Kenna, said, “That tells you something about the importance of this relationship. We don’t take ending it lightly.” Further explaining the rationale behind the decision, Kenna went on to say, “This is very much about staying true to our strong feeling and our responsibility as a benefit corporation to stand up for and advance our priorities, our policies to protect our planet and our communities.”
While we’ll remain committed to staying as neutral as possible on this issue, it’s worth noting the increasingly complex dynamic that’s coming to fruition as large outdoor brands continue to strengthen their brand principles by taking real-world action. If you’ll recall, a few weeks ago we shared with you the news of growing tensions between the North Face and the oil industry as an oil executive shared a video attempting to call out the North Face’s hypocrisy in their refusal to work with oil brands while also relying on the industry for their success. Now, we have a second instance of a major brand making another decision based on its core values which is sure to put it at odds with at least a segment of their market. Again, we’re not here to add our political commentary to the subject, but if you’d like to learn more, head on over to WyoFile.com and check out their full report.
#3: After Receiving Approval, Aspen Officially Plans to Charge for Uphill Access:
Our third topic this week is a story from Aspen that some uphill skiers might not be particularly fond of. There, the resort has just received officially permission to begin charging $69 for a season long uphill pass. This is the first season that the resort’s decided to charge for uphill travelers, leaving many feeling upset that there’s now a fee associated with an activity they’d previously partaken in for free. In their minds, Aspen has no right to charge for uphill access as these recreationists are participating on National Forest land, an area that the resort isn’t allowed to charge money to access. This week however, we learned that the resort is within its rights to charge for an uphill pass as the White River National Forest approved the resort's upcoming operations plan, which has to be reapproved on an annual basis. This year, that plan included a $69.00 annual uphill pass, citing the fact that those who choose to recreate at Aspen do so due to services provided by the resort, such as groomed trails, base lodges, ski patrol, avalanche mitigation, and more. As it turns out, the White River National Forest agrees as approval for the operating plan was granted.
As is always the case, there are some who are upset with the decision. While we understand the gripes, we also see the decision as an excellent way for uphill skiing to establish itself as a more popular sport. Sure, having to pay is a bummer, but the reality is that if resorts see it as a meaningful segment, it’s more likely that they’ll cater to uphill skiers, providing further resources and services to further grow the sport and providing excellent venues. One example of this from our own backyard is Bolton Valley. There, uphill skiers used to be able to skin up a few specific trails, any time of day without paying a fee. Starting last year, an uphill fee was implemented, much to the chagrin of locals. But, as it’s turned out, the resort has successfully captured a segment of beginner and intermediate skiers who love using the resort’s backcountry trail network to dip their toes into the world of uphill skiing as well as backcountry skiing in general. So while the initial conversion from a free to paid model for uphill skiing certainly stings a bit, we’re confident that locals will find the ticket price worth it, and that when it comes down to it, it’s the right move to further grow this exciting segment of our sport. To learn more about the recent update in Aspen, check in with the Aspen Times.
#4: Supply Chain Woes: Skiing Faces a Potential Ski Shortage in the Season Ahead:
Finally, we round out this week with an article that’s interesting from a ski industry news perspective, concerning from a ski shop perspective, and a potential kick in the pants from a consumer perspective. As you’re undoubtedly aware, the pandemic has resulted in supply chain issues in countless industries. From the automotive and lumber industries, to the biking industry, where bikes and components have been incredibly difficult to find this past summer, nearly all industries have been impacted by the pandemic in some form. This week, we read an article from FasterSkier.com that discusses the potential for a ski shortage in the season ahead. Now, before we really dive in, we’ll preempt this discussion by saying that by and large, the ski industry should be able to weather the storm better than most others have. That said, if you’re in the market for new skis this season, it’d be wise not to wait too long. In short, here’s the situation at hand.
To get a firm understanding of the supply chain issues facing the ski industry in the year ahead, we have to go all the way back to March 2020. At that time, ski resorts were being forced to close at the height of the pandemic chaos, while ski shops were simultaneously expected to submit their orders for the upcoming season. That combination resulted in many retailers ordering conservatively as there was plenty of uncertainty about whether or not ski resorts would be able to operate for the 2020-2021 season. Due to reduced order volume, factories produced less inventory. Then, it was announced that North American resorts would be able to open and demand for ski gear went through the roof, rather than underwhelming. As a result, the supply chain began tightening in the Fall of last year as there was high demand and limited supply. To make matters worse, there was also a catastrophic fire at the Fischer factory in Ukraine at the start of October, where approximately 25% of the world’s skis are produced. While the inventory for last season was unaffected by the disaster, the production floor incurred significant damage, meaning that production for the 2021-2022 season was greatly affected. This in turn resulted in increased pressure on other ski factories to increase their production to make up for the void left by Fischer. Ultimately all of this is resulting in a situation where last year’s ski supply chain was largely unaffected, but there’s likely to be a crunch in the season ahead. Currently, it’s looking like all initial orders will be fulfilled in time for Fall, but unfortunately manufacturers will be largely unable to fulfill reorders. What that means for you, the consumer, is that if you’re considering getting new skis this year, it’d be smart to buy early to avoid the risk of your ideal pair selling out. To learn more about this, check out the report from FasterSkier.com. (Shameless plug alert): To buy brand new 2022 skis, check out our inventory now!