#1: California’s Caldor Fire Knocking the Door of Sierra at Tahoe, Kirkwood, and Heavenly Ski Areas:
Hello and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the August 27, 2021 edition! This week we bring you another off-season grab bag, but one that’s chock full of interesting updates. We’ll share with you three intriguing highlights in just a moment here, but before we do, we have to start by sharing the biggest story of the week: the Caldor Fire in California. Currently approximately 144,000 acres in size (based on burnt acreage), the Caldor Fire is located Southwest of Lake Tahoe and is becoming a serious threat to Sierra at Tahoe, Kirkwood, and Heavenly ski resorts. This past week, all three of these resorts closed their summer operations indefinitely as a result of the impending fire. With the fire currently holding steady at 12% containment, the hope is that its progress will be halted before it makes it to any of the three resorts. Still, even if the fire is stopped before it reaches the resorts, it’s already left its physical mark on the region, as well as the community’s outlook on the future impact of the wildfires in the area.
One of the best articles we came across this week discussing the Caldor Fire was from the New York Times. In their recap of the situation, Times writers Thomas Fuller and Shawn Hubler share the story of how smoke from the wildfires is having a dramatic impact on the health of residents in the area. While the story itself focuses on sharing anecdotes from those who recently moved to the area to escape the Covid crisis, the bottom line is that what is typically a beautiful, idyllic region has been facing ongoing air quality issues since the beginning of July. While there are obviously very real, major impacts of this crisis, for our purposes here we’ll focus on the detrimental effects it has on area businesses as that’s where it begins to impact the ski industry. Of course this plays most directly into an impact on summer businesses, but with ski resorts continuing to expand their offerings to attract guests at all times of the year, the impact of wildfires, whether or not they actually make it to the resorts, are likely to affect the ski industry economy in the region as well. To be sure, the negative impacts of these wildfires go far beyond the physical damage done to these wild areas. For more on this, and a thorough discussion surrounding the broad web of effects that the wildfires are having on the Tahoe region, check out this report from the New York Times.
#2: Questions Swirl Around the Future of CopenHill - The World’s Only Dry Slope Ski Area Ontop of a Power Plant:
In other news this week, remember that dry slope ski area that opened up a couple of years ago in Copenhagen? The one that’s on top of a power plant, and is both an amazing feat of architecture and engineering, as well as a model for how a city can provide unique recreational experiences for its residents? Well, it was in the news again last week, although in a much less positive light. At the start of the week, we caught a number of headlines proclaiming that after just two years, the ski area would likely have to close as the dry slope surface had undergone significant wear and tear. As a result of this revelation, the group operating the ski area found itself in a legal battle with its insurance company regarding who was responsible for replacing the surface. Foreseeing a long, drawn out legal battle, reporters began suggesting that the ski area would likely have to close until at least 2024 as it would take that long for the legal system to determine who should pay for the renovation. There was, however, a second option: the ski area could also look to secure 9.5 million Kroner (about $1m USD) from local municipalities to expedite the renovation. While that option seemed less likely as a significant amount of funding was already provided to the ski area to develop and open, it was deemed a possibility. Then, by the end of the week, the group managing the operations at the ski area came out and publicly announced that in reality, there actually isn’t a problem at all and that the ski area won’t have to close, ever. Rather than facing a massive overhaul of the ski surface, the ski resort simply said that the renovation could be performed section by section, happening overnight and in such a way that the ski area wouldn’t have to close at all. So, when all was said and done, this story went from being one of disastrous proportions that could’ve discouraged future projects offering similarly imaginative ideas, to one in which nothing really happened at all. It’s hard to say at the moment whether or not this story will continue to develop, or if it’s one in which reporters prematurely ran with a lead before having all the necessary information. Regardless, as always, we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop. For now, check out this report to learn about the initial drama, or this report to see the ski area’s response.
#3: Telluride Ski Area to Provide All Guests With $25k in Injury Insurance Through Partnership with Spot Insurance:
Next up in ski news is a story that we’re particularly excited to share with you: Telluride Ski Resort has just announced a partnership with Spot injury insurance to offer their guests automatic insurance with the purchase of any ticket. We first shared Spot with you just over a year ago when they broke onto the scene by offering injury insurance for athletes at a reasonable rate. At that time, Spot was offering up to $20,000 in coverage for a monthly rate of just $25/month. This week, the business took a massive step forward when its partnership with Telluride was announced. Effective immediately, skiers and snowboarders at Telluride, whether they’re season pass holders or day ticket holders, will be automatically covered for up to $25,000 in medical bills in the event of an onhill injury. What started as an event based partnership with Telluride, in which Spot would provide insurance for athletes participating in events at the resort, grew into conversations about covering every skier and snowboarder on the mountain. Now, just over a year after launching, Spot has not only turned this concept into a reality, but as the Colorado Sun is reporting, they’re looking to expand this model to as many ski areas as possible. As observers of the ski industry, this seems like an incredibly intelligent and well timed move. Between a number of factors such as ski resort consolidation, growing costs of medical insurance in the U.S., and ongoing debates regarding who’s at fault in onhill accidents, the timing for a partnership that eliminates the stress for both the ski resort operators and their guests seems absolutely perfect. To learn more about this story, check out this report from the Colorado Sun.
#4: For Most Skiers, There’s an Off Season. For Those Working on Mountain Operations at Ski Resorts, it’s Crucial That There’s Not:
Finally, we round out this week with a fun article from Summit Daily that dives behind the scenes of summertime mountain ops. Of course, this concept isn’t exactly new to any of us; the idea that ski resorts make improvements during the offseason. What’s interesting about this article though is that it puts an emphasis on the importance of these offseason upgrades in terms of creating a better skiing experience each year. In the words of Louis Skowyra, Maintenance Manager at Arapahoe Basin, “We have the biggest impact on our skiing in the summer… In three to four months, we can make a ton of progress on the quality of our winter product.” While that statement manifests itself in some obvious ways, such as with lift upgrades and lodge renovations, it also happens in some much less obvious ways. One of these often overlooked operations is the maintenance of water bars, or ditches that strategically run diagonally across the mountain, designed to route water off the mountain in ways that will prevent erosion to ski slopes. Additionally, while we wish the article had explored this element a little further, it also touches on an increasingly difficult dynamic emerging between a resort’s desire to operate as long of a ski season as possible and to increase their summertime offerings, with the need for the mountain ops team to have access to the resort without guests to implement these necessary updates and upgrades. Again, this article isn’t exactly new news, but for those looking for an insightful read about one of the more overlooked elements of operating a ski area, check out this article from the Summit Daily.