Lead Image: After more than 6 years of limbo, Jay Peak Resort finally has its first purchase offer, triggering what could become a bidding war that ultimately frees the resort from federal receivership. Image: Jay Peak Resort on Facebook
#1: Operations Resume at Gunstock Mountain Resort as Former Leadership Team Retakes Their Positions:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the August 5, 2022 edition! We’ve got a surprisingly robust round of news this week, starting with a significant update regarding a story we shared last week. As you might recall, we started last week’s Top Five Fridays by covering a story unfolding at New Hampshire’s Gunstock resort in which heavy handed government appointed officials were leading the charge towards catastrophic failure. The backstory is quite long on this one, and we’d encourage you to check out last week’s update to bring yourself up to speed, but the long and short of it is that as of last Friday, Gunstock had no senior management team, summer activities and events had been shut down indefinitely, and even the ability to prepare for next Winter was in question. This week, thankfully, we bring you incredible news that once again flips the entire picture of Gunstock’s future.
On Monday of this week, the Belknap County Delegation hosted an emergency meeting at Gunstock Mountain Resort to address the unraveling situation. In attendance at this meeting were 10 of the 18 delegation members, members of the former leadership team at Gunstock, members of the Gunstock Area Commission (GAC), and roughly 200 members of the public who showed their support for Tom Day and the other senior leaders who’d recently resigned. The purpose of this meeting was simple yet significant: to approve the resignation of Dr. David Strang, one of two problematic GAC members. After a quick 9-1 vote to secure the necessary quorum, it was official: Dr. Strang was no longer a GAC member, and with Chairman Peter Ness having resigned last Friday, the GAC had rid itself of the two members who’d put Gunstock at risk of failure, just as it had been seemingly surging.
As a result of Monday’s meeting, the five members of the former senior management team who’d resigned in dramatic fashion all announced their intention to return, effective immediately. Now, with Tom Day back at the helm, as well as his trusted team, summer operations at the resort are back underway, as are preparations for winter. The timing of this week’s emergency meeting was crucial as the resort was under contract to host Soulfest 2022, a Chritian music event that draws roughly 6,000 guests to experience the mountain. Had the resort been unable to handle preparations and hosting duties for this event due to the recent fallout, there likely would’ve been a massive lawsuit filed against the county as a result of the breach of contract. Fortunately for all involved, with the resignation of the bad apples, Day and his team were able to get back to work just in time to host the festival and return to the resort to business as usual. It’s not often that stories as sloppy as this are resolved so quickly, so we have to say, kudos to all involved for making their voices heard so clearly that the only route forward was clear as day. For more on this story’s resolution, check out the writeup from InDepthNH.org.
#2: U.S. Ski and Snowboard CEO Sophie Goldschmidt Makes the Media Rounds:
In other news this week, we caught two separate articles that share the insights of U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team CEO Sophie Goldschmidt. We’ve spent plenty of time talking about the future of the U.S. Ski Team this summer, thanks to an excellently written series from the Vail Daily about the problems plaguing skiing’s pipeline, but we haven’t had a chance to hear from the U.S. Ski Team itself. This week, that changes a bit as Goldschmidt has had features published by both Sports Pro Media and Skiracing.com. Between these two articles, we get a bit of insight into how Goldschmidt perceives the 2022 Beijing Olympic results as well as her plans for the future.
Before we dive into a quick high-level recap of Goldschmidt’s thoughts, it’s important to revisit her background prior to becoming the U.S. Ski Team CEO last September. In the years prior to joining the USST, Goldschmidt held a number of high ranking positions across numerous sports organizations, mostly recently as the CEO of the World Surf League where she earned a reputation as a competent leader. While she accomplished a number of things in that role, the two highlights that stick out the most to us are equal prize money for male and female competitors, and the generation of record setting revenue- both of which are primary goals for her in her role as CEO of the U.S. Ski Team.
In addition to being reminded of these top level goals, the two articles this week also give us some insight into how she perceived the U.S.’s showing at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, as well as how she hopes to prepare the team for the next games in 2026. In regards to the 2022 games, not surprisingly, Goldschmidt is quick to highlight the successes. While most have bemoaned the lack of medals from Alpine Skiing, Goldschmidt highlights the fact that the U.S. Team won 25 medals (8 of which were gold), putting them in 4th place overall. Of those 25 medals, 15 came from skiing and snowboarding, highlighting the USST’s importance on a global stage. In addition to that, she pairs the fact that over half the U.S. team athletes were experiencing the games for the first time with the fact that the U.S. team earned more top 10 finishes than any other nation as proof that the future is bright. When you line those two thoughts up, it’s hard to argue. Still, there’s work to be done ahead of the next games in 2026.
Of all the thoughts and comments Goldschmidt made in these articles, of which there are many, perhaps the most interesting ones to us were those that revolved around the skiing pipeline. As you know, we’ve covered this concept at length this summer, mostly focusing on the U.S. Ski Team’s need to find a way to be more inclusive of other organizations, more focused on athletes, and more embracing of a team-first mentality rather than focusing solely on profits and elite caliber athletes. Between these two articles, we learn that Goldschmidt is kind of there. While her goals do remain focused on increasing the revenue generated by the sport and developing world class athletes, she hopes to do so in a way that remains athlete focused. On the revenue side, for example, Goldschmidt highlights the fact that 80% of profits go back to directly supporting the athletes and sports. They also have marketing and income generating programs set up to help athletes profit from their name and likeness. As for developing athletes themselves, Goldschmidt does make general mention of working with a wider ecosystem of organizations to holistically boost the visibility of USST sports and athletes. While no specific details or organizations were mentioned on this front, the general vibe is that Goldschmidt, in tandem with Anouk Patty as her Chief of Sport, hope to strengthen pipelines from the grassroots level to the World Cup level. In other words, while the details are vague, we can at least take some reassurances that the idea of strengthening the pipeline is on Goldschmidt’s radar, and she’s hired an expert to handle the situation. All told, the articles from Sports Pro Media and SkiRacing.com cover far more than we possibly could here. As such, we’d recommend giving both of them a read to learn more.
#3: Pacific Group Resorts Offers to Buy Jay Peak for $58 Million, Potentially Igniting a Bidding War:
For our third highlight this week, we bring you a significant update for those who’ve been invested in the future of Jay Peak ever since its future came into question following a massive fraud scandal back in 2016. If this story is new to you, feel free to bring yourself fully up to via this recap from the Burlington Free Press. Or, if you’d like the short version, here it is: back in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s two men at the helm of Jay Peak defrauded foreign investors using the EB-5 program. In the wake of uncovering that scandal, the resort was put under federal receivership, meaning that a man named Michael Goldberg was tasked by the SEC with operating the resort, returning it to profitability, and ultimately selling the resort to the highest bidder in an effort to recoup as much money as possible for the EB-5 investors. That last task has proved to be quite challenging over the years as despite being an incredible mountain and one of the finest resorts in Vermont, the value of the resort has been widely debated. Highlighting that claim is a story we shared two years ago in which Jay Peak was appealing a tax valuation of $121 million. In that highlight, Jay Peak pushed back, saying that figure was wildly overblown, admitting that their highest offer to date had been $70 million.
We mention all of that because we caught big news this week: an asset purchase agreement has been signed, ultimately signaling intent to purchase Jay Peak for $58 million. Now, due to the nature of this sale, it’s not as straightforward as a buyer and a purchaser coming to an agreement. Because the resort is under federal receivership and is tasked with earning as much as it possibly can for the defrauded investors, there will be an additional “competitive bidding and auction phase” before the sale is final. Keeping that in mind, here’s what we know from this week’s news: Pacific Group Resorts (PGRI) has entered an asset purchase agreement to buy Jay Peak for $58 million. If this agreement comes to pass, Jay Peak would immediately become the largest ski resort in PGRI’s portfolio. Currently, that organization owns a total of five ski areas covering a wide geographic area. Those resorts are: Mount Washington Alpine, BC; Powderhorn, CO, Wintergreen, VA; Wisp, MD; and Ragged Mountain, NH. While it’s not surprising that the initial offer for Jay Peak comes from a company owning numerous resorts, we have to admit, we’re a bit surprised that neither of the two goliaths in our industry were the first to make an offer. Again, it’s possible that either one could still buy the resort as a result of the competitive bidding process, and maybe this was a strategic move to see what the base price would be, but still, it would be astonishing to see a world class resort such as Jay Peak not end up in the hands of either Vail or Alterra. Regardless of what the future holds, we’ll be sure to keep you updated as we learn more. For now, check out the recap from StormSkiing.com.
#4: The Dangers of Denali - With Big Mountains Come Big Responsibility:
Finally, we end this week with a story that, while isn’t explicitly ski news, tells an interesting story and provides significantly more context to a story we shared back at the start of July. At that time, it was announced that Mt. Denali would officially allow guided ski tours. A significant win for the ski mountaineering community, that announcement was centered around the loosening of rules regarding the requirement to be clipped to an anchored rope on a guided descent of the mountain. That seemingly small requirement meant it was impossible to lead a ski descent of America’s tallest peak. In a story told by Business Insider this week, we learn exactly why that policy requiring the attachment to a rope on the descent has been in place.
In this expertly written piece, we’re told the story of four climbers who decided to take on the challenge of summiting Denali in May of 2021. Of the four climbers, one ended up severely injured and another ended up in legal trouble. While the article from Business Insider does an incredible job of telling the story in full, the short version goes like this: last Spring, longtime friends and climbing partners Grant Wilson and Sarah Maynard teamed up to take on Denali for the first time. At base camp, they met Adam Rawski whose partner would ultimately turn back, leading him to join the pair. Then, just before they set out from the camp at 14,000’, a fourth climber, Jason Lance, joined the group. As such, two pairs of climbers set out to the peak together: Wilson and Maynard, and Rawski and Lance who’d only known each other for a matter of hours before making a push to the summit. At first things were fine, but then Rawski began feeling ill, likely suffering from the effects of altitude sickness. The more ill he became, the slower he progressed towards the peak. Not to be deterred, Rawski’s partner Lance pushed on, away from the group, seemingly making his own push towards the summit. Unfortunately for the other three, Rawski’s condition worsened and they had to make the difficult decision to turn back before summiting. As they made their descent, Lance rejoined the group after failing to summit himself. While the descent was slow, the group progressed down the mountain without incident until hitting a section known as the Autobahn, which features a steep open slope that’s ideal for skiing but requires roping in for those on foot. As avid skiers, Wilson and Maynard clicked in and began skiing the descent while Lance and Rawski continued on foot. In light of saving time, Lance convinced Rawski to skip the step of attaching to the rope so they could descend quicker. Then, in a moment’s notice, Rawski was gone. He’d fallen down the 1,000 foot face and laid motionless at the bottom.
In the aftermath of the fall, Wilson, Maynard, and Lance called for a helicopter rescue. After a perilous mountainside recovery, Lance then called for a rescue of the remaining three, despite Wilson and Maynard insisting that their best course of action was to descend on their own. As a result, the trio argued for hours on the side of the mountain, during which Lance successfully managed to convince a rescue team to take action, although they were unable to notify him of their decision before they ultimately decided to descend on foot. Back at the base camp, Lance found himself telling rescuers that his efforts were to save Maynard and Wilson, despite their insistence that they didn’t need rescuing. In the course of this situation, Lance lied, withheld information, and deleted crucial text messages. As a result of these actions, 6 months later, Lance was charged with violating a lawful order of a government employee (for refusing to turn over his Garmin device with text exchanges), ultimately receiving a 5 year ban from Denali and incurring $10,000 in fines. As for Rawski, fortunately he survived the fall, although he suffered serious injuries. Finally, after months of rehabilitation, he’s been able to muster an “awkward jog” and can begin the processing of piecing his life back together.
To be honest, our main motivation for sharing this story is that it’s extremely well written and provides fascinating insight into the risks that are involved with high altitude mountaineering. When we shared the update about a month ago regarding the new ski mountaineering regulations at Denali, our tone was purely celebratory. While we remain excited about this news, this week’s story should serve as a reminder that taking on the challenge of summiting a mountain like Denali requires an immense amount of training, preparation, and wise decision making. We have no intention of deterring anybody from getting involved in the sport of ski mountaineering as it can be incredibly rewarding, we do feel compelled to paint a holistic picture of what the lifestyle can entail. To read this amazing story in full, check in with Business Insider.]