#1: FIS World Cup Alpine Racing Update: Breezy Johnson's Big Weekend:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the December 10, 2021 edition! This week, we bring you a number of FIS competition updates, as well as a triple header of Vail highlights and an interesting headline that combines the notable names of Bode Miller and Alpine-X. We’ll give you the full scoop as we go, but first, let’s start by checking in with the latest from the FIS Women’s alpine skiing circuit.
When we left off last week, the women’s division was in Lake Louise, in the midst of their first Downhill race of the weekend after just having dealt with a pair of training race cancellations. As it turned out, the lack of training laps on the Downhill course didn’t bother U.S. athlete Breezy Johnson, who set the pace for the Americans, winning the silver medal in both Friday and Saturday’s races. Joining Johnson in the “earning points” category on Friday were U.S. athletes Jacqueline Wiles in 23rd, Mikaela Shiffrin in 26th, and Isabella Wright in 27th. Also finishing in the top 50 were Alix Wilkinson in 33rd, Keely Cashman in 47th, and Lauren Macuga in 49th. In Saturday’s race, the Americans were a little less fortunate as only Jacqueline Wiles earned points, finishing in 29th. Also finishing in the top 50 in that race were U.S. athletes Isabella Wright in 34th, Mikaela Shiffrin in 38th, Keely Cashman in 42nd, and Lauren Macuga holding strong in 49th. After the Downhill double header, Sunday offered the women’s field a Super-G race where a similar roster of athletes either earned points or placed in the top 50 for the U.S. Team. Leading the way in that race was Mikaela Shiffrin in 6th, followed by Breezy Johnson in 11th, Keely Cashman in 29th, Jacqueline Wiles in 30th, and Tricia Mangan in 37th. All in all, it was a moderately successful weekend for a number of U.S. Women’s speed skiing athletes, and for Breezy Johnson in particular who would get our vote for MVS (Most Valuable Skier) of the weekend. Before rounding out this highlight, we want to quickly point out a quick subplot developing from this trio of races. Prior to the season, Shiffrin cited being able to compete in every race category at the Olympics as one of her goals for the season. While we have all the faith in the world in Shiffrin’s abilities, it’s worth pointing out that she came up short on points in both Downhill opportunities. To qualify for the Olympics, she’ll have to pick up the pace in future Downhill events. Looking ahead, the women are currently in St. Moritz, Switzerland for a pair of Super G events. To see a recap of last week’s races, click here. To see this weekend’s schedule, click here.
On the men’s side of the circuit, last weekend was undoubtedly highlighted by Travis Ganong’s performance in last Friday’s Super G event, where he finished in third in front of a hometown crowd. That finish also marked his first ever podium in a Super G race. Unfortunately, no other U.S. athletes earned points in that particular race, although Erik Arvidsson did finish in 35th, while Bryce Bennett secured 39th, and Steve Nyman finished in 40th. A day earlier, also in a Super G race, Ryan Cochran-Siegle managed to earn himself some points after finishing in 19th place, as did Travis Ganong who secured 22nd. Joining them on the list of top 50 finishers from the U.S. Team were Steve Nyman in 42nd, Bryce Bennett in 43rd, and Jared Goldberg in 46th. Following up these two races was a Downhill event on Saturday in which the U.S. Team put up its best overall showing. In that race, Ryan Cochran-Siegle finished a team best 6th place, followed by Steve Nyman in 18th, Bryce Bennett in 22nd, Travis Ganong in 24th, Jared Goldberg in 36th, and Erik Arvidsson in 38th. Much like the women’s team it was overall a moderately successful weekend for the men, with Travis Ganong’s performance earning the award of MVS. Looking ahead, the Men are currently in Val d'Isere, France for a Giant Slalom and a Slalom race. You can see the schedule for those events here, as well as a full recap of last weekend’s results here.
#2: FIS World Cup Freeskiing Update: Big Air Athletes Continuing to Push the Sport into Uncharted Territory:
In other FIS skiing news, we’ve got another freeskiing Big Air event to cover! Being a brand new sport in the upcoming Olympics, the FIS Big Air events have all featured an incredibly high level of competition so far this year, with mind blowing and never been done before tricks taking center stage as athletes continue to try and one up each other in hopes of partaking in the inaugural Olympic Big Air event. With more than enough motivation to fuel each athlete’s fire, spectators have been treated to some absolutely jaw dropping competitions already this season. Last week carried that torch further as the top two podium finishers threw down their variations of a 1980. Yes, you read that right. This is where we are now: 1980’s are the new 1080. For the U.S. Team, the MVS award goes to Alex Hall, who on his third hit of the day made everyone in attendance dizzy with his left double 1980 buick grab. Making the matter even more impressive, Hall admitted after the fact that that was his first ever 1980 attempt. If you’re either confused or curious about what that trick might look like, we highly recommend giving it a watch. Just make sure you’re sitting down for it. Still, despite that trick’s inherent insanity, it wasn’t quite good enough for gold. Instead, it was Austria’s Matej Svancer who took home that honor after perfectly landing a left nosebutter triple 1980 safety. Again, yes, you read that right. Triple. Nosebutter. 1980. Even just a couple of years ago both of these tricks would’ve been confined to the world of video games. Now, they’re very much a reality. The sport of Big Air skiing, for both Men and Women (as you’ll see in a moment) is must see TV, and we’re incredibly excited to see where it continues to go from here. To see a full recap of results, click here. To learn more about how the event played out, check out the recap from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team.
On the women’s side, while the U.S. women’s team didn’t have quite the same level of success as the men’s team, the competition itself offered an equivalent level of entertainment as the female side of the sport continued to progress at a neck-breaking pace. If you caught our Top 5 recap last week, you might’ve read the op-ed we shared from freeskier Sarah Hoefflin who made a compelling case that women’s freeskiing is more entertaining to watch for the casual viewer than the men’s side of the sport. Part of that argument rests on the fact that women are throwing tricks that would’ve been unheard of a few years ago, while remaining slightly easier to understand. While those comments remain true, it would appear as though both Eileen Gu and Tess Ledeux decided to challenge Hoefflin’s notion that women’s freeskiing is easier to watch as both athletes continued to push themselves to the limits of the sport. In her last run of the day, Ledeux nearly put down a ridiculous 1620. For comparison, on the men’s side, the best trick from third place finisher Antoine Adelisse was a switch right side pre-nose grab 1440. While that trick is certainly the more technical of the two, the fact that Ledeux nearly landed a 1620 which would’ve been a higher rotation than the third place men’s finisher is a testament to how small the gap between the two sides of the sport has become. Still, the reality is that Ledeux didn’t land her effort, which meant that Eileen Gu was in position to take a victory lap on her third run. But, she didn’t. Instead she put down a right double 1440 safety, the first ever landed by a woman in competition. In doing so, she further secured her grip on the gold and solidified herself as the person to beat in this event. Unfortunately for the U.S. team, despite being born and raised in America, Gu has decided to compete for her mother’s native country of China in the upcoming Olympics. To read a recap of the women’s event, click here. To see a full list of results, click here. Finally, to preview the schedule for this weekend’s halfpipe competition in Copper Mountain, click here.
#3: Vail, Vail, Vail: Acquisitions, Earnings Reports, and Questionable Future:
Moving away from competition news, we’ve got three Vail-centric headlines to share with you this week, the combination of which shares competing views over the level of success that Vail is currently experiencing. First, let’s start with a big headline for our Pennsylvania readers. This week, Vail announced that it has moved to acquire Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, and Laurel Mountain ski areas. The move, which was centered around purchasing Seven Springs, cost the company approximately $125 million and includes the three resorts, as well as a hotel, conference center, and other operations. For those who’ve been following Vail from a strategic perspective, this development makes perfect sense as it gives Vail a presence in nearby Pittsburgh, falling perfectly in line with their plans to attract visitors from metropolitan areas. Also of note, this is the first acquisition under new Vail CEO Kirsten Lynch’s watch, reassuring anyone who was worried that Vail might stop acquiring new mountains under new leadership. To learn more about this story, check in with Vail Daily.
The second Vail story we came across this week is strictly for the business nerds amongst us. On the heels of that acquisition news, Vail also publicly released their 2022 Q1 fiscal results, which ended on October 31, 2021. While there are a number of details to learn from these results, we’ll focus on just a few of the more high level highlights here. First amongst those is the fact that Vail appears to be pulling through the pandemic unharmed. In this most recent earnings report, Vail cited $139.9 million in quarterly loses, significantly down from the $153.8 million in loses that they reported during the same quarter a year ago. Completing that picture is also the fact that during the same period last year, Vail earned $131.79 million in revenue, while this year the resort earned $175.58 in reported revenue during the same period. In other words, while the company lost approximately $22 million in revenue in Q1 2021, it bounced back and earned approximately $35 million in revenue during Q1 2022, equating to a $57 million swing. It should also be noted that none of this accounts for an incredible increase in ticket sales which typically shows up in the annual Q2 and Q3 earnings reports. For those interested in all things business, we recommend checking out the recap from Yahoo! Finance. For those who aren’t, the takeaway should be this: even after the pandemic, Vail is continuing to thrive. For the moment, anyway.
Finally, it may seem a bit odd, but our third Vail related highlight this week paints an incredibly different outlook on the future of Vail resorts. After the first two highlights on this theme, you’d be right to suspect that Vail is on an unstoppable trajectory. In reality though, a combination of factors is giving many observers cause for concern. Largely due to an incredible increase in Epic Pass sales, combined with ongoing labor shortages, there has been an undeniable uptick in unimpressed guests at Epic Resorts. While these murmurings have been largely confined to online comment sections, message boards, and Instagram accounts, this week we caught an article from investment news website SeekingAlpha.com that lays out why this season could be something of a tipping point for the company. While there are plenty of details and arguments within this article worth considering, the thesis is essentially that Vail has enticed more people to buy an Epic Pass than their resorts can handle. That, coupled with understaffing at their mountains, has resulted in a lackluster experience for their guests. While this article paints a gloomy picture for the future of Vail, the fact of the matter is that the resort still has an incredible portfolio of resorts and more cash on hand than it knows what to do with. So, while this season may result in some growing pains, we have to believe that Vail will find a way to correct the problems currently arising. To learn more on this perspective, check out the article from SeekingAlpha.com.
#4: Alpine-X Joins Forces with Bode Miller as it Looks to Develop 20+ Indoor Ski Areas in the U.S.:
Finally, rounding out this week is a really interesting update to anyone who’s been following along with the story of Alpine-X, the European indoor ski center company that’s looking to build their first indoor resort just outside of Fairfax, VA. While that project’s future is currently up in the air> as the company needs to prove to the county that they can commit to being carbon neutral, Alpine-X continues to have big dreams involving the rollout of a number of indoor ski facilities across the United States. Between increasingly unpredictable weather patterns as well as the inaccessibility to ski resorts in a number of U.S. cities, Alpine-X’s vision is to bring reliable indoor skiing to as many locations in the U.S. as possible. In a previous Top 5, we reported that Alpine-X is hoping to roll out indoor ski areas to over 20+ locations. This week, that vision got a shot in the arm as we’ve learned that Alpine-X has officially teamed up with Bode Miller to bring its plans to life.
In news shared this week, Alpine-X announced that it has made Bode Miller its chief innovation officer. The new partnership comes after Alpine-X and M Bar W Enterprises LLC, a consultancy agency formed by Miller and fellow ski industry veteran Andy Wirth, has inked a multi-year partnership with Alpine-X. Prior to this new deal, Miller had previously been consulting with the company in a less formal role. Now that this new deal is in place however, the hope is that Miller can leverage his name, credentials, and on-hill expertise to move the project forward. While specific responsibilities for Miller in his new role haven’t been shared, it’s easy to imagine a number of ways in which his presence is a huge win for Alpine-X. From his marketability and brand power, to his network of connections, adding Miller to their team should prove to pay dividends for the company. If it does, it’s quite likely that an Alpine-X facility will be coming to a city near you in the future. For more on this update, check out the report from BizJournals.com.