#1: FIS World Cup Ski Racing Update: Tommy Ford's Big Weekend:
It’s December 11, 2020, and you know what that means: it’s time for another round of Top Five Fridays! This week we’re starting things off as we always do this time of year: with a recap of last week’s FIS Ski Racing action. On the women’s side of the circuit, there’s not much news to report as the two Super G races scheduled for St. Moritz, Switzerland were both cancelled due to a snowstorm that not only rendered the course un-raceable, but also forced the entire resort to close on Sunday. As a result, the ladies (hopefully) got to rest and ski some powder before hitting the road to Courchevel, France, where two Giant Slaloms are scheduled for this weekend.
On the men’s side, strong snow storms also altered the schedule as the second Giant Slalom on last weekend’s schedule was postponed from Sunday to Monday. Still, despite the adjustment, Santa Caterina Valfurva, Italy, was able to successfully host two Giant Slalom races. This, as it turns out, was excellent news for the U.S. Men’s Team as they had their most successful weekend of the season. In Saturday’s race, team veterans Tommy Ford and Ted Ligety made their athletic abilities known as they placed 6th and 19th respectively. Then, two days later, Ford one upped himself with a 2nd place finish, marking his first podium of the year. Also earning points in Monday’s race was Ryan Cochran-Siegle, finishing in 28th. Looking ahead, to this weekend, the men’s team finds themselves in Val d’lsere, France for a Super G and Downhill race.
Finally, before closing out this highlight, we want to share with you a report that came out this week from the Associated Press that provides some more insight in regards to Mikaela Shiffrin’s current mindset. Coming off the most difficult year of her life, Shiffrin’s fans have found themselves wondering what to expect from one of the top ski racers in the world. As it turns out, Mikaela’s more or less in the same boat as she’s still making sense of a mentality that’s vastly different from the one she had two years ago. Where she used to be fueled by a competitive drive, last year’s events have left Mikaela feeling sad, angry, and regretful. As a result, she doesn’t feel as though she has the competitive mentality to compete with the likes of Petra Vlhova and Federica Brignone, both of which are at the top of their games. With this in mind, Shiffrin has decided to scale back her efforts, opting to focus on individual technical events rather than winning another overall championship. While that doesn’t necessarily mean this new approach will determine the rest of her career, it does mean that Shiffrin and her fans should alter their expectations to reflect Mikaela’s new reality for the season ahead. To be sure, it’s a tough adjustment to make, and we continue to wish Mikaela nothing but the best. For more on this, check out the report from the Associated Press.
#2: Status of the Season: Lake Tahoe Closed to Visitors, Vail Reports 50% Decrease in Revenue:
As we begin to settle into the ski season at hand, one thing we’ve been finding is that each week brings a slew of stories related to how Covid-19 is affecting the ski community in North America. Due to the volume of these articles, we’ve decided to dedicate one highlight per week to sharing the latest pandemic news as it relates to policy updates and general impact on the ski industry. That’s not to say our other highlights won’t be intertwined with the pandemic, as that’s simply the world we’re living in right now, but rather than dedicate full highlights to stories that tend to be regionally specific, we figured it makes more sense to condense them into one highlight per week. So, from this week until pandemic news runs out, you can expect to see highlight #2 dedicated to Covid-19 updates.
On that note, it’s with a complete lack of enthusiasm that we share with you a couple of updates from California. As you’ll recall, it was just last week that we shared with you the news that state officials have finally released guidelines for resorts operating during the health crisis. One of the highlights for skiers within those guidelines was the statement that no matter what level of restriction the state falls under, ski resorts will be allowed to continue to operate. A week later, while that statement remains the case, tightening restrictions at local levels have resulted in more limited access to resorts. In the Lake Tahoe region, local officials have made the difficult decision to ban travel to their counties from both out of state visitors and California residents alike. The decision is a unified effort between Placer, El Dorado and Nevada counties, where the region’s ski resorts reside. Over the course of the summer, these counties, and Placer in particular, saw an overwhelming number of visitors as people felt compelled to leave more crowded metropolitan areas. Now, with Covid cases resurging in the state, the counties are jointly making the decision that they refrained from making during the summer. While this is certainly a significant bummer for all parties, there is a bit of a silver lining. As it stands, the order is only in place for three weeks, starting today. If all goes well and Covid cases show signs of diminishing, the Tahoe region could reopen as soon as January 1st. For more on this, check out this article from ThePointsGuy.com.
In other Covid-19 x Ski Industry news, we also caught an article from the Colorado Sun this week that shares some of the details from Vail’s Q1-Q3 2020 earnings report which was recently released. As always, the article is chock full of great details, and as always, we’re forced to share an abbreviated recap here. As such, there are really three key takeaways from the report. First, revenue for the first three quarters (9 months) of 2020 was down 50% compared to last year, with this year’s earnings coming in at $131.5m compared to last year’s $263.6m. Think of that as the “this is where we’re at” statistic. The next statistic is related to what the immediate future holds: currently, Vail is sitting on $614m in cash, and another $587m in available credit. For those who worry about what would happen if Vail were to fail, these numbers should allow for a sigh of relief as they guarantee that the company can survive another ski season, even without earning another dollar of revenue. Finally, stat 3, the “what happens next” statistic: Epic Pass sales were up 20% this year, for a record setting 1.2 million passes sold. While the pass credits Vail offered as resolution for last season’s abrupt ending wiped out any increase in overall revenue, the fact that Vail’s passes grew 20% during a time in which travel restrictions, reservation systems, and general uncertainty are having an unprecedented impact on the industry bodes well for the post-Covid future. As we mentioned earlier, there are far too many great figures to cover here, so if this aspect of the industry interests you, we highly recommend giving the full article a read over on the Colorado Sun.
#3: French Ski Resorts Sue Government Over Forced Lift Closures:
We start highlight #3 off this week with a clarification of statements made in highlight #2. That whole spiel about keeping covid contained to just one highlight per week? Well, we meant that to pertain to mostly regional news coming out of North America. Should there be significant international news related to the topic, we’ll give it the full highlight treatment. Such is the case this week as we have another continuation from a story we brought to you just seven days ago.
Last week we shared news of rising turmoil in the European Union, where various countries have expressed different ideas about how to best handle ski tourism during the upcoming holiday season. In that recap, we mentioned that France is taking one of the most precautious, restrictive approaches to dealing with ski tourism during the pandemic. There, the government has allowed ski resorts to remain open, but has ordered chairlift operations to be suspended. In other words, if you’re within the country’s borders, you can visit ski resorts and skin the mountains, but resorts aren’t allowed to sell lift tickets.
This week, that situation escalated as France’s national ski industry group, the Domaines skiables de France (DSF, or Ski Areas of France), has filed a lawsuit against the government in an effort to force them to allow the operation of ski lifts during the December holidays. As per usual, the argument is born out of economic factors, and hinges on a comparison to higher risk activities currently being allowed in other areas. In regards to the economic factors fueling the fight, it’s estimated that this month’s holiday business typically accounts for 20-25% of the $13.3b (USD) in revenue generated by the French ski industry annually. In other words, the decision at hand is worth between $2.66b - $3.325b. As for arguments supporting their desire to open ski resorts, the DSF cites inconsistent policies regarding the prevention of the spread of Covid-19. For example, while ski resorts provide an opportunity for people to recreate in wide open, uncrowded spaces, the metro and public transportations within cities creates a close contact environment, ideal for the spread of Covid-19. Citing facts such as this one, the DSF is arguing on the behalf of the nation’s ski resorts in hopes that they’ll win permission to operate lifts over the course of the next three weeks. At the moment the decision remains in limbo, but we’re willing to guess we’ll have more updates on this story in the near future. For now, we’ll turn you over to Bloomberg to learn more.
#4: X Games Looking to Move Forward, Sans Crowds:
Finally, we end this week with some news that could be seen as either positive or negative, depending on the way you see the world. As you likely know, one of the impacts of the pandemic has been an absolute disruption of the world of sports. Whether that’s mainstream professional sports leagues such as the NBA or NFL, or more niche sports like our sport of skiing, the numerous logistics of hosting competitions have become exceedingly difficult to navigate. So, for those of us who remain positive, we bring you good news: the 2021 Aspen X Games remain on the calendar for the time being.
This week, we learned that ESPN has officially submitted their permit request to Pitkin County, home of Aspen Mountain, where the games are set to take place. In submitting their request, we also learned about the adjustments ESPN has put in place to mitigate the risk of spreading Covid-19 at the event. If you’re assuming that means this year’s event will look quite different, then you’re absolutely correct. For starters, the normally raucous crowds that’ve come to be as synonymous with the games as the athletes and events themselves will be missing this year, as will be the live performances that have been growing in quality in recent years. In addition to the lack of crowds, the most significant change to this year’s X Games will be a reduction in events. While we tend to focus on the ski events here on SkiEssentials, the X Games also features competition from a number of other sports, including snowmobiling and motocross. This year however, the X Games hopes to host only ski and snowboarding events, thereby reducing the number of people attending the games. So, while the games themselves will have to be scaled back, the good news is that should the permit be approved, fans of the ski and snowboard events who don’t typically attend the games in person can likely look forward to a typical X Games experience at the end of next month. For more on this, check in with the Aspen Times.