#1: FIS World Cup Ski Racing Update: Shiffrin Strikes Gold:
Well, it finally happened. After nearly a year, Mikaela Shiffrin found herself back where she belongs: at the top of a podium. We’ll get a bit more into that in a moment, but first let’s start with the basics. Last weekend, the women found themselves in Courchevel, France for a pair of Super G races after a two week hiatus resulting from the cancellations of events in St. Moritz. Fortunately, things went more according to plan this past weekend as the weather, while filled with snow once again, proved not to be a dealbreaker. As a result, Courchevel was able to successfully host two Giant Slalom races. In the first of those races, the U.S. Team fared fairly well, with Mikaela Shiffrin coming in 4th place and Nina O’Brien finishing in 19th. Ultimately though, it was the second race of the weekend that will go down in history as the far more significant of the two, for one simple reason: Mikaela Shiffrin won. After nearly a year since her last first place victory, as well as her father’s death, Shiffrin proved to everyone, herself included, that she still has what it takes to compete, and win, at the highest level in the world. In the aftermath of the race, Shiffrin let her emotions show as she seemingly realized the weight of the moment. In her post race interview, Shiffrin called the accomplishment “bittersweet,” no doubt alluding to the contrast between the joy of victory, and the fact that it was her first one since her father’s passing. While Shiffrin herself would be the first to tell you it doesn’t matter, the victory also inched her further up the record books as her 67th world cup victory puts her in a tie for 3rd place with legend Marcel Hirscher, and behind just Ingemar Stenmark in 2nd and Lindsey Vonn in 1st. In addition to Shiffrin taking home the gold, congratulations are also in order for U.S. Team member AJ Hurt who finished in 18th place. Looking ahead, the women’s circuit is in Val d'Isere, France this weekend for a pair of Downhill races as well as a Super G. So far, things are looking promising for the U.S. Team, as Alice McKennis and Breezy Johnson took first and second place respectively in Wednesday’s training run. To see this weekend’s schedule, check in with the FIS.
On the men’s side of things, last weekend’s results were a bit more subdued, though still notable. Having convened in Val d'Isere, France for Super G and Downhill race, the men’s team didn’t manage to make the podium, however a number of athletes did secure points. The result of the weekend came in Saturday’s Super G, where Travis Ganong just barely missed the podium, finishing in 4th place, just .22 seconds behind 3rd. Unfortunately though, he was the only U.S. skier to earn points in that race. On Sunday though, the Downhill race treated the U.S. Team a little bit better. In that race, Ryan Cochran-Siegle finished in 13th, Travis Ganong finished in 23rd, and Bryce Bennett finished in a tie for 24th. So, while lacking the dominance the team strives for, the weekend wasn’t wholly unsuccessful either. Looking ahead, the men’s team is in Val Gardena / Groeden, Italy this weekend for another Super G and Downhill race. Surprisingly, just like the women’s team, the men’s team also showed out in Wednesday’s Downhill training run, with Jared Goldberg and Bryce Bennett taking home first and second place respectively. We’ll have to wait until Saturday to see if these results can be repeated, but at the very least it’s a reassuring sign of growth. To check out this weekend’s men’s race schedule, have a look at the FIS website.
#2: Status of the Season: Passes Are Sold and Lifts Are Spinning, But Will Ski Areas Survive?
Next up this week, is our regular mid-Covid ski industry health check. This time around, we found the news cycle beginning to shift its focus away from the skier’s perspective of the season ahead, and towards the ski resorts’ who are hoping for a big year after many had to close prematurely last season. While there were a number of articles on the subject this week, this one from Bloomberg is the standout as it does a good job of touching on something we’ve been noticing over the past month or so: no two ski resorts are dealing with identical situations. For major resorts, such as Aspen and Vail, the coronavirus’s impact on travel restrictions is most concerning as ski tourism during the upcoming holiday season is a significant portion of destination resorts’ annual revenue. Beyond the holiday season, the issue of ski tourism remains prominent as, according to the article from Bloomberg, Aspen expects to lose 80% of its international business. For other, smaller areas though, international visitors are far from the primary concern. Instead, for ski areas like Lutsen Mountains in Minnesota, the real concerns for the upcoming season are focused on keeping their staff and visitors healthy so that they can remain a place to safely recreate during the winter months. Also mentioned in the article is the Lake Tahoe region, where California ski resorts are operating under travel restrictions, while resorts on the Nevada side of the lake aren’t, creating an odd dynamic that highlights the diversity of ways in which resorts are being impacted by the pandemic. There is, however, one silver lining to all of this that seems to run throughout the ski industry: season pass sales are up. For Vail’s Epic pass, it’s estimated that sales are up 20%. For smaller resorts such as Michigan’s Nub Nob, pass sales are up 10%. These numbers suggest that more people are looking to turn to skiing and snowboarding as a way of remaining active during the final stretch of the pandemic. As per usual, there’s too many great details in this Bloomberg article to share here, so instead we highly encourage you to give it a read in full for yourself.
#3: 74 Human Triggered Avalanches in Colorado Last Week Serve to Remind Us of the Dangers of Backcountry Skiing:
Full disclosure: with the holidays on the horizon, ski tourism being limited in many locations, and a lack of snowfall in many places (until just yesterday anyways), it’s been a bit of a slow week. So, rather than spend time sharing some smaller stories, such as Saddleback Resort finally reopening after several years (a story which we’ve covered ad nauseam over the same amount of time), an outbreak of Covid-19 at British Columbian ski resort Big White, or Robert Redford selling Sundance Mountain, we’ve decided to take a moment this week to focus on something that remains highly concerning as we approach the core of the ski season: backcountry safety.
This week in Colorado, there were 74 human triggered avalanches. While that statistic might be surprising, and it should be, the cause of the avalanches isn’t at all. Currently in many parts of CO, there’s a slab layer resting on top of a significantly weaker layer, according to the Friends of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. For those even moderately well versed in avalanche safety, that knowledge alone should be enough to provoke extreme caution in the backcountry, as well as a number of safety precautions and condition checks when searching for turns. Unfortunately though, with this week’s news, it’s painfully obvious that that’s simply not the case. All Spring, Summer, and Fall long, experts in the industry have been warning us that backcountry use will likely see a surge in popularity this season, intrinsically meaning that there will be a mass of people who lack the proper education and experience to safely explore unadulterated terrain. Now, just midway through December, we’re already seeing signs of that concern becoming a reality. Of course our goal here isn’t to scare anyone away from the sport. In fact, quite the opposite: we highly encourage anyone who’s interested in backcountry skiing to pursue that interest. But, we strongly recommend that you to take some sort of avalanche safety course before hand so that you know what you’re doing out there, and then invest in the proper safety equipment so that you’re prepared in the event of an avalanche. Avalanches present a real danger, but a danger that can be highly mitigated with the proper knowledge and awareness. Seeing as there isn’t really an article to point you to for this highlight, we’ll instead leave a quick list of resources where you can learn more about learning more. And please, for the love of skiing, be safe out there everybody.
#4: Rising Freeskier Alex Hall Gets the Forbes Treatment:
Finally, to end this week, we’re going to switch gears a bit and share an article from Forbes that caught our attention for multiple reasons. First on that list, is the fact that the article focuses on freestyle skier Alex Hall. While Hall’s youth certainly has an impact on his current level of name recognition, it’s seemingly only a matter of time before he cements his legacy as one of the best freeskiers in the 2020 era. For us here at SkiEssentials, we’ve been more or less aware of Alex Hall for a few years now as he’s become a staple of the competitive freeskiing circuit, including an appearance at the 2018 Winter Olympics as well as a gold medal in Slopestyle in the 2019 X Games. While his competitive record continues to improve as he gains experience, Hall is quickly becoming one of our favorite skiers to watch for a different reason: his film parts. While many competitive skiers find themselves focusing on a certain approach to skiing that seemingly increases their odds of landing on podiums, Alex Hall is extremely well rounded. From park skiing, to urban features, and even big mountain lines, Hall comes off as a skier with incredible air and body awareness that naturally enables him to complete feats that would sound impossible until you witnessed them. So, circling back to our point here, the fact that Forbes Magazine is writing about 22 year old Alex Hall is really pretty exciting.
The second reason why this article caught our attention is because it provides some insight into what it’s like to try and make a living as a sponsored freeskiing athlete. As Forbes writer Michelle Bruton astutely points out, it’s significantly harder for professional skiers to earn money selling merchandise than say an NBA player or NFL player who can rely on jersey sales to boost their bottom line. For skiers, there are no jerseys. In their place they’re forced to lean on opportunities to attach their name to products, often adding their own touch of flare to something like a pair of skis, boots, or goggles and labeling them a “pro model.” In the case of Alex Hall, this latest opportunity has come in the form of helping Spyder launch a new pair of eyewear, by way of his roster spot on the U.S. Ski Team. As per usual with stories like this, there’s a ton of great information and detail in the original article, so we’ll do our part and hold back so as not to spoil the experience. We will say though, if you’re at all interested in the business, product, and athlete side of the industry, we highly recommend giving this article from Forbes a read. You can check it out right here.