Ski Industry News - Top Five Fridays
Top Five Fridays: December 30, 2022
Lead Image: Paula Moltzan. Mikaela Shiffrin. A moment over 50 years in the making. We’ll tell you all about it, directly below. Image: Mikaela Shiffrin on Facebook
#1: It Seems to Be Shiffrin’s Season as She Secures 4th Straight World Cup Victory, Bringing Multiple Records Within Reach:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the December 30, 2022 edition. With New Year's Eve just a day away, that makes this the final Top Five Fridays of 2022! As such we want to take a quick moment to thank everyone who’s followed along with our weekly reports throughout the year. With that said, let’s jump right into our FIS World Cup Alpine Racing coverage, as we’ve got some incredibly exciting news to share!
As you know, we’ve been counting down the races until Mikaela Shiffrin surpasses Lindsey Vonn to become the winningest female ski racer of all time. When we checked in last week, Shiffrin had just won a super g race, earning her 77th world cup victory, bringing her within 5 of Lindsey Vonn’s record. This week, Shiffrin’s tear continued as she notched not one, not two, but three more world cup victories, having won all of her races last week in Semmering, Austria. After that incredible showing, Shiffrin now has 50 slalom wins to her name, and 80 World Cup wins total. That three-peat showing brings Shiffrin just two wins away from tying Vonn’s mark of 82, and just 6 wins away from the legendary Ingemar Stenmark’s all time record of 86. With three full months of racing still on the schedule, it’s becoming increasingly likely that Shiffrin will not only break, but potentially shatter both records before the season ends. As the excitement builds around what is shaping up to be a historic season for Shiffrin, we’ll continue to keep you updated.
Now with the absolute highlight of the week out of the way, let’s backtrack a bit and recap what happened in each race this week, as Shiffrin is far from the only U.S. athlete to have reason to celebrate. Kicking things off on Tuesday for the women’s team was a giant slalom race that replaced the canceled event in Soelden. As you know, Shiffrin won that race, while teammate Paula Moltzan put in a solid performance of her own, earning 10th. A day later, the women once again competed in a giant slalom race, and once again Mikaela Shiffrin won while Paula Moltzan put in another noteworthy performance, finishing in 9th. Finally, on day three of activities in Semmering, the women competed in a slalom race. That race was undeniably the race of the weekend for Team America as not only did Shiffrin win yet again, but Paula Moltzan had the best slalom race of her career, finishing in second. With that result, Shiffrin and Moltzan went 1 and 2, the first time the U.S. has earned the top two spots on a slalom podium in over 50 years, having last occurred in 1971. After last weekend’s results, it’s safe to say that between Shiffrin and Moltzan, this season, as well as the years ahead, are looking incredibly bright for the U.S. technical race team.
Finally, before we close the women’s portion of this highlight out, we do want to call attention to Shiffrin’s position atop the world cup standings. While there’s plenty of season remaining, Shiffrin is currently leading the overall rankings by roughly 370 points, with 875 points total. Additionally, she’s ranked first in slalom, second in giant slalom, and third in super g. While she currently stands in 11th in the downhill, it’s worth noting that only 2 other athletes in the top 100 have earned points in every discipline, neither of which are currently on the podium for any overall standings. In other words, Shiffrin’s season so far has been absolutely dominant. To review a full list of standings, click here.
Admittedly, the men’s team has a tough act to follow here, as they’re competing against a G.O.A.T. caliber athlete for headlines. Still, they performed admirably in a super g and downhill race in Bormio, Italy last week, and their recognition is due. Kicking off the action was a downhill race on the 28th in which the men, in typical fashion, put in a strong showing. Leading the way was Ryan Cochran-Siegle who finished in 5th, followed by Erik Arvidsson in 16th, and Travis Ganong in 24th. A day later, the admirability continued, as Ryan Cochran-Siegle earned a 13th place finish, again followed by Erik Arvidsson who finished in 21st, Kyle Negomir in 24th, and Jared Goldberg in 29th. All in all, it was another steady, solid weekend for the men’s speed team. Looking ahead, the men have just one race this coming week - a night slalom in Garmisch, Germany - while the women have two more slalom races in Zagreb, Croatia. You can preview those events as well as the rest of the calendar here. Before we let you go, we’ll encourage you to check in again next week as Shiffrin has a chance to tie Vonn’s record, if she can manage to win her 5th and 6th straight World Cup races.
#2: As the Climate Continues to Warm, the Snow Concerns at Ski Resorts Across the World Heat Up:
Next up this week, as much as we hate to do it, we feel compelled to share a combination of articles that paint a less than ideal portrait for the future of snow. As you know, in recent years, snowfall has become increasingly less predictable, or, more aptly put, has been a bit “boom or bust.” In other words, while the Sierra region has been receiving an incredible amount of snow to start the season, it took a third consecutive year of La Niña to make it happen. Here on the East Coast, cities like Buffalo have also received an insane amount of snow, while the mountains in Vermont have gone from warm and dry, to significantly snowier, back to warm and wet. In other words, while year to year snowfall totals may not be drastically lower, the weather has been more like a pendulum in recent years, with strong snowfall often followed by warm weather that ultimately erases the snowpack’s progress.
This week, local Vermont news outlet WCAX explored the changing weather in our region by talking with snowmakers at Sugarbush to see how this trend has impacted their operations, as well as what they see for the future. Here, the story is about what you’d guess. According to Sugarbush’s manager of snowmaking, Shawn Patenaude, the snowmaking season in Vermont is roughly November, December, and January. In their words, that provides about 91 days of snowmaking, with about 60 of those days being viable snowmaking weather. The trend in recent years, however, is that window being pushed back, making it more difficult to be able to reliably open in time for the holiday season. To do so, the resort needs to put an incredible emphasis on its snowmaking operations, which requires pumping water up from the Mad River at the base of the resort. Pulling this off, as you might guess, requires an incredible amount of energy, meaning the resort looks to optimize the operation to make snow as efficiently as possible. In this article, we’ve learned that Sugarbush, and the snowmaking community in general, feels as though they are approaching maximum efficiency with their systems, ultimately meaning that at a certain point, their ability to make snow will be 100% dependent on the weather. Looking forward, that is where the concern lies.
The second article we caught on this subject this week only reinforces these concerns. In a report coming from EurasiaReview.com, we learn of a new study from the University of Basel’s Department of Environmental Science that focuses on the future of snow as it pertains to ski resorts in Europe through the end of the century. In their study, what they learned is in fact very similar to what we’re experiencing here in North America. First, let’s talk about the good news: according to the study, European ski resorts above 1,800 meters should be able to operate for 100 days each season. Unfortunately, that’s about the end of the good news. In order to do so, resorts will need to lean heavily on snowmaking, ultimately requiring an increase of water usage to the tune of roughly 80%. As a result, while today’s European ski resorts use about 300 million liters of water for snowmaking, this study’s estimates suggest that roughly 540 million liters will be required for operations in the year 2100. Keeping in mind the cause of climate change in the first place - the overuse of bad energy sources - as well as growing global concerns regarding access to clean water, and it’s easy to see how this forecast is worrisome. Again, while we wish we had better news for you this week, the fact of the matter is that this is a very real issue facing the ski industry, and one that for better or worse, we all need to be aware of. To learn more, check out the report from WCAX, or the report from EurasiaReview.com.
#3: Had Enough of the Unpredictable Weather in America and Europe? Japan’s Ski Resorts Would Love to Hire You:
Ok. Enough downer news. Let’s shift our focus to a part of the world where the ski industry is thriving: Japan. As you likely know, Japan is something of a mecca for skiers, as its untapped fields of powder have blessed ski movies for a number of years now, with high profile films featuring segments showcasing what many of us imagine a perfect afterlife to look like. You might also know that during the pandemic, Japan closed its borders to international travelers, meaning that non-Japanese skiers have been unable to access these perfect powdery scenes since early 2020. This year, however, Japan has finally re-opened its borders, immediately resulting in a massive influx of skiers with pent up demand, eager to experience the Japanese powder that they’ve only seen on TV.
This influx of skiers and snowboarders is the subject of an article from the New York Times this week which tells the story of staffing shortages in Niseko. While we’re no stranger to the idea of staffing shortages here in the U.S., the story from Japan is interesting in that the cause is so different. Here in America, shortages are being caused by things like lack of housing and desirable wages, while in Japan the issue is being caused primarily by the sheer volume of tourists inundating the region. Consider one of the most eye-opening statistics from the article: the Niseko region, which is home to about 25,000 year round residents, could play host to approximately 1.3 million tourists during the 5 months spanning from November to March. Considering that difference is truly mind boggling, and makes it very easy to see how the service industry in the area could be easily overrun. That, of course, is of massive concern to local businesses and industry leaders who hope to leave a positive impression on those visiting the area. Unfortunately, throughout the article, there are a number of anecdotes that describe experiences that are anything but as overrun staff and supplies have resulted in a poor guest experience.
The good news, for those of us sick of the wildly unpredictable weather in America and Europe, is that the Niseko region is hiring! That is, if you can obtain a work visa. If you can, the opportunities are boundless. Take Swedish citizen Markus Timander, for example, who received 9 job offers in his first 3 days of looking for work in the country. Along with this amount of competition to attract employees, also comes competitive offers. In the article from the Times, we’re given examples that range from a $7,500 finders fee from a luxury restaurant in need of an Executive Chef from Tokyo, to a simple hotel offering wages equivalent to $11.50/hr above minimum wage. In other words, if you’re looking for a change of pace and can obtain a work visa, the ski region of Niseko sure could use your help. To learn more about this story, including the many struggles the region is facing alongside the surge in popularity, check out this article from the New York Times.
#4: A Sign of the Times - Aspen Skiing Co. Innovating Ticket Sales with Installation of Ticket Box at Local Airport:
Finally, our final update of the week, and therefore the entire year, is a short, simple story that highlights the constant evolution of the ski resort business. Let’s start with a profoundly obvious statement: Covid-19 dramatically changed the way ski resorts do business. From new challenges like staffing and housing shortages, to evolutions in the use of technology and strategies to provide an evermore convenient experience, the impact of the pandemic has forever altered the way ski resorts operate. One of the more positive outcomes of that globally traumatic event, was the deployment of ticket boxes. Now, while a lot of resorts have these now, not every one does, so for those who haven’t encountered them, here’s the concept: rather than buying a ticket on a wicket from a ticket window, many ski resorts now have self-serve kiosks where you can use a touchscreen interface to buy a lift ticket- multi day, single day, etc. Guests simply select their option, swipe their payment card, and the machine prints a ski pass. They’re a very convenient, easy way to buy a pass, and they reduce the number of employees needed to sell tickets as well as lines.
This week, we learned that the Aspen Skiing Co. has been propelling this idea even further by installing these ticket boxes all around Aspen and Snowmass villages. Currently, the resort has a total of 16 of these ticket boxes scattered around town, as well as an additional one that lives at the Aspen-Pitkin County airport, highlighting this week’s news. While the idea of placing boxes around town makes sense, it’s the concept of locating additional boxes “off campus”, so to speak, that really intrigues us. In this instance, adding a ticket box to the local airport makes perfect sense as it’s a hub that many guests will travel through, and provides an opportunity for them to pick up their pass well ahead of time, easily avoiding lines. For the airport’s part, they make a small commission off the net sale of tickets purchased through the box, making it a win-win scenario. At the moment, this box is a pilot program (pun… intended?), and if successful, will likely usher in a new wave of ticket purchasing technology that really gets our creative juices flowing. From discounts on lift tickets to location-based package deals, such as discounted flights with purchase of a lift ticket, the opportunity for this sales model feels immense. Of course, we’ll just have to wait to see what happens in 2023. For now, learn all about this story by checking in with the Aspen Times!
Happy New Year everyone!