Top 5 Friday February 11, 2022: Lead Image

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Top Five Fridays: February 11, 2022

Image: U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team

#1: 2022 Winter Olympics Week 1 Recap: High Highs and Low Lows for U.S. Athletes:


Top Five Fridays February 11, 2022: Ryan Cochran Siegle Olympic Race Image

Ryan Cochran-Siegle, en route to a silver medal finish at the 2022 Winter Olympic Super G. Image: U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team

Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the February 11, 2022 edition! As promised, we’ve got a bunch of Olympic news to recap this week, although it’s not entirely of the variety that we were hoping for. In addition to our Olympic coverage, we also have three surprisingly big picture articles that focus on different angles of the business of ski resorts. We’ll share those thought provoking highlights just as soon as we recap the Olympics.

To kick that coverage off, let’s start by talking about the unwanted elephant in the room: these 2022 Winter Olympics could not possibly have gone any worse for Mikaeala Shiffrin. Coming into the games, Shiffrin had hopes to compete in all five events, and most certainly hoped to medal in at least one of her two top events: the Slalom and Giant Slalom. Instead, she slipped out at the very beginning of both races, ultimately rendering her two DNF results. For the 47 time slalom race winner, DNFs are almost unheard of, and never in her career has she experienced two in back to back races. To say these results are a disappointment for Shiffrin would be a massive understatement. For proof of that, one would simply have to rewatch the slalom race, where a despondent Shiffrin set along the fencing on the side of the course for a considerable amount of time, trying to come to terms with what just happened. Despite the unexpected start to the games, Shiffrin did manage to pull herself together enough to ski in the Super G, keeping her on track to compete in all possible events. While she didn’t podium in that race, she did complete the course and finished in 9th, a respectable position all things considered.

Unfortunately though, the tragedy didn’t stop there for the U.S. Women’s team. Also competing in the giant slalom race was Nina O’Brien, who was on track to put down a career performance. In sixth place heading into her second run, O’Brien was skiing masterfully, right up until the final gate where she caught an edge and incurred a significant crash that resulted in a badly broken leg. As such, her Olympic Games and season are both over. You can find the most recent update on that here.

Fortunately, the Olympics haven’t been entirely bad news for the U.S. Team. On the men’s side, things have actually been quite the opposite. One of the most exciting athletes to watch, Ryan Cochran-Siegle, has had an up and down season so far after crashing and burning in glorious fashion last year. Just to quickly recap that story, RCS earned his first FIS medals in December of last season (2019) before suffering a crash that resulted in a broken vertebrae. Since his return this season, he’s shown flashes of greatness but had yet to podium. Still, he’s been a dark horse candidate for his teammates who regularly witness his potential. That potential, it turns out, paid off in a big way this week as it propelled RCS to a silver medal in the Olympic Super G, missing first place by just .04 of a second. In earning that silver medal, RCS has returned to an international podium for the first time in over a year, has earned his first Olympic medal, and perhaps most noteworthy, lengthened the legend of the Skiing Cochrans, a local Vermont family who has now won three Olympic medals over the course of the last 53 years. To be honest, there are plenty of heartwarming elements to Cochran’s story, and we recommend checking out this recap from NBC Olympics.

Finally, rounding out our Olympic coverage, we’ve got a couple of Big Air related highlights worth mentioning. First, in the men’s Big Air, U.S. Ski Team Member Colby Stevenson earned himself a silver medal, ultimately using his third run to land a super clean switch 1800 with a solid grab, earning him a place on the podium. Second, and while it’s not quite U.S. Ski Team news, we’d be remiss not to mention the Ailing Gu story. First and foremost, she took home top honors in the women’s Big Air competition, a well deserved accomplishment. Part two of her story has become a bit more polarizing. In winning the Big Air event, she also put herself in the global spotlight as mainstream media was quick to pick up on the storyline of a highly talented, young American athlete electing to ski for China, and all of the complexities that come with it. To see varying opinions, check out this piece from Sports Illustrated, this one from CNN> or simply type “Gu” into your Google.

#2: Striking a Balance: How Can Skiing Become More Inclusive Without Overcrowding Resorts?


Top Five Fridays February 11, 2022: Epic for Everyone Image

Vail's "Epic for Everyone" Campaign. Has it's massive success created massive problems for the Epic Pass? Vail Mountain on Facebook

Whew. Ok, that feels like enough competitive coverage for the week. From here, let’s shift our focus to a trio of stories that all take a look at the business of skiing, and ski resorts in particular. The first article of that set is an intriguing piece from the New York Times that asks a simple, yet easily overlooked question, “Who Gets to Ski?” While it feels like a simple, four word question, it turns out that finding an answer is in fact exceedingly difficult. What we love about this piece from the New York Times, is that it successfully connects a few ongoing themes within the ski industry, and highlights the complex dynamics caused by their relationship. With that in mind, let us break it down for you.

In 2022, two of the biggest themes in the ski industry are inclusion and overcrowding. To be fair we’ve always looked at these as separate issues: yes, of course we’re all for making skiing more accessible so that we can share the sport we love with as many people as possible. At the same time, yes, we also recognize the fact that some mountains have become incredibly overcrowded this season as a result of multi-pass sales. It wasn’t until this week however, that we recognized the natural conflict that exists between these two circles of thought, as the New York Times so astutely points out in their article. In short, the dilemma is this: last Spring, Vail significantly lowered the price of their Epic Pass, making some options as low as $583.00 for access to multiple resorts for the entire season. It’s by far the most affordable, most accessible season long ski pass ever. As a result, sales of the Epic Pass jumped 40%, a sign that Vail’s “Epic for Everyone” campaign was working. And then, this season hit, and there’s no shortage of complaints from Epic resorts all around North America, where long lines have formed both at the lifts and on the roads leading to resorts. In other words, the customer experience has been negatively affected by the volume of passes sold.

This dynamic is ultimately the crux of this week’s New York Times article. Vail’s initial move was in good faith as they looked to open the doors to new markets of skiers by dramatically lowering the cost of entry to the sport. As a result, their mountains have become overrun with visitors. Now, the question is, “what happens next?” While there may be other options out there, one idea is that a raise in ticket prices could reduce the volume of skiers while maintaining profits. For Vail to do so however, would negate the progress they’ve made in their “Epic for Everyone” campaign. It’s truthfully a very tricky problem that’s arisen, and one that we hope can be figured out in the years ahead. For more on this, check out the writeup from the New York Times. For an additional perspective, Outside Online also published an article this week covering a similar theme.

#3: New York State Continues to Develop & Subsidize Struggling State Owned Ski Areas, Frustrating Owners of Free Market Resorts:


Top Five Fridays February 11, 2022: Gore Mountain Lodge Image

A conceptual rendering showing the new base lodge planned for Gore Mountain's North Creek Ski Bowl. Rendering provided by ORDA, discovered via Sun Community News.

In other ski resort news this week, we caught an interesting op-ed from The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast surrounding the problems that can be caused when a state owns and operates struggling ski resorts. Before we get into the details of that, we have to first preface their piece with the announcement that the State of New York has pledged $30 million in upgrades to the state owned Gore Mountain Ski Resort. As part of the plan, the resort will get a brand new, state of the art lodge, complete with a new ski shop, restaurant, ski patrol office, and more. Additionally, the resort will also be building a rail zipline to continue to draw guests throughout the Summer. For those who call Gore home, this is undoubtedly excellent news.

That said, every coin has two sides, meaning that not everyone is pleased with this latest announcement. In a well written piece from Storm Skiing, the dark side of this development is shared. According to statistics provided by the Journal, the three alpine ski areas, one cross country ski area, and various other ski venues owned and operated by the state of New York incurred a combined loss of $31 million last season. Despite their struggling businesses, the state continues to subsidize and develop these ski areas, building new lodges, lifts, and other amenities using taxpayer money. While that may seem as a positive for those who call state owned ski areas home, the other 46 ski areas in New York find it brutally unfair. In the words of Nick Mir, GM and part-owner of Snow Ridge, a small ski area in rural North Central New York, “It seems the ski industry in New York State is in a pretty unique situation where the state is directly competing against about 50 privately owned, tax-paying companies.” And that is really the core of this issue. While it’s excellent for those receiving help from the state, there are 46 other ski areas all competing for business, essentially against the government. As we saw in our previous highlight this week, if the unified goal of the ski industry is to make our sport more accessible to more people, it would seem as though we need as many ski resorts in operation as possible. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this story for the free market ski areas of New York is that there’s a very simple solution to be had. Rather than spend $30 million in taxpayer money to support a few struggling resorts, the state should make these funds available to all ski resorts via a grant program. Looked at in that light, New York’s actions look to selfishly benefit the few at the expense of many. To learn more about this dynamic, check out the writeup from StormSkiing.com.

#4: It’s No Secret, Climate Change is Shaking Up the Ski Industry. Here’s How Some Resorts are Fighting Back:


Top Five Fridays February 11, 2022: Bluebird Backcountry Image

One of the resorts highlighted in the Washington Post article has a radical approach to leaving a small carbon footprint: Instead of running chairlifts, let guests skin for the goods themselves. In case that wasn't eco-friendly enough, they also use solar power to electrify their base area. Image: Bluebird Backcountry on Facebook

Finally, we end this week by sharing an article that we hope will bring you hope for the future of ski resorts. As you know, climate change has had a real impact on the ski industry in recent years, and as a sport that relies on consistent weather, any changes to the norm are immediately noticeable. As such, the snowsports industry has become something of a canary in the coal mine, being on the front lines of the fight against climate change. Keeping in mind how real the threat of climate change is to ski resorts, the Washington Post published an article this week that highlights the many ways that four different ski resorts are doing what they can to keep climate change at bay.

In the past, we’ve covered this issue one story at a time. What’s interesting about this week’s article, is that it collects a number of resorts and solutions into one report, giving us a more holistic view of how the battle is being fought. As it turns out, it’s occurring in a wide range of ways. Take Aspen Resort for instance. In the past, we’ve shared the story of how they’ve converted an old mine that was leaking methane gas into a new source of energy that powers their mountains. In addition to that boots on the ground effort, the leadership team at Aspen is also recognizing the need to lobby for change on a political level, a strategy that they believe is necessary to result in real, significant work against climate change.

The other stand out from this Washington Post story is Bluebird Backcountry, a human-powered, uphill only ski resort that we’ve covered multiple times here on Chairlift Chat. In case you’re unfamiliar, Bluebird Backcountry is a ski area in Colorado that has no ski lifts and whose terrain is only accessible by skinning. Without significant infrastructure, the resort naturally has a small carbon footprint. Still, despite that, they’ve also installed a solar array at their base camp which effectively covers 99% of their energy needs. While Bluebird Backcountry won’t exactly solve climate change on their own, they are pioneering and proving a new ski resort model that not only offers a small environmental impact, but could also prove to be an effective way to both reduce overcrowding at ski resorts while also making skiing more accessible. To learn more about Bluebird Backcountry and other resorts combating climate change, check out the full write up from the Washington Post.

#5: And Now, Your Edits of the Week: Logan Pehota and His Sled Are Total Workhorses:


Tanner Hall Recently Hosted His Own Backcountry Invitational. Could it Become Skiing’s Answer to Snowboarding’s “Natural Selection”?


Faction Skis Threads the Needle in the Dolomites:


Finally, Candide Thovex’s Life is “Pretty Tight”:


Written by Matt McGinnis on 02/11/22

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