Top 5 Friday February 25, 2022: Lead Image

Ski Industry News - Top Five Fridays

Top Five Fridays: February 25, 2022

Image: Catamount Trail Association on Facebook

#1: 2022 Winter Olympics Recap: What Went Wrong for Team America in Olympic Alpine Events?:

Top Five Fridays February 25, 2022: Ryan Cochran Siegle Image

Ryan Cochran-Siegle on his way to a silver medal in the 2022 Winter Olympic Super-G, the only medal the U.S. Team would win in this year's Games. Image: U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team

Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the February 25, 2022 edition! This week, we get a bit of a reprieve from competitive news after last week’s highlight that was jam packed with such. With the Olympics concluding and a gap between Freeride World Tour stops, we have an opportunity this week to share some more wide-ranging industry news, including at least one update that involves a story that’s been growing in importance over the course of the last several weeks. Before we get into that though, we do want to take at least some time to share a few stories that have emerged since the Olympics regarding the U.S. Alpine team.

To kick that conversation off, we’re going to start with an article from that highlights the compounding factors that resulted in the U.S. Alpine Team producing its worst showing since the 1988 games. At the conclusion of this year’s events, the U.S. Team won just one medal: Ryan Cochran-Siegle’s silver in Super-G. At face value, that statistic flat out stinks. When you pull the curtain back however, there are multiple reasons for this outcome that all compounded to make these games the disappointment that they were.

First, and most notably, Mikaela Shiffrin endured the worst stretch of results in her entire career. For a sport that’s typically dominated by superstar athletes, Shiffrin’s struggles were hugely detrimental to the team on the whole. Perhaps most frustrating for both Shiffrin and her fans, the reason for her poor performance is simply a mystery. No one knows why she earned 60% of her career DNF’s at the Beijing Olympics, but she did. Only amplifying the oddness of this occasion, is the fact that in a way, it feels like we’re all in this together with Shiffrin. While the knee jerk reaction would be to make claims about Shiffrin’s abilities, by and large the community has been supportive of Shiffrin as we find ourselves equally befuddled by her results. Perhaps it’s because we recognize the incredible challenges of her recent story, or maybe it’s because we’ve seen her compete at the highest levels this season.Maybe still it’s because we all witnessed Simone Biles undergo a similar experience in the Summer Games. One way or another though, the current feelings towards Shiffrin seem to trend more towards empathy and understanding than anger and disappointment. If you remain a Shiffrin supporter, or even if you’re a critic, you can read an excellent piece praising Shiffrin for all of the intangibles here.

Of course it would be unfair to place the responsibility of the U.S. Team’s success on just one athlete, especially when there were multiple factors that played into the disappointment of this year’s Games. Take for example Breezy Johnson, the second best Downhill racer on the FIS circuit this season, who ultimately made the difficult choice of sitting these games out due to recent injuries. Or Tommy Ford, who hadn’t raced since an injury back in January of 2021. Additional roster challenges came by way of the Olympic committee, whose rule changes forced the Men’s team only bringing 6 athletes to the games, resulting in only one athlete competing in the Slalom, and no athletes competing in the Alpine Combined event. The math here is simple: with limited participation in events, the odds for medaling are also quite limited.

Still, despite many factors being beyond the control of the U.S. Ski Team, some would argue that a hidden cause of these issues is a lack of roster depth and team strength, directly caused by a previous lack in focus of developing new athletes. In the recent golden era, in which the U.S. Team had a number of superstar athletes such as Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety, and Julia Mancuso, many are suggesting that too much focus was given to the current team while not enough attention was given to developing new athletes. While the current U.S. Men’s Team is young and full of promise, this year’s Olympic games highlight the fact that on the whole, they aren’t superstar caliber quite yet. In other words, because the U.S. Team didn’t maintain a consistent focus on developing talent, what we just witnessed was essentially poor timing between the proverbial changing of the guards.

Finally, on a closing note, while specific reasoning has yet to emerge, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Alpine Diretor, Jesse Hunt, has announced his resignation from the role that he’s held for the previous four years. We’ll likely learn more details about this decision in due time, but for now it feels like something of a ceremonial sacrifice as the troubles plaguing this year’s team either pre-date Hunt’s arrival, or come down to sheer luck. Still, the decision has been made, and you can read more about it here.

#2: As the Outdoor Retailer Show’s Contract With Denver Expires, Many Wonder if it Will Return to Salt Lake. The Answer Isn’t so Simple:

Top Five Fridays February 25, 2022: Outdoor Retailer Show Image

Denver Convention Center's iconic bear looks in on what might be the last Outdoor Retailer Show in Denver. Image: Outdoor Retailer on Facebook

Next up this week is interesting news regarding the Outdoor Retailer Show. Well, to be totally fair and transparent, this week’s highlight is actually coverage of a story that’s been growing in size in recent weeks, but that we’re just now getting to as we finally have a break in competitive coverage. For those unaware, prior to being acquired by the Outdoor Retailer Show back in 2018, the SIA Snowsports Show was one of the biggest events in the ski industry each year as vendors and retailers converged in Salt Lake City for the biggest trade show of the year. For many years, this show provided first glimpses at next year’s releases to shop buyers, as well as the general public as product images inevitably leaked their way onto the internet. Then, in 2017, early signs of trouble began brewing as many of the show’s flagship brands, spearheaded by Patagonia, boycotted the tradeshow as a result of Utah’s Governor, Spencer Cox, working in cahoots with former President Donald Trump to repeal the designation of Bears Ears National Monument as protected land. That fallout ultimately led to SIA selling its Snowsports show to Outdoor Retailer, who signed a 5 year contract with the city of Denver to host the annual event. At first, that transition went smoothly. Then, Covid-19 hit, forcing the in-person event to go online. That shift, along with conflicting opinions regarding the value in boycotting Utah, as well as an upcoming expiration of the Outdoor Retailer Show’s contract with Denver, has caused a scenario for the show in which participation has dropped dramatically and the importance of the event has shrunk.

This year, for the first time ever, the Outdoor Retailer Show was lacking the widespread support of the hardgoods industry. In every previous iteration, buyers could expect to see just about every ski brand imaginable at the show, from Atomic to Armada, Kastle to Volkl. Even small boutique brands would find a way to pay their way to the show in hopes of breaking into new markets. This year however, there were only a few ski brands in attendance, and none of the major players in the industry went. Instead, they found themselves attending a new show, the Winter Sports Market, which, you guessed it, was hosted in Salt Lake City. As a result, what we’re seeing play out at the moment is ultimately a situation in which there’s a division between outdoor brands in terms of how strong their political voices should be. In other words, the question is whether they should be more concerned with shunning Utah’s Governor for his involvement with the Bears Ears fiasco (a move which has since been repealed by President Joe Biden), or focused on what makes the best business sense for them: a unified show in Salt Lake City, where the cost of doing business simply makes better sense. That’s ultimately the question at hand here, and one with larger implications surrounding just how political outdoor brands should be when it comes to defending the lands and environments necessary for outdoor recreation. To learn much, much more about this issue, we recommend giving this recent article from the Colorado Sun a full read.

#3: While Sierra at Tahoe Continues to Recover From Last Summer’s Wildfire, Observers Wonder if They’re Creating a Blueprint More Resorts Will Have to Follow:

Top Five Fridays February 25, 2022: Sierra-at-Tahoe Repair Image

A dedicated mountain ops team is working tirelessly in an effort to reopen the resort before the season ends. Here, they work to restring a communications line up one of several damaged lifts. Image: Sierra-at-Tahoe

In other news this week, we unfortunately feel compelled to share a somber story coming to us from Sierra-at-Tahoe. As you might recall, this past summer the ski resort was directly hit by the Caldor wildfire which ripped through the resort’s property. When news first came out regarding the damage, there was quite a bit of optimism as early reports suggested that the resort had made it through without significant damage. Unfortunately, months later, we’ve come to learn that that’s not quite the case. In an article from Mercury News this week, we’re learning the full extent of the damage from the fire, as well as the incredible undertaking underway by resort staff who remain hopeful that they can reopen the resort before winter runs its course.

Before we dive into the current status of the resort, let’s recap what actually happened when the Caldor fire hit Sierra-at-Tahoe. In the days of the blaze, officials found themselves hoping that the resort itself would act as something of a firebreaker, with the trails and parking lots acting as natural barricades to halt the fire’s spread. As it turns out, while the parking lots do seem to have had a positive effect on stopping the fire, the trails proved to be no match as the fire easily jumped from trail to trail. As a result, the resort suffered an incredible amount of damage, with the fire consuming seven snowcats, a number of snowmobiles and snowblowers, damaging five of the resort’s nine ski lifts’ cables beyond repair, and requiring several of the lifts needing new communication lines installed. Despite these monetary losses, arguably the most devastating statistic coming out of this story is that roughly 80% of the resort’s vegetation was damaged in the event. There are several obvious reasons why that statistic is troublesome, ranging from the sheer destruction, to the loss of beloved ski terrain that will be forever changed. Logistically though, it also causes a number of questions and issues regarding who is responsible for repairing the land. While Sierra-at-Tahoe has insurance covering their equipment and facilities, there hasn’t been a way to insure the natural lands that they lease from the federal government. In addition to the financial questions, there’s also debate around who is responsible for cleaning up the mess itself, and what level of clear cutting should follow. Finally, on an entirely different note, there are also considerations and concerns surrounding the local businesses who rely on local traffic to the resorts to stay afloat. As we’ve mentioned many times here on Chairlift Chat, mountain communities are an economic ecosystem that rely heavily on the traffic that ski resorts bring to the mountains.

While the story surrounding Sierra-at-Tahoe itself is worthy of significant coverage and consideration, the unfortunate fact is that it’s likely to extend beyond the singular resort in the coming years. With wildfires on the rise and multiple near-misses in recent years, the saga unfolding at Sierra-at-Tahoe will likely become a blueprint for other resorts and the federal government to follow when such conflagration inevitably happens again. Hopefully when it does, the lessons learned from this story will both mitigate initial damage while also making the recovery process more efficient. To learn more about this story, check in with Mercury News. To follow along with the latest progress at Sierra-at-Tahoe, follow along with their blog.

#4: Worried That Overcrowded Ski Resorts Are the Only Way Forward? Breathe. Human Powered Skiing is Growing in Popularity:

Finally, we conclude our week in what we hope will be an uplifting way. In recent weeks and months, we’ve found ourselves inevitably discussing stories centered around overcrowding at ski resorts, most commonly at Epic resorts. Most recently, just two weeks ago, we shared an article from the New York Times that highlights the contrast between skiing’s desire to be more inclusive, with the overcrowding that resulted when Vail took steps towards their goal of “Epic for Everyone” by drastically reducing their season pass prices. The question prompted from that week’s highlight ultimately became, “how can we make skiing more accessible without causing overcrowding and ruining the skiing experience?” While there are likely many answers to that question, a pair of articles this week combine to suggest one possible solution: human powered skiing could make ski resorts one of just many popular venue options for skiers. Allow us to explain.

In the Washington Post this week, author Jen Rose Smith retells the story of a 3 day adventure she recently went on through Vermont’s 311-mile long Catamount Trail. While many would technically designate the trail as a cross country skiing trail, it’s also commonly used as access points for backcountry skiing. In fact, it actually runs right through our own backyard here in Stowe, and many of our staff members commonly use one of the local trailheads as a means of accessing an excellent backcountry zone. But back to Smith’s story. In her adventure, Smith and her team set out on a roughly 37 mile, 3 day tour, in which they hoped to traverse three sections of the Catamount Trail. In her retelling of the journey, Smith shares anecdotes from her experience, as well as some of the history and statistics of the trail. For us, the most noteworthy elements of the story were her mentions of solitude, at one point specifically referencing the contrast of the silence of the woods with the calamity of the ski resorts. Additionally, we found this piece significant for the fact that it isn’t the first of its kind that we’ve shared this season. As you might recall, we shared a similar piece written by David Goodman for the New York Times back in November, in which he recounts a similar story of traveling on Maine’s 100 mile hut-to-hut trail. From our vantage point, while both articles are excellent reads, the real story is that there’s clearly an uptick in interest in remote, human powered ski adventures that leave the crowded resorts far, far away. For those wondering how skiing can welcome higher participation numbers without experiencing further overcrowding, we’d argue that ski adventures such as these could be just one of many ways to disperse the crowds.

In other news this week, we also want to share with you an article from the New York Times that highlights Ski Mountaineering’s inclusion in the upcoming 2026 Winter Olympics. For those unfamiliar, Ski Mountaineering, or Skimo for short, is an event in which athletes are tasked with charging to the top of a hill and skiing back down, with the fastest times winning. In the Olympics, there will be two styles of Skimo: the sprint, and the individual event. In the sprint event, the course is reasonably short, roughly 100 meters, and the race times are measured in singular minutes. The individual event on the other hand, is a much longer event, involving three ascents and descents, with finishing times expected to be around an hour and a half. While we’re excited to see this new event in the next Olympics, our point in sharing this article with you today is to highlight yet another way in which human powered skiing is rising in popularity. With the Olympics coming up, the already burgeoning Skimo community has kicked into high gear, with participation steadily increasing. Here in Vermont, we have a strong Skimo community that actually makes great use of the aforementioned Catamount Trail network. Again, Skimo is proving to be another outlet for skiers to shy away from the crowds, ultimately creating more space to welcome new participants. You can learn more about the upcoming Olympic Skimo events here.

#5: And Now, Your Edits of the Week: Life Hasn’t Always Been Easy for Tatum Monod, But it’s All a Part of Her Passage:

Speaking of Paths and Passages, Enjoy the Story of Jimmy Petterson, One of the Last Great Ski Bums:

Walker “Shredz” Woodring is an 11 Year Old Freeskiing Phenom:

Kings and Queens of Corbets Top Five Men’s Runs:

Finally, Somehow We Missed the Premier of This Incredible Kung Fu Cut From the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, and it’s Something We Deeply Regret:

Written by Matt McGinnis on 02/25/22

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