Top 5 Friday January 13, 2023: Lead Image

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Top Five Fridays: January 13, 2023

Lead Image: As evidenced by the photo taken on December 16, 2022, Mammoth Mountain has been a bonafide snowglobe for well over a month, resulting in historic snowfall. More on that, as well as this winter’s boom or bust weather pattern, below. Image: Mammoth Mountain on Facebook

#1: FIS World Cup Ski Racing Recap: Shiffin Ties Vonn’s Record, Comes .43 Seconds Short of Surpassing it:

Watch this official FIS highlight video from the Kranjska Gora giant slalom race in which Mikaela Shiffrin tied Lindsey Vonn’s FIS gold medal record.

Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the January 13, 2023 edition! We’ve got a familiar feeling issue for you this week, as many of the themes we’ve been discussing the last few weeks and months have continued to dominate the headlines. At the top of that list, as per usual, is an update from the world of FIS Alpine ski racing, and Mikaela Shiffrin in particular. Coming into this week, Shiffrin had 81 World Cup victories to her name- one behind Lindsey Vonn, and 5 behind Ingemar Stenmark. With three races on the schedule, it was everyone’s hope that this would be the week in which she would surpass Vonn. So, how did she do?

The week started off for the women’s circuit with a giant slalom race in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia on January 7th. In that race, Shiffrin finished tied for 6th, while her teammate Paula Moltzan finished in a tie for 19th. While it wasn’t the record tying race that many had hoped for, Shiffrin’s performance was still admirable and earned her 40 giant slalom points, a discipline in which she’s currently 2nd overall and just 25 points behind first place. A day later, the women competed again in a giant slalom race at Kranjska Gora, this time resulting in a first place finish for Shiffrin, a 9th place finish for Paula Moltzan, and a 25th place finish for Nina O’Brien. With that race, Mikaela Shiffrin officially tied Lindsey Vonn for the most World Cup wins ever by a female alpine ski racer. With the third race on last week’s schedule being Mikaela’s specialty, a slalom in Flachau, Austria, many wondered, and hoped, that Tuesday would be the day that Shiffrin broke Vonn’s record. As it turns out, Mikaela was able to come within half a second of breaking the record, but unfortunately finished the race in second place behind Petra Vlhova. Also finishing in the top 5 in that race for Team America though, was Paula Moltzan, who is putting together an incredibly impressive season with consistently high ranking results. In the week ahead, the women’s circuit is in St. Anton, Switzerland for a pair of super g races. While this isn’t Shiffrin’s top discipline, it’s worth noting that she’s still plenty capable of winning, having done exactly that in the most recent super g race this year. To preview that schedule of events, click here.

On the men’s side of things, the world cup calendar presented a giant slalom and slalom race in Adelboden, Switzerland last Saturday and Sunday. Of those two races, the giant slalom was the better result for the U.S. Team as River Radamus finished in 22nd, and Tommy Ford earned 27th. In the slalom race, Benjamin Ritchie rounded out the points with a 26th place finish. While last weekend’s results didn’t turn out to be the strongest of the year for the men’s team, this weekend’s races show more promise as the men’s circuit is already underway in Wengen, Switzerland, where a super g, downhill, and slalom race are being held. The two speed races this weekend play into the U.S. team’s strengths, with early results already showing promise. To preview the races in Wengen, click here.

#2: La Niña Continues to Make Her Presence Known on a Global Scale, Although Her Grip May Be Loosening:

Want to wrap your head around what’s been going on with the weather, and why it might change? Check out this report from Meteorologist Chris Tomer who does an excellent job breaking down the variables, and keeping his forecasts up to date.

For better or worse, which depends heavily on where you’re located, ski news was absolutely dominated for the third consecutive week by one story: the weather. In most years, we try not to talk too much about the weather as it’s a bit too regional for our liking, having relevance to some of our readership, but not all. This year though, in the third year of La Niña, the weather pattern that’s dominating the Northern Hemisphere, is anything but regional. At this point you’re well aware of the storyline here: California, Utah, and Colorado have been blessed by the snow gods, with an atmospheric river setting up shop back in December and refusing to move, leading to storm after storm to start the season. As a result, these areas, and especially California, have seen historic amounts of precipitation. Nowhere is this more evident than at Mammoth Mountain, where the resort has already seen 310” of snow on the season, and currently has a 230” base at the summit. For comparison’s sake, the 2021-2022 season brought the resort 233” of snow in total. In other words, this season is already roughly 1.5x last year’s snowfall, with another storm currently underway in the region. While this is likely the most eye popping example, the fact of the matter is that this stalled atmospheric river has been delivering constant, significant snow to California, Utah, and Colorado.

For as good as it’s been in the West though, things have been downright dreadful in other parts of the world due to the stalled system. Here in the Northeast, things have been either bone dry or liquid wet as the events which could’ve produced snow have instead occurred with temperatures just above the 32 degree mark. Looking back at our Top Five Fridays report from August 26, 2022, it’s easy to see why this season has started the way it has. At that time, we shared a map showing how La Niña tends to enter the United States from the Northwest corner of Washington, blessing the Pacific Northwest with considerable snow while leaving the Sierras and Central Rockies in a bit of a no-man’s land. On the East Coast, we were expected to get precipitation, but whether it would come as snow or rain depended heavily on temperatures. As this season’s played out, what we’ve seen is the atmospheric river enter the United States further to the South, and more perpendicular than expected. That’s resulted in the Sierras and Rockies getting blasted, the Pacific Northwest receiving appetizers of snow, but far fewer main courses, and the East Coast receiving air just warm enough to relegate our precipitation to rain.

In Europe, where La Niña produces similarly dry, mild temperatures, the season has been even worse, with so many ski areas unable to open that mainstream media is producing a slew of articles each week regarding the dire situation there. Those headlines were underscored this week by the cancellation of an FIS Men’s Downhill race scheduled for Garmisch, Germany on January 28th. It goes without saying that canceling an FIS race at the end of January due to a lack of snow is absolutely unheard of. So, while California, Utah, and Colorado are having a truly epic season, it’s coming at a cost to the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. Of course climate change does play a part in this situation, but being able to tie the dour start of the season for most of the world to a freak weather pattern brings at least some peace of mind that the season could turn around and that this isn’t a guarantee of what skiing will be like in years to come. For proof of this assertion, just read this recap of the 2017-2018 season at Mad River Glen here in Vermont, which started in much the same way due to La Niña, but ended with some of the deepest snow the area’s ever seen.

On that note, before wrapping this highlight up, we want to quickly mention that, fortunately or unfortunately depending on where you are, it’s beginning to look like weather patterns may change as meteorologists are predicting an end to the current atmospheric river that’s been blasting the Sierra’s and Rocky Mountains, as the weather pattern looks to be shifting to the North. In about a week’s time, a new pattern will develop, sending a flow of moisture heading in a southeastern direction, across the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies. When that happens, the disruption may result in storms popping up in the midwest which could finally bring some much needed reprieve to the Northeast. From there, it’s anyone’s guess what happens in February, March, and April. As we pointed out in our August 26th update, La Niña tends to be a late Fall and early Winter weather pattern, which means there’s a strong chance that the second half of winter will bring significantly different weather. While we love to see what’s happening in California, Utah, and Colorado, we can’t help but feel a little excited about the possibility of finally seeing snow in other parts of the world.

#3: Salt Lake City, Several Ski Resorts, and Local Tourism Agencies Partner Up to Fund Private Bus Company to Provide Canyon Transportation:

Top Five Fridays January 13, 2023: UDOT Ski Bus Image

With Utah’s ski buses in high demand, multiple groups have joined together to fund additional service from local transportation company “Snow Country Limousine” to provide additional transportation for snow seekers. Image: UDOT Cottonwood Canyons on Facebook

Next up in ski news this week, we’ve got a story coming out of Salt Lake that offers an interesting solution to the ongoing traffic congestion issue in the area’s access roads. Now, to fully appreciate this story, we’ll have to tie together a few different storylines that have all converged to bring added importance to this week’s news. At the top of that list is the ongoing issue itself, where traffic congestion in both Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon has become unbearable in recent years. As a result, accessing resorts like Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, and Solitude, as well as numerous backcountry access points, has become incredibly difficult, putting a dark cloud over Utah’s ski scene and potentially discouraging tourism. As such, the city of Salt Lake and the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) have been working to find a solution, with the current front runner being a gondola that runs the length of Little Cottonwood Canyon. While that’s the option being promoted by city officials, locals vehemently disagree with the idea, and prefer options that involve an increased use of public transportation options. Consider that the basis of this story as we pile on two more subplots that contribute to this week’s actual update.

Despite the public’s desire for increased public transportation in Utah’s canyons, UDOT announced in September this year that, due to a lack of capable bus drivers, they were forced to reduce the number of ski buses operating this year. Compounding that issue, as we learned in highlight #2 this week, Utah has been having an excellent snow year, making it one of the top destinations for those in the U.S. seeking reprieve from a dry winter. In other words, the situation in Utah is currently this: already congested access roads have increased the demand for public transportation, while the city has reduced the availability of public transportation to ski areas due to staffing shortages, while at the same time, weather conditions (as well as multipasses) have promoted an influx of snow-tourists to the area. The result, as you might guess, has been an absolute mess, particularly in the world of Utah’s ski buses.

Enter, this week’s news: the city of Salt Lake has just announced a partnership with Snow Country Limousine to operate a program called Cottonwood Connect. This program, which is being supported by $240,000 in government funding as well as additional contributions from Visit Salt Lake, the Salt Lake Transit Authority, and the resorts themselves, will create a new ski bus route that will operate on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and on holidays. This new bussing option will create access to the four canyon resorts, and hopes to add capacity for up to 1,120 passengers per week once it’s operating at full capacity. In order to use these services, riders will need to buy a $10 ticket ahead of time, reserving their spot on the bus. While this solution won’t fix the entirety of the issue, we do applaud those involved for finding a creative way to alleviate the problem in the immediate future. Noting that the reason for the reduction in ski buses this year was due to a staffing shortage, it makes great sense to work with a local, private company that has the staff to take on the demand. It also has us thinking, and wondering, about more solutions like this, where the private and public sectors work together to solve the transportation issue. That is capitalism after all: where there’s a problem, there’s a business opportunity. We’ll have to wait and see how this turns out before coming to any strong conclusions, so for now, check out the latest update from Deseret News.

#4: Indy Pass and Native Camper Vans Join Forces to Create an Affordable Winter Van Life Opportunity:

Finally, we end this week’s news recap with a cool story and opportunity for those of you who are tired of waiting for the snow to come to you. While we’re admittedly a few weeks behind on this one, we finally came across an announcement made in December by the Indy Pass that seems like it could be of particular interest to some of you given the way the season’s gone. This year, in partnership with Native Campervans, Indy Pass holders can rent a camping van for a discounted price that also comes with essential winter van camping essentials, including snow tires or chains, winter sleeping bags, a heater, and more. With locations in Utah, Colorado, and California, and with nightly rates at or below $135/night, this partnership could actually be a pretty sweet deal for the right person. According to the Native Campervan website, there’s 10 Indy Pass resorts within range of their locations, including notable destinations like Bluebird Backcountry in Colorado, and Powder Mountain in Utah. Whether you’re an Indy Pass holder who’s had it with the weather in your area, or you’re someone who’s simply interested in experiencing what winter van life might be like, this feels like the perfect opportunity to try something new and to take advantage of the variable conditions here in the U.S. To learn more, check out the announcement from the Indy Pass, or the official information page from Native Campervans.

#5: And Now, Your Edits of the Week: In “The FIFTY 41/50,” We See How Climate Change is Impacting Big Mountain Skiing:

“Tight But Loose” is an 18 Minute Long Ski Film That’s Exactly What it Says it is:

“Fairly Mellow” is a Fairly Enjoyable Edit from Some Talented Local Skiers in British Columbia:

Finally, Take a Trip to Mt. Hood With the Faction Team for Some Springtime Booters:

Written by Matt McGinnis on 01/13/23

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