#1: FIS Updates - Former President Gian Franco Kasper Has Passed Away, New Liason Office Opened in Beijing:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the July 16, 2021 edition! This week we kick things off the same way we always try to- by checking in on the latest from the world of FIS! On that front, it was a bittersweet week as we caught some bad news, as well as some positive news. First, the bad news: Former FIS President Gian Franco Kasper passed away this week. If you’ve been reading Top 5 Fridays recently, you’re well aware that the FIS has very recently elected a new president after Gian Franco Kasper decided to step down before his term was set to end in 2022. Originally, Kasper’s plan was to resign in the Summer of 2020, however, due to Covid, he extended his tenure by a year, ultimately resigning at the start of June 2021. Now, just over a month after retiring, Kasper has succumbed to a medical condition that first brought him to the hospital just days before the June 4th congress in which Johan Eliasch was elected. In other words, just to be clear, Kasper maintained his role as FIS President up until the day he went to the hospital, and within a month and a half of his death. While his later years in the role of president created moments of controversy, his commitment to the position is absolutely commendable. It should also be noted that of his 77 years of life, 46 were in roles serving the FIS, with 23 years in the role of president. Additionally, Kasper also served on the International Olympic Committee from 2000-2018, serving on numerous subcommittees during this time. While his later years saw him making controversial comments in regards to climate change and the ability of women to compete in certain sports such as ski jumping, many would agree that Kasper’s tenure as FIS president was a net-positive for competitive winter sports. To learn more about Gian Franco Kasper’s life and death, check out this article from the FIS, or this article celebrating his life, also from the FIS.
In other FIS news this week, we have a bit of a followup update from last week, when we briefly shared the news that the organization had formed a group focused on growing the sport in China. This week, we’ve learned that in an effort to accomplish that goal, the organization has opened a liaison office in Beijing. The goal in establishing this office is to form a quicker line of communication between the FIS and Chinese organizations focused on promoting winter sports ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. While the motivation for China is to show the world that they can be competitive in winter sports, the goal for the FIS is equally as simple: to further grow their market, ideally by the 300 million people that China hopes to engage. By establishing this office in Beijing, the FIS hopes to create a clear and continuous line of communication that will ultimately bring them a clearer understanding of the unique needs and challenges presented by growing winter sports in China, enabling them to be better suited to address and meet these needs. Of course only time will tell whether or not this endeavor will pay off, so for now we’ll defer you to the FIS website to learn more.
#2: The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Announces its New Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan:
In other competitive ski news this week, we’re excited to bring you a highlight from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team, where a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Action Plan has just been unveiled. Over the course of the past year, the world, the United States, and winter sports have all faced a racial reckoning as inequalities that have existed for centuries have finally been thrust into the spotlight in a way that’s unprecedented and unignorable. While this topic could obviously be discussed endlessly, especially in the widest scope, for our purposes here on Chairlift Chat, we’ll be focusing on skiing’s role in the movement. With that in mind, it’s with great excitement that we share with you some details from this newly unveiled action plan, which is setup to take concrete actions towards bringing greater diversity, equity, and inclusion to winter sports.
Before we even start sharing some of the highlights from this plan, we want to start by saying that, as is often the case, we won’t have the space to do this document justice here on Top Five Fridays. As such, we recommend taking a look at the document in full. Before you do however, we’ll give you the bird’s eye view, and share some of the highlights here. First and foremost, one of the things that immediately stuck out about this document, is the introduction to it which is rife with self awareness and an acknowledgement of a history that lacks both diversity, as well as real effort to encourage it. From there, the document shares a bit about how it came to be, including a review of DEI activities dating back to 2017, as well as information regarding who prepared this new action plan. Then, with the context set, we finally get into the details of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team’s DEI strategy through 2024. In this section, we see 6 categories of actions the USST plans on taking. We won’t cover each one individually here, but we will say that there are two themes that stand out from the list: outreach and representation. As we’ve heard before, two of the largest reasons why skiing and snowboarding have remained predominately white, is because there’s a disappointing amount of outreach to non-white communities, as well as a lack of representation of non-white athletes involved in the sport. To counteract these issues, the USST plans on rolling out a number of strategies that both highlight and promote non-white athletes currently involved in the sports, while also creating opportunities for involvement. While it’s too soon to say whether these endeavors will result in real change, they should at the very least further the conversation in regards to the diversification of ski culture.
Now, before we close out this highlight, I personally would like to acknowledge that as a white author, it’s not my place to say whether or not this document meets the needs or expectations of any non-white community. That said, it does feel like a strong step in the right direction, and one that has the potential to result in real change. To form your own opinion on the matter, we recommend reading the document in full here, or the press release announcing the document here. Additionally, we’d like to remain open to learning about this issue so that we here at SkiEssentials can also be a part of the solution. If you have any comments, suggestions, or opinions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment. We would love to create a discussion regarding this incredibly important issue.
#3: Judge Dismisses Alterra’s Effort to Dismiss Lawsuits Against Their Abbreviated Covid Season:
In other news this week, we’re bringing you an update that slipped past us in last week’s recap. As you may be aware, both Alterra Mountain Co. (Ikon Pass) and Vail Resorts (Epic Pass) are facing lawsuits over their abrupt ski resort closures in March 2020 due to the coronavirus. While a vast majority of skiers have been understanding of the circumstances and happily accepted the discounts offered by both organizations for the 2020-2021 season, a small group of pass holders have separately sued each organization. In both instances, Alterra and Vail filed motions to dismiss the cases, in essence saying that their hands were forced into shutting down the resorts due to the pandemic. While we’re not experts in legal matters here at SkiEssentials, this train of thought seems logical. That said, we learned this week that a judge in Colorado has found enough credibility in the plaintiff’s arguments to reject Alterra’s dismissal attempt, ultimately allowing the case to go to court.
In short, the crux of the argument is this: in the Alterra Pass Holder agreement, it’s stated that pass holders had “unlimited access” for the “complete ski season.” As such, when the resorts closed down while conditions for skiing remained, pass holders were denied both of these agreed upon clauses. Making the case against Alterra even stronger is the fact that Rusty Gregory CEO explicitly stated that guests, “didn’t get what they paid for,” a fact that the judge in this case acknowledged. Furthermore, while the state of Colorado did force resorts to close, Alterra’s decision to then close all of its resorts, regardless of regional regulations, suggests that the business denied access to some of its resorts at a time when there wasn’t any legal reason that would require them to do so. Finally, the real bottom line in the plaintiff’s argument is the fact that compensation for the early closures was offered in the form of a discount on next season’s passes rather than a pro-rated refund based on the amount of season that passholders expected to be able to use their passes for.
What all of this really adds up to is that while a majority of skiers have been understanding of the circumstances, the reality is that, legally speaking, both Alterra and Vail may in fact be in legal violation of their pass holder agreement. While this week’s news means that the Alterra case will ultimately see its day in court, the case against Vail is still being reviewed, with Vail’s attempt at dismissal very much still in play. What’s particularly interesting to note with this situation, is that it’s entirely possible that one ruling could affect the other as a legal precedent would be set, or, it’s equally possible that slight differences in the pass holder agreement could result in different rulings for each company. With that in mind, there’s seemingly equal odds that both companies could face the same fate, or that one could win its case while the other loses. If the second outcome were to come to fruition, it could have significant implications on the landscape of ski resort ownership. To learn more about the latest in the case against Alterra, click here. To learn more about Vail’s current position, click here. You can also read the judge’s official statement regarding the ruling against Alterra’s dismissal attempt here.
#4: From Rope Tow to Travel Destination: The Story of Alyeska’s Development:
Finally, we end this week on a much lighter note as we share with you a letter to the editor of the Anchorage Daily News that was published this week. Now, typically we don’t share letters to the editor as they’re often one person’s opinion and don’t quite fit into the category of news. In this case however, it’s the middle of July and we thought this letter from the longtime general manager of Alyeska Resort in Alaska would be a fun way to round out this week’s recap. In his letter, Chris von Imhof details the history of the resort, as well as his role in its development over the course of over 40 years. While Alyeska is one of Alaska’s premier ski resorts today, it wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, the resort was nothing more than a vision shared by a group of local skiers in the late 1950’s. At that time, the enthusiastic locals managed to build a road to the base of Mount Alyeska where they installed a couple of rope tows. Unfortunately, that was all they could afford, but noting the potential of the mountain, they decided to find an investor. Soon enough they tracked down Francois de Gunzburg, a skier living in Colorado by way of Chamonix, France. After seeing the mountain, Gunzburg was so impressed that he agreed to invest, funding the creation of a mountain top lodge as well as the installation of a Poma platter lift and a 5,500’ long double chair - one of the largest in the U.S. at the time.
After this initial round of investment, Alyeska was able to get off the ground, slowly making its entrance into the ski world by hosting events like the U.S. National Alpine Ski Championships in 1963. Unfortunately, the resort was still struggling to prosper as its clientele was primarily local Alaskans. Enter Chris von Imhof, an Alaskan skier who also happened to be the state’s director of tourism. Seeing the potential for the resort, and its ability to attract tourists from Canada, the lower 48 states, and the world over, Imhof convinced the CEO of Alaska Airlines to buy the resort in 1967. Over the course of the next 13 years, from 1967-1980, Imhof, now working as general manager of the resort, helped build the resort into an attractive destination for traveling skiers. During this period, the resort added multiple chairlifts, lodges, restaurants, condos, and more. Then, in 1980, Imhof managed a transaction that saw the resort change hands from Alaska Airlines, to a Japanese company called Seibu/Prince Hotels. The owner of that company, Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, was the richest man in the world at the time. As such, he invested heavily in the resort from 1980 - 2006, ultimately making it one of the most noteworthy resorts in the U.S., and in Alaska in particular. Finally, in 2006, Tsutsumi decided to sell the resort yet again, and Imhof decided to call it a career after over 40 years of working with and developing the resort. Since then, new owners have continued development efforts and Alyeska continues to be a top destination for passionate skiers. All in all, it’s a pretty interesting story, and it’s not often that we get a behind the scenes look into how a resort grew from a simple rope tow, to a full blown destination resort. Of course, as always, there’s plenty of great details from this story that we didn’t get a chance to share, so we’d highly recommend giving the original piece a read in full.