#1: FIS Shares World Cup Scenario Insights and Decision Schedule:
Hello and welcome to the July 17, 2020 edition of Top Five Fridays! This week, we jump right into some updates from the FIS World Cup Circuit planning department:
Much like how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares, not all skiers are fans of team sports, although some of them are. If you happen to be the square type of skier in this analogy, then you’re certainly well aware of the fact that the world of organized sports has been living in a realm of uncertainty since just prior to the closure of ski resorts, when professional leagues were suspended indefinitely. With the end of Covid-19 nowhere in sight, many sports fans are wondering what will happen to the upcoming seasons, or if they’ll happen at all. If you’re a square skier who happens to follow ski racing, then you’ve likely found yourself wondering what will become of the 2020-2021 FIS World Cup Ski Racing season. There’s a chance that even if you’re a non-square, rectangular skier, you’ve wondered the same thing, but that’s really beside this exceptionally long-winded point.
All of this is to merely say that we’ve learned some new details from the FIS about some of the options they’re considering to help ensure a safe schedule for this upcoming season. The last time we checked in on this subject, we were hearing that the FIS was considering (although certainly not preferring) a version of the FIS circuit that would be confined to European athletes racing in European locations. This week, we caught a few headlines that suggest this idea is likely off the table, provided Europe allows travel from beyond its borders. The first indication that that’s the case, is the suggestion in this article from Ski Racing Magazine that discusses the possibility of splitting up speed and technical events, allowing athletes who specialize in certain fields to essentially stick together. That concept was brought to light in the revelation that the FIS is considering hosting only the Lake Louise and Beaver Creek speed events in North America, meaning the Killington stop would be cancelled this season. The benefit of doing that of course, is that only speed athletes would be forced to travel to North America. The good news with this anecdote is that it indicates the inclusion of U.S. athletes. The bad news is that the Killington stop, a crowd favorite, is almost certainly off the table. In addition to this scenario, we also learned more about strategies being considered for European stops to further reduce the need for travel between venues. One example of this is the report that Schladming might take over the Wengen slalom, hosting back to back races in one location rather than two. While a move like this would most certainly result in a number of logistical challenges, compromises, and peace offerings, it would ultimately achieve the goal of reducing travel and thereby the potential spread of the virus. At the moment, not much more is known in terms of finalized plans, but the goal is to have a determination regarding the involvement of North American venues by mid-August, with a finalized schedule by the end of September. For now, we’ll send you over to Ski Racing Magazine’s coverage to learn more.
#2: US Ski Team Announces Updates to its Project 26 Talent Pipeline Program:
In other ski racing news this week, we caught an article from the U.S. Ski Team (USST) that expands on a topic that we’ve found ourselves covering in recent weeks. If you’ve been following along, then you likely read about the ongoing, let’s call it a debate, between the USST and NCAA about the value of collegiate athletes. Ultimately that discussion hinges on the best way to create a development pipeline that generates the largest, most talented pool of athletes possible to represent the U.S. on the World Cup Circuit. While the debate between those two organizations is very much still ongoing, we learned this week about some updates that the USST has made to its own talent pipeline, the Project 26 initiative. Launched in 2017 after almost two years of research, Project 26 is an effort by the USST to provide resources and development tools to athletes in the 12-20 year old age range. At its outset, the program was set up so that two USST coaches, Sasha Rearick and Marjan Cernigoj, would work with club coaches to identify and develop their most promising athletes. Now, with this week’s announcement, the organization of the initiative has shifted slightly so that all athletes under the Project 26 umbrella are now in direct contact with the USST. In other words, athletes who were a part of Project 26 in recent years found themselves in a “half in, half out” type of position in regards to their involvement with the USST. Now, the distinction is clear: Project 26 athletes are a part of the USST and are being seen as a development team.
With this distinction, the USST hopes to be able to offer more direct training and opportunities for America’s most promising youth skiers. By bringing them fully into the fold, Project 26 team members will be able to more easily rise in the ranks from the D-team to the C,B, and ultimately A team. In parallel with this new upward mobility, Project 26 athletes will also be able to compete in the NorAm circuit (ie, against NCAA competition), further clarifying their abilities relative to their competition, as well as their path to rise in the ranks. As per usual, there’s plenty more to this story than we have the time and space to cover here, but if this kind of thing interests you then we highly recommend checking out the full writeup from the USST. If you do, keep the concept of the NCAA offering an alternative path to World Cup ski racing in the back of your mind, as that’s been a hot topic of conversation as of late.
#3: Spot Insurance Announces New $25/Month Injury Plan:
Next up this week is an exciting new insurance product that we can fully get behind. Yes, you read that right, we’re excited about insurance. But, only because this particular product takes a novel approach at solving a problem that we’re intimately aware of as inhabitants of a ski town. We’re talking of course about Spot, a new insurance company that offers injury coverage starting at just $25/month. Really, that’s the long and short of it. For $25 a month (or possibly slightly more depending on your location), Spot will cover up to $20,000 in medical expenses related to just about any injury. Of course, as is always the case, there are a number of exclusions, such as injuries resulting from “you fall, you die,” types of thrill-seeking, or injuries due to intoxication, but buy and large the Spot insurance program has your back in the event of injury. Additionally, while not an exclusion per say, it’s also worth noting that at present, Spot isn’t available in all states. After going through their signup process, we found 9 states where Spot insurance is unavailable, with a number of those unfortunately being in the Northeast.
Now, we realize we might be starting to sound like spokespeople for the brand at this point, but we promise we’re not. Really, this just seems like a pretty great solution for a problem that we’re well aware of. Living in a town like Stowe that’s full of ambitious skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers, hikers, etc., it’s not uncommon to know someone who’s participating in these sports without health insurance. While the goal is never to end up injured, sometimes that just happens, leaving the uninsured stuck making the decision between ignoring their injury, attempting to self-rehab using internet guidance, or accumulating significant medical debt. So, speaking from real world experience, we’ve got to say, this new insurance product seems like it could be a winner. To learn more about Spot and to see if it’s available in your neck of the woods, check out their official website.
#4: Loveland Ski Resort Approved to Add Nearly 600 Acres of Guided Cat Skiing:
Finally, we round out this week’s ski news with a story that we think most of our readers will find exciting. In Colorado, the United States Forest Service (USFS) has just given Loveland Ski Resort approval to operate guided snowcat tours in their Dry Gulch zone. In the approval, the USFS has allowed Loveland to provide access to roughly 580 acres of terrain, utilizing three different snowcat routes. Of these 580 acres, approximately one third is on terrain previously beyond the resort’s boundaries. With this new announcement, resort guests will also be allowed to access this new terrain whenever avalanche control efforts are not occurring. In other words, while the purpose of the new approval is primarily to give Loveland the ability to operate guided snowcat tours on this terrain, those skiing at the resort also stand to benefit as the scope of avalanche controlled side country has just been expanded by nearly 200 acres.
Perhaps what interests us most about this story though, is some of the rationale behind the decision. While in many cases money is the driving factor (and there’s certainly a chance that’s the case here), the USFS’s statement attributes a large part of their decision to the growing demand for backcountry access in the region. Noting the dangers associated with beginners or undereducated skiers and snowboarders in the backcountry, the USFS sees this approval as a way to provide backcountry access in a safe, controlled way. The indication of this statement is that guided snowcat tours can both alleviate the temptation of beginner backcountry enthusiasts to go straight to remote zones, as well as offer some entry level backcountry experiences in a safe environment. Then, once these skiers and riders have had a chance to experience backcountry skiing, they may feel compelled to continue developing their backcountry skills in a safe way. While there’s certainly plenty of room for debate in regards to whether or not that’s a reasonable theory, the fact that organizations are beginning to anticipate and facilitate further participation in backcountry skiing is something that we fully back. To learn more about this announcement, check out the writeup from OutThereColorado.com.
#4.5: Thank You to Our Australian Commenters & Farewell to OntheSnow.com:
Before we sign off for the week, we wanted to touch on two quick things. First and foremost, thank you to Doug Sceney and David Arnott, two of our Australian readers who took the time to comment on last week’s article and provide some additional insight into Vail’s involvement with the closure of lifts at Mt. Hotham and Fall’s Creek. While we do our best to cover stories affecting the global ski community, there’s simply no great way for us to understand the nuances behind every story, particularly when it’s happening on the other side of the world. When we covered the suspension of lift operations at these two resorts in last week’s recap, our coverage lacked some additional details, such as Vail only owning the resort’s lift operations, which were added by Doug and David in the comments section. Our sincere thanks to those two for helping both us and our readers better understand the situation from a local’s perspective. On a similar note, we encourage you to add your two cents to the comments of our articles whenever you feel compelled to, especially if they help bring new information to light.
Secondly, it’s with a tinge of sadness that we share the news that OntheSnow.com has been shut down this week. For those unfamiliar, the website was an incredible resource for reviewing snow and operating conditions at ski resorts worldwide. Here on Chairlift Chat, we often used the website, particularly in the Fall and Spring, to get a birds eye view on the status of ski resorts. Unfortunately, as announced on their website, they’ve encountered financial hardships in recent years, culminating with the impact of Covid-19. While there’s a chance that another company will choose to buy or partner with On the Snow, the site’s currently shut down for the foreseeable future. So with that, we bid farewell and offer a sincere thank you to all of the employees who worked on the most comprehensive ski resort status database to date.