#1: Looking to Strengthen its Position in the Sport, the U.S. Ski Team Announces the Creation of a Mogul Development Team:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the July 23, 2021 edition! This week, we’ve got a couple of highlights focusing on the competitive side of the sport, followed by a pair that focuses on the resort side of the industry. To start, we’re excited to share the news that the U.S. Ski Team has announced the formation of a new development program for their Freestyle Mogul team. Taking cues from existing development teams (aptly named D Teams), this new Mogul-centric D Team is focused on bridging the gap between regional clubs, and the national teams. Essentially, the way it works is by having regional clubs nominate their top athletes for the D Team. Once approved for the D Team, athletes will be invited to select USST prep camps, have access to the USANA Center of Excellence and Official Training Site Utah Olympic Park, and have access to a number of services to educate and support athletes on their professional journeys. The hope is that by providing the most promising athletes access to these tools, they’ll both be able to accelerate their development as well as build relationships with USST coaches. To kick off the initial season of this program, Vail, Colorado’s Elizabeth Lemley, Park City’s Ali Macuga, Walnut Creek’s Dylan Marcellini, and Park City’s Cole McDonald have all been added to the D Team. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this program as it progresses, but for now, we’ll simply wish these four initial athletes the best of luck as they progress their mogul skiing careers! To learn more about this new program, check out the announcement from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team.
#2: It’s Official: The IOC Unanimously Approves Ski Mountaineering for the 2026 Winter Olympics:
In other competitive ski news, we’ve got a big announcement this week: Ski Mountaineering has been officially approved for the 2026 Winter Olympics! We first shared this topic just about a month ago when we learned that the International Olympics Committee (IOC) would be holding a vote regarding whether or not to include the sport in the 2026 games. At that time, the outlook was promising as the vote was coming on the heels of a successful trial at the 2020 Youth Winter Olympics. Still, the inclusion wasn’t certain until the IOC unanimously voted to include the sport in 2026. As a recap, that means there will be 5 ski mountaineering events: Men’s and Women’s Individual and Sprint events (4 events total), as well as a mixed-gender relay event. In the individual events, athletes will start simultaneously as they race across mountainous terrain, passing through checkpoints along the way. This is the longest of the disciplines, with race times expected to be between 1.5 - 2 hours. It’s also arguably the most dynamic of all disciplines as it’ll require athletes to manage both the endurance aspects of the race, as well as more technical details such as how they choose to transport their equipment and the speed of their transitions,which could ultimately have a large impact on the result of the race. In other words, this discipline puts an emphasis on a number of factors beyond simple speed, making it one of the more entertaining disciplines to watch. The other race format, the sprint discipline, is likely what you expect: individuals will race one at a time on a much shorter course, with finish times coming in at about 3 minutes. The mixed gender relay event is based on the sprint format, with 4 athletes each completing the sprint, the winner being the team with the shortest total time. While the games themselves will be exciting to watch, their inclusion opens the door wider for a sport that’s continuing to gain traction, and whose future looks bright, especially considering the rise of uphill skiing on the whole. To learn more about this, check out the writeup from Summit Daily.
#3: Ski Resorts Beginning to See Effects of Labor Shortages, Prompting Event Cancellations and Wage Increases:
Next up this week, we have a pair of highlights that bring to attention a topic that’s already impacted many industries, one of which is now the ski industry. That topic, unfortunately, is the labor shortage. Fortunately though, this particular issue brings with it more than just bad news. That said, that’s where we’ll start; with the bad news. Due to a lack of employees, Snowbasin has been forced to cancel most of its Blues, Brews, and BBQ summer concert series. Prior to the pandemic, this concert series showcased great music, food, and beer to guests over the course of several summer weekends. This summer, the event was set to return with a slate of 6 concerts running from August 1st, through September 5th. Unfortunately however, due to a lack of applicants for positions required to host the series, Snowbasin has been forced to cancel all but the first date of the event. Looked at independently, this highlight may not seem like ski news persay, but when you consider the bigger picture, you begin to see a larger trend that could lead to continued difficulties for ski resorts in the months and year ahead.
Keeping that in mind, we have another highlight that touches on this same topic: Deer Valley, Park City, and all of Vail resorts have officially announced a $15 minimum wage for all non-tipped employees. While we briefly mentioned this update back in the middle of June, we caught an article this week from Park City’s Park Record that provides some further context surrounding the importance of this decision. To really understand the impact, as well as the benefits that ski resorts hope to see from the wage increase, we have to consider two things: the ongoing labor shortage, as well as the cost of living in the Park City area. Thinking about these two topics, it’s easy to understand that one reason that ski areas may be struggling to hire employees during a labor shortage, is simply because they don’t compensate well enough for employees to afford living in the area. This is a topic we’ve discussed countless times here on SkiEssentials, but what it really boils down to is this: living the ski bum lifestyle is becoming increasingly difficult as wages haven’t maintained the same rate of increase as the cost of living. While it’s yet to be seen whether or not Vail’s wage increase will have an impact on this dynamic, the best case scenario that many are hoping for is that by raising wages at ski resorts, it’ll put pressure on other local businesses to raise their starting wages as well, thereby enabling local residents to earn a living wage. To learn more about this, check out the report from the Park Record.
#4: The Indy Pass Adds Four New Resorts, Bringing Their Roster to 72:
Finally, we round out this week’s news with yet another update from the Indy Pass. While this pass continues to make news on a regular basis as it adds more resorts to its offering, it still feels like it’s lesser known than it should be. As such, we’ll provide a brief overview of the concept before moving on to this week’s additions. If you’re already familiar with the Indy Pass, feel free to jump ahead. If you’re not, here’s what you need to know: the Indy Pass is a multi-pass offering that allows you to ski for 2 days at any one of its now 72 resorts for the low price of just $249/season. Aimed primarily at attracting skiers who ski between 4-10 days per year, the Indy Pass is a cost effective way for skiers to experience multiple resorts each season for less than the cost of traditional lift tickets. While it’s not their target market, the Indy Pass is also an outstanding choice for skiers who would rather travel and check out multiple resorts each season rather than calling one singular mountain home. So far, the strategy is paying off in a big way as the pass continues to grow in popularity amongst both resorts and consumers.
This week, the Indy Pass continued making steps towards accomplishing its mission of making skiing more accessible by adding another four midsize resorts in geographically diverse regions. On the East Coast, the Indy Pass has just announced the addition of Titus Mountain in the Northern Adirondacks of New York, as well as Eastern Pennsylvania’s Montage Mountain. On the West Coast, Snow Valley Mountain Resort in California and Alberta Canada’s Ski Marmot Basin have also joined the club. With the addition of these four resorts, the Indy Pass has further strengthened its geographic diversity, which was already strong in all regions of the U.S.. While traveling skiers may not be the pass’s target market, the volume of participating resorts and their locations certainly make it possible for casual skiers to at least begin considering a ski vacation. For those aware of the trend of decreasing participation in skiing and snowboarding amongst younger generations, this level of access at an affordable price could prove to be something of a gateway pass for those just beginning to fall in love with the sports. To learn more about the Indy Pass, as well as these latest additions, check out their official website.