#1: Checking in on FIS President Johan Eliasch’s First Month:
Greetings! Welcome to Top 5 Fridays, July 9, 2021 edition! This week we find ourselves discussing a handful of international topics, as rule and regulation changes in both Europe and South America have resulted in some significant ski headlines. We’ll get to that in a second, but first let’s have our semi-regular FIS check in. As you know if you’ve been following along this Summer, the FIS recently held an election to find a new President whose tenure is guaranteed for one year before being up for reelection in the Summer of 2022. Combined with the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, this puts the organization, who’d previously had just four presidents in its entire 97 year history, as well as the new president in an unprecedented position. Ultimately, it was former HEAD CEO Johan Eliasch and his plan to grow the FIS’s audience that won the bid. Now, with that election taking place just about a month ago, the FIS has treated us to a couple of articles this week sharing news and highlights from Eliasch’s first month.
To start that conversation, we’ll share with you a quick Q&A from the FIS where Eliasch shares his view on what’s gone down in his first month, as well as his hopes for the remainder of the Summer. In this quick article there’s really two standout anecdotes. First, when asked what he considered to be the most important step that he’s taken in his first month, Eliasch’s response was, “Without a doubt, the most important action we have taken thus far is agreeing to hold an Extraordinary Congress on 22nd September. This will allow us to deliver on my manifesto commitments for governance proposals and generally updating our Statutes.” Reading between the lines, this statement shows us quite a bit about his leadership style. Eliasch is clearly a man who wants to get things done, and looks to ensure that happens by setting deadlines that force the organization to be accountable for fulfilling their action plans on a rapid deadline. Secondly, within that same answer, Eliasch also mentioned the formation of the Working Groups and Committees concept, which brings an organized structure and focus to several areas of the FIS. While Eliasch may consider his ability to firmly schedule an organization-wide meeting for September 22nd his largest accomplishment, we’re inclined to think that this new Working Groups and Committees concept is even more impressive and important.
In a second article shared by the FIS this week, we learned more details about the specific focuses of this new Groups and Committees plan. In total, there were nine committees established, covering topics ranging from organizational reviews, to overall marketing efforts and focuses on specific sports that are primed for growth. We won’t get into the details of each and every committee here, but a few that caught our attention are the China Working Group, which aims to discover ways to grow FIS sports in China, as well as working groups for Nordic Skiing, Alpine Skiing, and Freestyle Skiing, Snowboarding, and Freesking. All three of these groups are focused on discovering ways to continue growing participation and competition within their respective disciplines. Finally, the last working group we feel compelled to highlight is the Advisory Group, which will likely be made up of sports marketing professionals from beyond the FIS that will be tasked with exploring ways to grow the presence of FIS sports in mainstream markets. All in all, it’s looking like Johan Eliasch is off to an excellent start in his role as president of the FIS, and if he keeps this pace through the remaining 11 months of his term, odds are that he’ll remain president for another 48. To read more about Eliasch’s take on his first month on the job, click here. To learn more about the nine new working groups, click here.
#2: In a Post Brexit, Post Pandemic World, French Ski Resorts Unable to Hire British Workers:
In other international ski news this week, we caught an article from the French publication The Local that describes a new wave of issues hitting French ski resorts. As you might recall, resorts in this country had an incredibly difficult time last year as the French government enacted some of the strictest Covid policies in the world. While skiers in European countries such as Switzerland and Austria were able to get on the slopes, albeit in limited capacity, France forced ski resorts to remain closed, effectively cancelling the country’s ski season. Now, much like the U.S., French ski resorts are looking to move on from the difficult year and set their sights on a successful 2021-2022 season. Unfortunately though, as we learned this week, that task is already running into challenges as Britain’s exit from the E.U. has resulted in a crunch on the availability of seasonal workers.
In order to best understand this situation, let’s start by relating it to the H-2B and J-1 visa programs here in the U.S. As you might already be aware, these two programs exist to allow international seasonal workers to live and work in the U.S. for an extended period of time. For ski resorts, these visa programs are crucial when it comes to filling seasonal labor positions, and there was significant concern last season when the two programs were temporarily suspended on account of Covid.
We bring all of this up because a very similar situation is currently playing out between France and Britain, where the U.K.’s recent exit from the E.U. has resulted in businesses and would-be seasonal workers having to navigate a far more complex set of regulations than they’re used to. Prior to Brexit, the U.K. was included under the E.U.’s Freedom of Movement agreement, which allows any citizen of the E.U. to travel and work freely amongst member nations. Now, in a post-Brexit world, British citizens are required to apply for both a visa and a work permit if they want to live and work in the E.U. for over 90 days. Considering the typical length of the ski season in France is well beyond 90 days, and is bookended by holiday seasons, French resorts are largely uninterested in hiring 90 day employees. As such, in order to hire British workers, they would have to go through a series of procedures that would involve efforts to ensure that they cannot fill the positions with E.U. citizens, while also requiring their applicants to apply for visas and work permits which are far from guaranteed to be approved. In other words, it’s simply not in the best interest of French ski resorts to worry about hiring workers from the U.K. The result of all of this is that unfortunately, for the time being, British skiers and snowboarders no longer have the same opportunities to travel and experience winters in Europe. While organizations such as the U.K.’s Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBIT) are working to modify these regulations to enable Britons to work seasonally in the E.U. again, at least for the moment, the situation remains frustrating for both British workers and French ski resorts alike. To learn more about this issue, give the article from The Local a full read.
#3: Skiing Returns to South America After a Forced 16 Month Hiatus:
Next up this week is our third piece of international ski news: ski resorts in South America are finally reopening after being forced to miss the entirety of last season, as well as the start of this one. After a 16 month long stretch of being forced into inactivity, ski resorts in both Chile and Argentina are finally reopening utilizing similar approaches and logic as used here in the U.S. last season. While these two countries are still in the midst of navigating their way out of the pandemic, and the emergence of the Delta variant has resulted in ongoing concerns, ski resorts are being allowed to operate as reasonable protocols greatly reduce the risk of spreading the virus in that environment. In the words of Valle Nevado manager Ricardo Margulis, “Skiing is a sport that is naturally socially-distanced… You can't go near someone who is skiing or on a snowboard or you would crash into them. So there is no risk of contagion." Leveraging this logic, ski resorts finally convinced their respective governments to allow for the reopening of lifts, and locals couldn’t be more thrilled. Unfortunately, the borders remain closed in both nations, so if you were hoping this meant you had a chance of logging some days in South America this summer, you’re still out of luck. For the skiing citizens of these countries though, this week’s news is extremely welcome as they’re finally able to get back on snow after more than a year off. To learn more about this brief but important update, check out the writeup from Reuters.
#4: Washington Duo Becomes First to Summit & Ski Washington’s Five Volcanoes in Five Days:
Finally, our last article this week has a lot in common with our last article last week as we’re excited to share a story of incredible accomplishment. In an article published by the Seattle Times, we’ve learned that skiing mountaineers Trevor Kostanich and Scott Rinckenberger have successfully named and accomplished a first ever feat: completing the “Five in Five.” More specifically, this accomplishment required the pair to summit and ski all five of Washington’s volcanoes in five days. While the idea of summiting and skiing five peaks in five days may seem reasonable, the details of this plan make it anything but. Across the five volcanoes, Mount St. Helens is the shortest, clocking in at 8,366’ in elevation, while the remaining four measure over 10,000’, with Mount Rainier being the tallest at 14,411’. In other words, this was no small feat. In addition to the vertical challenges presented by each peak, there were also geographic challenges to overcome as the distance between the southernmost (Mount Saint Helens) and northernmost (Mount Baker) mountains is at least a 6 hour drive. Keeping this in mind, when you factor in commute times, gear changes, and the necessity of sleeping and eating enough to maintain energy to accomplish the feat, the reality of the logistical challenges alone puts the challenge into perspective. And then, to top it all off, the team accomplished the feat during a heatwave that brought the three hottest days on record to Seattle, with temperatures peaking at 108 degrees fahrenheit. Interestingly enough though, the heatwave was actually a blessing in disguise as it resulted in an adjusted schedule that saw the team summiting peaks overnight and descending them in the morning. Operating under this nocturnal schedule allowed the team to avoid hiking in the blazing hot sun which would’ve created challenging snow conditions and posed health risks such as heat exhaustion. Ultimately, despite the rigourous challenges of the feat, the team successfully completed their self imposed challenge with 3.5 hours to spare, becoming the first known group to complete the Five in Five. To learn more details about this accomplishment, check out the writeup from the Seattle Times.