#1: Former HEAD CEO Johan Eliasch Elected New FIS President:
Here’s the thing about ski news in the Summer: some weeks, there just isn’t much to talk about and we find ourselves diving into the minutiae. Other weeks, there’s an unexpected deluge of news, giving us more headlines than we can cover in these Top 5 recaps. This week, we’re experiencing the latter as we caught so many noteworthy headlines that we had to extend our typical Top 5 to include a bonus update. We’ll get to that shortly, but before we do, let’s start with the biggest news of the week: the FIS officially has a new President.
If you follow our Top 5 Friday updates, then you’re likely aware that a rare vote was held last Friday at the FIS annual congress. Two years ago, former FIS President Gian Franco Kasper announced that he would be resigning prior to the conclusion of his four year term. After Covid resulted in a one year delay of that resignation, a vote was finally held last week for a new President whose initial term will last just one year before the regularly scheduled 2022 Election is held. In other words, the winner of last week’s election finds themselves in a unique position of having something of a trial year. If they perform well, chances are they’ll be re-elected next Summer. If they don’t, it’s likely that they’ll be replaced by one of the other candidates from last week’s election.
So, with all of that in mind, who ended up winning the election? Well, ultimately it was billionaire businessman and former CEO of HEAD, Johan Eliasch. If you’ll recall from when we previewed this election, Eliasch was the “oddball” candidate as he was the only one to lack experience directly within the world of organized ski racing. At the same time, he was also the only candidate with experience of building a highly recognizable global brand. As such, Eliasch’s pitch was to unabashedly highlight his vastly different approach, saying that he was the candidate of change. While his campaign included a number of promises, there were two that stood out most prominently to us. First, Eliasch has expressed a commitment to battling climate change. While this should seem like an obvious stance from the leader of the largest organized international ski organization, it’s an improvement from the outgoing president who at one point openly wondered whether or not climate change was real. Secondly, and most excitingly, Eliasch has already promised to immediately begin working on centralizing the rights to the FIS’s media assets, as well as reviewing race formats and presentations. In other words, one of Eliasch’s top priorities is to begin working on redeveloping the presentation of FIS sports, making them more accessible and appreciated on a global scale. As huge fans of ski racing and all FIS sports, the idea of the former CEO of HEAD focusing on bringing more recognition to FIS sports on a global scale by immediately reviewing the broadcasting rights is something that we can very much get behind. To learn more about Johan Eliasch and what he hopes to bring to the FIS, you can watch the video we embedded above, read the announcement from the FIS here, or read the report from SkiRacing.com here. Finally, on a closing note, congratulations to Eliasch for this exciting new chapter, as well as the other candidates who all made compelling cases for election.
#2: It’s Official: Women’s FIS World Cup Races Set to Return to Killington in November:
In other FIS ski racing news this week, we have an exciting update for American fans of the sport: Killington has just signed a two year agreement to host a World Cup Slalom and Giant Slalom Race in both 2021 and 2022. This update comes as a sigh of relief for those who’ve been waiting to hear the news that the World Cup Tour will return to Killington after being forced to take last year off due to Covid. While it was always commonly believed that the World Cup would return, this week’s news makes it official. As many of you know, the World Cup returned to America’s East Coast when Killington first hosted it back in 2016. Prior to that, New England hadn’t hosted a World Cup race since a 1991 event at New Hampshire’s Waterville Valley. Since 2016 though, Killington had hosted races in four consecutive years, from 2016-2019. Over the course of those seasons, the Killington venue had become one of the most popular stops of the tour, with it’s 39,000 spectators at the 2018 edition marking the third most spectators at any Women’s World Cup event that year. So, noting that, it goes without saying that everyone on this side of the ocean is extremely excited to see the event’s return.
Now that we’re finally transitioning into a post-Covid world, excitement surrounding in person events is consistently palpable. The anticipation for this event is no different as Killington is already hard at work planning ways to make the 2021 World Cup Event bigger and better than ever. Hosted over Thanksgiving weekend, on November 27th & 28th, Killington is making plans to create an event that will bring prosperity to the entire region. In addition to hosting the race itself, the resort is also planning a whole schedule of extracurricular activities and live music to bring in as many spectators as possible. While it hasn’t been officially stated, our suspicion is that the goal is to blow 2018’s attendance out of the water. In doing so, it’s expected that the resort will generate millions of dollars in economic impact for the region. Based on past results as well as the current climate of excitement surrounding live events, we suspect this year’s event will see record breaking attendance. Oh, and one last thing about the Killington stop in particular. This stop has historically been Mikaela Shiffrin’s to lose, as she’s won the gold in slalom each year. Coming fresh off a late season resurgence, Shiffrin’s performance at Killington will likely be extremely telling of what the rest of the season could hold. For more on this announcement and to join the hype train, pop over to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team website.
#3: A Ski Season Divided: U.S. Logs Fifth Most Skier Visits of All Time, Destination Resorts See Reduced Traffic:
Moving on from ski racing news, our next update this week is a look into the complex effects of Covid on the ski industry. We’ve discussed this theme countless times here on Chairlift Chat, and yet we’ll say it yet again: the presence of Covid-19 cast an air of uncertainty across the ski industry heading into the 2020-2021 season. At first we were unsure of whether or not the ski season would be able to happen at all, before eventually learning that it would happen, albeit under a wide range of protocols. With capacity restrictions and reservation systems in place, it was really anyone’s guess as to what the ski season would look like, or if it would prove to be financially beneficial for resort operators. This week’s news from both the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) as well as Vail’s own earning reports suggest that by and large, this season exceeded just about everyone’s expectations. That is, besides some destination resorts.
Let’s start with the highlight of this week’s reports: with 59 million skier and snowboarder visits to ski resorts this year, the 2020-2021 season ranks as the 5th most popular season since the NSAA began tracking data in 1978. For comparison’s sake, last year (which was on pace to become the most popular season ever) there were approximately 51.1 million visits before the season was abruptly cut off. For ski areas that had reason to be uncertain about the pandemic season, this year’s visitation count has to be seen as a smashing success. For Vail, that figure translated directly into financial success as their most recent quarterly earning’s report shows 30.5% growth compared to last year, clocking in at a staggering $829 million in revenue. Some of that can be attributed to early sales of next year’s passes to be sure, but it’s undeniable that those sales originated from the success of this past season. In addition to Vail’s financial success, small and mid size ski resorts also benefited greatly from the pandemic as skiers and snowboarders old and new decided to recreate closer to home. This anecdote could play into further success for the Indy Pass which sells itself as an ideal option for skiers and snowboarders who hit the slopes a handful of times a year at mostly small to midsize resorts. For this demographic, which includes many new participants, the pass’s price point is a more attractive option than those offered by larger multi-passes.
Of course as with nearly all things in life regarding situations consisting of finite resources, where there’s a winner, there’s also a loser. In this case, Aspen Skiing Co. is unfortunately the odd one out as they reported a decrease in visits last season as a result of the pandemic. While small and midsize resorts benefited from skiers and snowboarders staying closer to home, destination resorts such as Aspen were negatively affected as the tourism they rely on for growth simply couldn’t happen last year. As a result, compared to 2019-2020’s abbreviated season, Aspen Skiing Co. resorts were down another 1.2 million visits, or 3-4%. In terms of their five year average, last year was down about 20%. This contrast in success between small and midsize resorts and larger destination resorts like Aspen sets the stage for an interesting 2021-2022 season. On one hand, you could expect visits to destination resorts to explode next year as skiers and snowboarders might be eager to plan a ski vacation after being forced to take a year off. On the other hand, there’s a chance that being forced to ski and ride closer to home was an eye opening experience for many and they could opt to continue local exploration in the coming year. While it’s obviously far too soon to make any assumptions, we can guarantee that it’s a dynamic we’ll be watching closely. For now, you can learn more about the ski industry's overall success here, Vail’s economic success here, or Aspen’s challenging season here.
#4: Newly Proposed SHRED Act Would Drastically Increase Speed of Decision Making for Ski Resorts Seeking Permit Approvals:
Finally, while we typically like to end Top 5 Fridays with a story that’s light hearted and trends more towards the “lifestyle” aspect of the sport, this week’s new cycle was simply too gratuitous to end on that note (as you’ll notice from the inclusion of our bonus highlight). As such, we’re excited to share the news of new legislation being introduced to the U.S. Congress by senators from Colorado and Wyoming that would enable a more efficient approval process for ski resorts looking to develop on national forests. While the SHRED Act (short for Ski Hill Resources for Economic Development) includes provisions for a number of initiatives related to the betterment of National Forests, the cornerstone of the legislation is a clause that would create a ski area fee retention system that would keep the fees ski areas pay more local, and dedicated to end uses that benefit them directly. More specifically, the plan would be to use these fees to hire more team members at the U.S. Forest Service to review permit applications. While this sounds dry and bureaucratic (because quite honestly, it is), the reality is that every year ski areas on national land apply for more permits that can be reviewed and approved. The result has been a backlog of applications and frustration at resorts where development plans are stuck in limbo as they await the end of a lengthy approval process. The goal of this new arrangement would be to provide more resorts with more permit approvals more quickly. While the impetus of this bill was the debilitatingly slow progress through the backlog of applications from resorts in Colorado’s White River National Forest (home to Vail, Keystone, Beaver Creek, Sunlight, and Ski Copper), the fact that the bill is dealing with National Forest means it has to move through the federal government rather than the state level. As a result, if it’s approved, the changes would apply on a national level. This would be welcome news for resorts in all regions that currently struggle with a stagnant approval process. Perhaps the best news about this bill though, is that it’s outlook is quite promising. It’s already moved through a U.S. House Subcommittee, and should be up for approval in Congress sometime this Summer. If all goes well there, it will likely be approved in time for next winter. Now, if you’re still wondering why exactly you should care about this news, here’s the long and short of it: if this bill gets approved, it means ski resorts will be able to more quickly continue improving their terrain and infrastructure, while also expanding its offerings into more summer activities, such as mountain biking and live events. If you’re someone who cares about mountain culture, this bill strengthens the outlook for the long term financial viability of ski resorts. For more on this, check in with Vail Daily.
#4.5: Loose Ends:
As we mentioned at the start of this week, despite being the second Friday in June, we were somehow given more news than we could fit into our typical Top 5 recap. But, there are a couple of other stories we’d like to quickly share before wrapping things up this week. The first of these two bonus stories is the news that Alterra, Vail, Boyne Resorts, and POWDR have all signed a “Climate Collaborative Charter” in an effort to show unity in their shared fight against climate change. While any other week this story would get the full treatment, this week we have to simply send you directly to the source to learn more. The second piece of bonus news is that Vail Resorts has announced an official increase in their minimum wage to $15/hour. The news comes on the heels of the aforementioned financial reports that show a successful season behind, with early indicators of strong growth in the year ahead. Again, typically we’d dive in deep on this one and give the story full coverage, but for whatever reason the world of skiing really poured it on this week. So, in lieu of complete coverage here, we’ll turn you over to Vail Daily to learn more.