Lead Image: It’s been a big month for Lindsey Vonn, who followed up her U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame induction by traveling to Switzerland to try and convince the International Olympic Committee to bring the games back to Salt Lake City in the near future. Image: U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team on Facebook
#1: Former Olympians Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety, and Others Join the Push to Bring the Games Back to Salt Lake City:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the June 24, 2022 edition! This time around we’ve got back to back competitive skiing updates, followed by a pair of highlights that focus on some of the bigger picture themes occurring within the ski industry. In other words, this week’s update is just about what you’d expect from the world of ski news in the middle of June. Now, with the stage vaguely set, let’s get started!
To kick things off, the biggest news of the week is likely the revelation that the U.S.’s push to host the 2030 or 2034 Winter Olympics is growing in strength, with both Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety throwing their weight behind the effort to bring the Olympics back to Salt Lake City. Now, to be clear, this is a story that’s been slowly growing in weight over the course of the last couple of weeks, more or less starting when Eileen Gu announced that she will be working with the U.S. Olympic Committee to bring the games to the United States. Since then, Lindsey Vonn has joined the campaign in a massive way, having traveled to Lausanne, Switzerland with the U.S. Committee to meet with the International Olympic Committee, where they made their case for hosting the games. In essence, their pitch is this: a 2030 or 2034 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City would be able to use all of the existing venues that were built for the 2002 games. In doing so, not only can the U.S. Committee guarantee a venue that’s tried and true, but they can also spend their energy making the experience of the games even better for the athletes. Whereas recent hosts have had to create massive venues, including entire resorts to host alpine skiing, the Salt Lake Venue already has the infrastructure in place. As a result, the planning committee can focus on making the experience athlete and family centric. Amongst this idea are concepts like multiple special medals plazas to make it easier for athletes to celebrate their medals amongst family, increased venue access for families, and transportation accommodations for fans. At the core of all of these ideas is a vision for making the Olympics a magical experience for all of the athletes involved. It’s this athlete-centric approach that the U.S. Olympic Committee hopes will give them a leg up when it comes time to earn the bid. Further strengthening that message is the fact that athletes like Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety, Eileen Gu, and countless other Olympian and Paralympians are all pushing for these ideas as well. While the ideal outcome for the committee would be to earn the 2030 bid, it should be noted that the 2028 Summer Olympics will be held in Los Angeles, making it somewhat unlikely that the IOC will vote to host back to back Olympics within the same country. If that reality plays out, the U.S. Committee hopes to secure the 2034 bid. Either way, it’s exciting to know that the U.S. is making a strong push to host the Winter Olympics once again. We’ll be sure to fill you in as this story progresses, but for now, you can know what we know by checking out this writeup from Ski Mag, or this coverage from KSL TV.
#2: Vail Daily’s “Inside the Skiing Pipeline” Pt 5. - The Leever Study:
In other competitive skiing news this week, we’re excited to bring you our recap of the fifth installment of the Vail Daily’s “Inside the Skiing Pipeline” series. If you haven’t tuned into Top Five Fridays within the last month or so, you’ll want to know that the Vail Daily published an excellent seven part series highlighting the struggles and solutions for the U.S. Ski Team’s talent pipeline. We’ve covered each installment individually over the course of the last four weeks, bringing us to this week’s segment which takes a look into the perspectives of Dan Leever, arguably the most well educated American when it comes to the matter of developing World Cup caliber skiers.
Before we dive into some of his ideas, let’s first discuss just who Dan Leever is, as his unique combination of credentials and personal experiences have made him the perfect person to address the topic at hand. Professionally, Dan Leever is the owner of Ski Racing Magazine (also known as SkiRacing.com, a website that we frequently reference here), chairman of the board of the World Pro Ski Tour, a majority shareholder in the ski racing apparel brand SYNC, 15 year board member of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, and has also served on the U.S. Ski Team’s board and foundation board. Personally, Leever is also the father of two sons with professional ski racing experience: the currently 43 year old Harold “Skip” Leever, and 27 year old Alex Leever who until just a few months ago, raced independently, without national representation. In other words, Dan Leever has had the rare privilege of seeing the sport of ski racing from just about every angle. Fascinatingly, there’s even more to the story.
In 2016, then CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team, Tiger Shaw, asked Leever to spend a year formally researching a question that he’d become passionate about: what do the best ski racers in the world have in common? Tasked with finding answers to this massive question, Leever surveyed World Cup athletes about their development, interviewed dozens of coaches and industry experts, and compiled a wealth of statistics regarding the development track of the top 30 World Cup skiers at the time. A year after setting out on this project, Leever collected his findings into what would come to be known as “The Leever Study,” ultimately presenting a pathway that U.S. athletes could follow to become one of the top 30 ski racers in the world. Unfortunately, the response to his work wasn’t what he hoped. Rather than excitement, his findings were brushed off as the U.S. Ski Team said it wasn’t interested in producing top 30 caliber athletes; it wanted to know how to produce athletes that would rank amongst the top 10 globally. As a result, the U.S. Ski Team took Leever’s findings and made the criteria more strict with the idea that they could identify just the top 10 rising stars. Unfortunately, in doing so, the criteria became too strict and very few athletes were able to hit the unrealistic standards.
Ironically, this dynamic underscores a number of the takeaways that Leever found in his research. After reading this article, it became clear to us that several of the ideas presented so far in this series stem from Leever’s findings. In short, Leever argues that one of the most effective ways to find talent is to allow the pipeline to be as wide as possible, particularly at an early age. Rather than forcing athletes to enter a financial arms race, paying their way into camps, races, and better equipment, the primary concern of the U.S. Ski Team and its partner organizations should be purely on skill development of its youngest athletes. In other words, what matters most, and what’s currently being largely overlooked, is a specific focus on teaching aspirational ski racers the techniques behind skiing. That simple approach doesn’t require costly camps, competitions, or equipment; it simply requires passionate coaches and a hill to ski down. For Leever, that’s the ultimate takeaway: the U.S. Team has become distracted and no longer focuses on what should be its primary goal: focusing on the development of athletes. As is always the case, there’s far more in this article than we have space to share with you here, so we’ll encourage you to give it a read in full. You can do so over at the Vail Daily.
#3: Vail Town Council Passes Regulations on Short Term Rentals:
In other news from the Vail Daily this week, we have a brief but telling article that highlights the town’s ongoing struggle to find balance in its housing market. Specifically, the town is continuing to find the best way to regulate its short term rental market. This week, the Vail Town Council narrowly passed a handful of updates to their short term rental regulations, which are set to go in effect on January 1, 2023. The most controversial addition to the regulations is the requirement that short term rental owners must display their license number, name of their local contact, phone number of their local contact, and the phone number for Vail’s short term rental complaint hotline on a sign on the outside of the unit. In other words, anyone interested can simply walk up to a short term rental and immediately find a way to contact the owner or its property manager. While some saw this as a way to maintain accountability, those against the idea are concerned that it could lead to “unwanted attention” while the homes are vacant. The other significant addition to the regulations is a $50 annual fee for units with a manager onsite, or a $260 annual fee for units whose manager lives off site. It’s estimated that the funds generated from the fees should cover the cost of running the program to regulate these units. Finally, it’s also worth noting that one resolution which was not included in this round of regulations, but that some in the community are pushing for, is a cap on short term rentals. Proponents of this idea would like to see a maximum of 20% of homes granted licenses to operate as short term rentals. Those opposing this idea suggest that, if enacted, it would essentially be telling the 80% of homeowners without licenses that they don’t have the same rights as those who made it into the 20%. While this idea could do the most for balancing the real estate availability in the area, it could also prove to be the most difficult to pass on account of fair market access.
Truth be told, this is an issue that’s presenting itself at ski towns across America, not just Vail. While updates regarding real estate regulations might not seem like ski news, the fact of the matter is that they’re very much a factor when it comes to discussing bigger issues like staffing shortages and affordable housing. In the post-pandemic era, where a number of homes in ski towns were purchased as either second homes or investment opportunities, the number of affordable horses or long term rentals available to local residents has been reduced, putting further stress on a situation that was already trending in a troubling direction prior to the pandemic. So yes, while the town of Vail requiring Airbnb owners to put a sign outside of their house displaying their license information may not seem like significant ski news, the reality is that it’s a sign of continued efforts to regulate the short term rental market in a ski town- a theme that will likely continue to grow in prevalence in the years ahead. To learn more about this week’s news, check out the report from the Vail Daily.
#4: Australian Ski Bus Owner May Have Found the Solution to Labor Shortages at Ski Areas:
Finally, we end this week with a certified highlight as we caught a story from all the way across the world, where an Australian man has just gone semi-viral for a solution to workforce shortages at ski areas: child labor. More specifically (and legally), his idea is to invite 11th and 12th graders to spend their free time working at ski resorts. The story goes like this: just like here in North America, Australian ski areas and surrounding businesses are having difficulties filling open positions. In the Mount Hotham region, the issue hit home for area man Chris Bonacci when one of his friends was unable to open their business for a few days as they couldn’t find staff. As the operator of a bus service called Alpine Spirit Coaches, Bonacci had the idea to make a post on his community’s Facebook page, suggesting that highschoolers should reach out to him if they were interested in working at businesses around Mount Hotham. If they were, Bonacci would connect them with a business needing help and arrange for their transportation to and from the resort. The response to Bonacci’s post was better than expected.
Within hours of making the post, word spread far and wide, and suddenly Bonacci was fielding calls from locations like Sydney, Brisbane, and Hobart, which happens to be a nearly 20 hour trip that involves the crossing of the Bass Strait. In other words, the interest far exceeded both the availability and feasibility of connecting the inquirers with actual jobs. Additionally, as we discussed in our previous highlight, there’s a shortage of accommodation availability in the Mount Hotham area, making the entire plot promising, yet difficult to bring to fruition. What’s interesting about this story though, is that we’ve learned something: highschool kids would love the opportunity to work at ski areas. What we can do with this information, both internationally and at ski areas domestically, remains in question. With several months to spare before winter returns here in North America though, it will be interesting to see if anyone here can make sense of this potential opportunity. For now, all we can do is turn you over to ABC Australia to learn more about this story.