#1: Ski Mountaineering Up For Consideration in the 2026 Winter Olympics:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the June 25, 2021 edition! This week, we kick things off with an exciting announcement for those who are fans of ski mountaineering, competitive skiing, and/or the Winter Olympics. If that lead-in didn’t give the story away, here’s the headline in plainspeak: it’s just been announced that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) intends to vote on whether or not they’ll make ski mountaineering an Olympic sport at the 2026 Winter Games. While this week’s news doesn’t guarantee that the sport will be greenlit for inclusion in the 2026 games, there are a number of indicators that are generating great optimism for proponents of the sport. For starters, the sport was given a trial run at the 2020 Youth Winter Olympics, where they were seen as a great success by the IOC. That proof of concept, combined with perceived support from the IOC’s Executive Board, have members of the sport feeling as though it’s only a matter of time before the sport is included at the Olympic level. If approved, the inaugural appearance of the sport would consist of five events: Men’s and Women’s Team and Individual races (4), as well as a mixed gender relay race. One noteworthy exclusion from this lineup is the Sprint format, which is unfortunately the genre of ski mountaineering that U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association head coach Joe Howdyshell believes provides the most opportunity for U.S. athletes who are relatively new to the sport compared to their European counterparts. Still, using the qualification process for the 20202 Youth Winter Olympics as a guide, it’s within reason that the U.S. could qualify several athletes for the games. Regardless of how that materializes, a formal inclusion of the sport would do wonders for the U.S. team as it would enable organizers such as Joe Howdyshell to begin formal discussions with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic committees to retain their support in the forms of financing and other resources. While the vote that’s scheduled to be held sometime between July 20-21st may seem like it’s only about the inclusion of the sport in the Olympic games, the ramifications go much further for proponents of ski mountaineering. Although it’s too soon to say for sure, most athletes and coaches in the know fully expect the sport to be approved. If it is, we’ll circle back in about a month to share the news. Until then, check in with the Summit Daily to learn what we know.
#2: After a Tough Year, Ski Resorts Are in Position to Thrive in Summer 2021:
Next up in ski news this week, we were treated to an excellent article from the New York Times that expanded on a topic we recently discussed here on Chairlift Chat. In the April 30th edition of Top Five Fridays, we shared with you a report that suggested this Summer could see an unprecedented amount of tourism in ski towns as a result of pent up travel demand. In short, the concerns expressed in that article were sparked by early indicators showing hotel bookings in ski towns being far ahead of where they were two years ago. That led to concerns regarding severe overcrowding in ski towns this summer, which under the worst case scenario could negatively impact the impression made on vacationers who expect the mountains to provide an escape from crowds and congestion.
This week, the New York Times shared an article that addresses the aforementioned concerns, while also giving us a more holistic look at how ski resorts are evolving into four season recreation and event centers. In contrast to the news we shared on the 30th, the New York Times article strikes a decidedly positive tone as it points out the many ways in which resorts are more equipped than ever to handle large crowds. In addition to being forced to learn a substantial amount about regulating crowds as a result of the pandemic, ski resorts are also benefiting this summer from the ability to operate at full capacity. That, combined with the fact that an ever expanding offering of events and activities, has ski resorts well positioned to be able to host an influx of visitors. Of course, as is always the case with great articles such as this one, the real value in the piece is in the amount of details provided. In addition to previewing the Summer ahead, the piece also does a great job of showcasing the growth of summer activity at ski resorts in recent years. Take for example the illuminating fact that Killington has had a bike park in place for 30 years, and yet its use surged from 12,000 visits in 2016, to 30,000 in 2018. That anecdote, along with several others, make this piece well worth a read if you’re interested in learning more about how ski resorts are evolving beyond their single-season roots. Click here to check out the article in full.
#3: The Economics Behind Ski Resort Land Leases in Colorado, and Why the SHRED Act Matters:
Moving right along, our next highlight this week is an article from the Colorado Sun that shares some interesting ski resort economics, while tying in beautifully with an article we shared two weeks ago, back on June 11th. In that week’s Top Five Friday, the fourth highlight discussed a newly proposed bill called the SHRED Act that would allow approximately 60-75% of funds generated by land lease agreements to be used to fund the national forest hosting the lease agreement. This week, thanks to the Colorado Sun, we’ve learned a bit more about the actual numbers behind the proposed bill as author Jason Blevins shares some financial data regarding rent paid by Colorado ski areas. This year, ski resorts paid the U.S. Treasury $24 million in rent. While that may seem like a good amount of money considering it’s generated by just 23 ski resorts, it’s actually down about $6 million from 2018-2019’s record setting $30.1 million in land lease fees, and the lowest since 2013-2014.
To be fair, this was to be expected after an abbreviated 2019-2020 ski season, a serious reduction in Summer activities and events offered at ski resorts, and the subsequent pandemic winter. As such, the real news in this piece isn’t the dollar amounts or the fact that ski resorts owed less in lease fees this year than they have in several, but it’s the additional information provided by Blevins about how the land lease system works, and how it ties into the SHRED Act that give this article real value. While this may be common knowledge for those in the know, it’s worth pointing out that unlike a typical lease agreement you might experience in real estate, land lease fees are calculated by a percentage of the resort’s gross revenue for the season. In other words, if a resort’s gross revenue for a year was $100 million, and their land lease agreement claimed 1% of gross revenue, then the resort would owe the government $1 million in rent (editor’s note: these numbers are for example purposes only. It’s extremely unlikely that they’re actual figures). Currently, 100% of that lease fee gets sent to the U.S. Treasury in Washington, where it’s used to fund whatever programs the government fancies. With the newly proposed SHRED Act though, 60-75% of those funds would be retained by the forest service in which it operates. For Colorado, that means the White River National Forest would see a substantial increase in funding as resorts within that forest’s boundaries paid $16.7 million in rent this past season. Under the SHRED Act, that would result in between $10 million - $12.5 million in retained revenue. If that number feels unrelatable to you, keep it in mind as you read our next highlight this week as you’ll have some additional funding figures to compare it to. To learn more about lease fees paid by Colorado resorts this year, as well as how the SHRED Act would change their allocation, check out this article from the Colorado Sun.
#4: Colorado Governor Signs Trio of Bills Supporting Outdoor Recreation; The State’s Avalanche Center is Amongst the Beneficiaries:
Finally, we end this week with one last article on the subject of increased interest in outdoor recreation, and how the business of providing outdoor opportunities relies on a positive relationship with the government. This week, we learned that Colorado Governor Jared Polis has signed not one, not two, but three bills aimed at funding and supporting outdoor recreation, in part as a result of an influx in tourism to the state in recent years. Between the three bills, there’s a lot to discuss, so we’ll give you a brief overview of each one before directing you to resources where you can learn more. Of the three bills, by far the most exciting one for skiers is the “General Fund Transfer to Support Department Of Natural Resources Programs” bill. While the name does a decent job of vaguely conveying its purpose, the passage of this bill means that an additional $25 million has been allocated for use by various outdoor recreation programs and services. Of the $25 million, $17.5 million is going to support the state’s parks and recreations funds to support staff and improve the infrastructure of the parks. In addition to this lump sum, an additional $3.5 million is going to support the conservation of native wildlife species, $2.25 million is going to the state’s search and rescue fund, and $1 million is going to the state’s new Outdoor Equity fund, which we’ll talk about more in just a minute. For those of you with your calculators out, that means there’s still $750,000 left to be accounted for. This chunk of change is likely the most of interest to skiers and snowboarders as that amount has been allocated for use by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. While it may seem like an afterthought or simply a footnote in a $25 million funding package, that financial aid will be hugely beneficial to establishing a safer backcountry experience through further avalanche mitigation and education efforts. In a winter that saw an alarmingly high number of avalanches, and with backcountry usage continuing to gain popularity, this contribution is a testament to the state’s ongoing awareness and interest in supporting its outdoor industry.
In addition to this major funding bill, Governor Polis also signed two additional bills aimed at stimulating and supporting outdoor recreation in the state. As we just mentioned, the funding bill allocated $1 million to the Outdoor Equity fund. The establishment of this fund was the second bill signed by Polis this week, and is aimed at creating opportunities to enable underserved youth and their families to be able to access the outdoors. In other words, it’s a grant program that will allow organizations to obtain funding to support trips into the great outdoors that would be otherwise unaffordable. Following a similar theme of lowering the financial barriers associated with accessing the outdoors, Polis also signed a bill that calls for the creation of a “Keep Colorado Wild Annual Pass,” which will act as a low-cost annual pass for state residents who want to use the state’s multitude of parks. Rather than paying park fees at each visit, this new pass would be akin to a season pass to a ski resort, as passholders would be able to enter any park free of additional charges. Funds generated from the sale of this pass will be funneled back into the Colorado Parks and Wildlife fund to aid in infrastructure maintenance and improvements. While this round of bills may not be exclusively ski news, as we’ve seen in recent years and has been made especially obvious this week, the idea of ski resorts existing purely for skiing purposes are well behind us. As such, Governor Polis’s moves to increase outdoor engagement in Colorado are ultimately great news as generating more interest in the outdoors will only serve to increase interest in winter sports. To learn more about this round of legislation, check out the report from Fox 21 News.