#1: Squaw Valley Considering Changing its Name to Something Non-Derogatory:
First up in this week’s ski news, is a potentially significant update and sign of real progress in regards to the ski industry becoming a more diverse, welcoming community. As you may have heard, the legendary Squaw Valley has announced interest in exploring a potential name change. The move comes as resort leaders are being forced to reckon with the derogatory roots of the resort’s name at a time when racial inequality has been thrust into the spotlight in historic fashion. Originating in the 1850’s the term “Squaw Valley” first came about when white settlers happened upon the region and noticed that it was primarily populated by Native American women and children as the men were often out hunting. “Squaw” of course, is a derogatory term for a Native American woman.
Given the current socio-political climate, one might think that a name change would be all but a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately however, the task isn’t quite as easy as saying, “let’s just call it Big Mountain Valley from now on.” Due to the fact that Squaw Valley is such a well known resort, and because many businesses, state, and federal agencies in the area use the term to identify themselves, the decision ultimately has to be made collectively by all parties using the word “squaw”. Additionally, in an effort to ensure that the new name “gets it right” so to speak, Squaw Valley is also planning on working with regional Native American leaders for guidance. At present, it’s expected that a decision will be made within the next two weeks. At that point, we fully expect to hear a new name announced, and the process of rebranding the resort and regional businesses will begin. So for now, simply sit tight, and we should be back in a couple of weeks with an update! For more on this, check out the writeup from the Sierra Sun.
#2: A Look at Mikaela Shiffrin’s Return to Snow:
In other arguably more positive news this week, we caught an article from the U.S. Ski team that highlights Mikaela Shiffrin’s return to snow. While the article itself begins by recapping the tumultuous season endured by Mikaela last year, we’re going to go ahead and assume that you’re already well versed with her ups and downs as we’ve covered them at length here on Top 5 Fridays (if you’re looking for a reminder, check out this Top 5 Friday from May 8, 2020 or give this incredible Bleacher Report article a read). Instead, let’s focus on the new information provided by the article.
As you may or may not know, a selection of U.S. Ski Team athletes have been privately training at Copper Mountain since early June. While not exactly a team-sanctioned training camp, Copper Mountain put in place protocols and courses that would allow U.S. Ski Team athletes to take advantage of the resort’s excellent late-season conditions. Typically athletes of this caliber are training on glacial environments this time of year, so Cooper’s facility was actually a slightly better option as it gave athletes the benefit of training at a lower altitude, where the environment and snow conditions are both more in line with what they expect to experience during the World Cup Season. While the article does touch on other coaches and athletes training at the venue, Shiffrin’s return to snow is undoubtedly the focus. It makes sense too, as her time away from snow led to inevitable questions regarding whether or not she’d be a step behind upon her return.
So, how’d she do? Well, we have to take this update with a grain of salt as neither Mikaela’s coaches nor the U.S. Ski Team would dare give a negative review, but in general the consensus is that Mikaela still looks like a world class athlete. During her time at Copper, Shiffrin focused on her two specialties: slalom and giant slalom, although it’s reported that she spent considerably more time working on her GS fundamentals. As the snow continues to melt at Copper Mountain, the U.S. Ski Team will soon have to relocate its training operation. While traditionally that means trips to either Europe or South America, this year the team seems more likely to take up residence at Mt. Hood. As soon as we learn more on this front, we’ll be sure to share the news. For now, check out this writeup from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team.
#3: Trump Administration Suspend H-2B and J1 Visa Programs:
In other news this week, the ski industry is suddenly facing yet another new problem. Citing the spread of coronavirus and the desire to create new jobs for American’s who’ve been hurt by the economic shutdown, the Trump administration has decided to temporarily suspend the H-2B and J1 visa programs. Together, these two programs provide approximately 10,000 seasonal workers for ski resorts every winter. While the suspension of these two programs would present a significant challenge to ski resorts in any given year, this year resorts expect to have to hire even more seasonal workers as coronavirus will require even more stringent sanitary measures than a typical year, making the restrictions even more problematic. And that, is more or less where the facts end.
From here we enter a world of disagreement and strong opinions as ski areas are eager to have an exception made on their behalf, at the very least. Leading that charge is the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) who says that the inability to tap into foreign seasonal workers would be catastrophic for ski areas in the season ahead. While they recognize the positive intent of opening up seasonal jobs to domestic workers, the organization also says that it’s historically challenging to fill these positions with domestic workers. As explained by David Byrd, the Director of Risk and Regulatory Affairs at the NSAA, “A reason a wide swath of the American business community utilizes these seasonal worker programs is because we don’t have enough labor who want to take these positions. Most Americans want year-round jobs with some level of benefits and hopefully health care benefits.” Additionally, Byrd cites the remote location of mountain towns as another factor that makes it difficult to recruit seasonal workers. Simply put, there just aren’t enough people in regional communities to fill the positions needed. For our part, it’s hard to issue a judgment on this particular topic as both sides have compelling arguments. To learn more about the issue at hand, we recommend watching the attached video, and/or giving this report from CBS Local Denver a read.
#4: Spurred on by Vail Acquisition, Steven’s Pass Ski Patrollers Look to Unionize::
Finally, we round out this week with an interesting story that takes us behind the scenes of an issue we were previously unaware of. In 2018, Vail purchased Steven’s Pass ski area as a part of its consolidation campaign. While for the most part that acquisition has been met either positively or with indifference, one particular group of Steven’s Pass employees felt the need to make their importance recognized: the resort’s ski patrollers. As is the case with patrollers across America, Steven’s Pass patrollers are skilled seasonal workers who’ve traditionally received modest compensation despite their unique, high level expertise. This was par for the course, and widely accepted for years. Then, Vail came to town.
Over the course of the first year of the acquisition, a number of small issues began piling up, leaving Steven’s Pass ski patrollers feeling like they didn’t have a voice at the resort they’d worked at for years. In addition to a lack of adequate compensation, ski patrollers were suddenly being asked to adhere to a stricter dress code, follow a new drug policy which resulted in discomfort reporting incidents, and scaled back benefits such as the elimination of a program that made Physical Therapists available to ski patrollers. Eventually, ski patrollers at the resort began having enough changes forced upon them and they started exploring the idea of unionizing. That exploration ultimately led to a vote, and as of April 2019, the Steven’s Pass patrollers are officially unionized.
As it turns out, unionized ski patrols are incredibly rare in the ski industry. Due in part to the seasonality of the work, as well as the archaic laws in place outlining how union’s are to be run, only 9 resorts have unionized patrols (including Steven’s Pass). Still, despite the move being something of a rarity, the patrollers at Steven’s Pass are encouraged by their early results. While the union was unable to come to a deal regarding a new contract before the coronavirus brought discussions to a halt in March, members say that they already feel as though Vail is taking their comments more seriously, and that unionizing has given them a stronger voice. What it’s also potentially done, is provide a blueprint for ski patrols at other resorts to follow suit. Truth told, there’s a ton of details in this great article from CrossCut.com, and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of its insights. To learn more about the Steven’s Pass ski patrol’s efforts to unionize, and to get an idea of what it could mean for the future of this particular line of work, we recommend giving the full article a read.