Top 5 Friday June 3, 2022: Lead Image

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Top Five Fridays: June 3, 2022

Lead Image: Plagued by injuries throughout her career, U.S. athlete Breezy Johnson is set to return to snow in September. If history repeats itself, 2022-2023 could be a huge year for her. Image shot by Steven Kornreich for the U.S. Ski Team

#1: In Wake of Eliasch’s First Re-Election, We Learn More About His Grand Vision:


Top Five Fridays June 3, 2022: Johan Eliasch Image

As the former CEO of Head, Johan Eliasch has a non-traditional vision for the FIS. As fans, we love it, even if some of the longest standing members of the organization don’t. Image: Johan Eliasch on Facebook

Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the June 3, 2022 edition! This week we find ourselves consumed with the world of ski racing as a trio of highlights tap into a number of stories, ranging from the recent re-election of Johan Eliasch, to athlete-centric stories regarding both current superstars and those still in development. Noting that not all of our readers are as enthralled with the world of ski racing as we are, we’ve also made sure to include a piece that focuses on one of our other favorite topics: the ever diversifying world of ski areas. To kick things off, let’s dive right into updates regarding post-election comments from Johan Eliasch.

As you might recall, last week we shared the news that interim FIS president Johan Eliasch has been re-elected for a second term, this time for a full four year shift. In his election, Eliasch ran unopposed, resulting in some nations walking out of the election while others abstained from voting. This week, we learned more details about which nations protested, some of their reasoning, and Eliasch’s overall goals. First, the protesting nations. In a report from the Daily Union, we were somewhat surprised to learn that Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Croatia were amongst the nations protesting Elaisch’s election. In our minds, his push to strengthen the FIS brand would be well received by some of the most notable countries in the organization, but what we hadn’t considered is that Johan’s push to strengthen the global image of the FIS could mean a reduction in the spotlight given to some of its most prominent members. In other words, these particular member nations have been quite content in the current marketing and scheduling of FIS events as they’ve been in the spotlight and Eliasch’s push for change could reduce their prominence. In response to whether or not Eliasch is worried about the protest from these nations, he said, “I think everybody realizes that it would be bad for them to be seen to stand in the way of change... we will get through this.”

In addition to the above anecdotes, we also learned even more about Eliasch’s vision for the FIS and motivations for wanting to guide the organization. As we’ve mentioned many times over, Eliasch wants the FIS to grow in global recognition to become comparable to organizations like FIFA and Formula 1. While we know that centralizing media rights is part of this, we learned this week about one very specific idea that Eliasch has in mind that’s both very exciting and contingent on being able to control media rights: a behind the scenes style reality show, similar to F1’s “Drive to Survive.” In other words, while we’ve previously been under the impression that his push to centralize media rights has been all about improving tv access to event broadcasts, it turns out his plans are even bigger than that. In the Daily Union piece, Eliasch is quoted as saying, ““We need a television show like ‘Drive to Survive.. We can’t do that because we don’t have the (broadcast) rights.” As fans of the sport, that would be an extremely exciting development.

Finally, on a closing note with this highlight, there’s one more anecdote that we learned this week in comments made by Eliasch after his election: the FIS presidency is an unpaid position. While we admittedly could have researched this aspect long ago, it never occurred to us that this role might be unpaid. As such, all of Eliasch’s efforts in promoting the FIS and shaking up the status quo aren’t because he’s set to see some ridiculous payout if things go well. Rather, he simply loves the sports that compete under the FIS umbrella and he’s made it a personal mission to bring them to the next level. All told, while we’ve been fans of what Johan’s been doing with the FIS for a little over a year now, this week’s revelations have only made our appreciation for him grow even more. To learn more details about this story, check out the writeup from the Daily Union, as well as this piece from SkiRacing.com.

#2: Summertime Updates From Breezy Johnson and Mikaela Shiffrin:


Top Five Fridays June 3, 2022: Mikaela Shiffrin Alex Kilde Image

On your left, we have Mikaela Shiffrin, the best female ski racer in the world. On her right we have her co-conspirator, boyfriend, and the best men’s Super G and Downhill ski racer in the world: Alex Kilde. Talk about a power couple! Image: Mikaela Shiffrin on Facebook

In other ski racing news this week, we caught a couple of articles that bring us up to speed with the latest from two of the U.S. Ski Team’s top female athletes: Breezy Johnson and Mikaela Shiffrin. First up, Breezy Johnson. As a quick refresher, Johnson was off to an incredible start last year, having finished in 2nd place in the first three Downhill races of the season. Then, over the course of about two weeks, she suffered two crashes during training runs, ultimately resulting in a torn ACL that would force her to opt out of the Olympics. To be sure, it was a devastating blow for the 26 year old who had a strong chance of putting on a podium worthy performance at the games. Instead, she had surgery on her knee, ending her season prematurely. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we learned this week that Johnson expects to be back on snow in September, should her rehabilitation continue to go as planned. While there will of course be a number of questions about her ability to resume her consistent podium finishes, as there always are when an athlete returns from injury, it’s not unfamiliar territory for Johnson. Over the course of the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Johnson tore her ACL, recovered, and then tore her MCL and PCL just before she would have been able to return to World Cup racing. Finally, in 2020, she returned after missing two years, ultimately earning two top 5 finishes before the season ended early due to covid. When racing resumed in 2020, Johnson went on an absolute tear, earning a podium finish in every downhill event she competed in between December 2020 and the time of her injury this past January. While it’s impossible to know what the future holds, it’s easy to feel excited and optimistic about Johnson’s prospects for the upcoming season. For more on this, check out the writeup from SkiRacing.com.

While Johnson’s updates stole the show this week, we also came across a second interesting piece from SkiRacing.com that ruminated on the topic of whether or not Mikaela should work more speed races into her schedule in the year ahead. It’s an interesting thought really. As we know, Shiffrin’s prowess has traditionally been on the technical side of the sport, with slalom and giant slalom being her two preferred disciplines. That said, it was actually her results in speed races at the end of last season that earned her the points she needed to claim the overall crystal globe. While she’s had moderate success in the past in these disciplines, she’s never made a particularly strong push in becoming consistently competitive in them. In addition to their importance to the final results at the end of last season, there’s also the Alexander Kilde factor to consider. That is, Mikaela has been dating last year’s Men’s Super-G and Downhill champion for over a year now. While we’ve always considered that just a fun thing and therefore haven’t mentioned it here on Chairlift Chat, we learned this week that it actually could have a huge impact on Shiffrin’s results. In the piece from SkiRacing.com, we learn that Kilde and Shiffrin analyzed last year’s Downhill course at Courchevel together, dissecting the run and putting together a plan of attack for Mikaela. The result? Shiffrin’s first Downhill gold medal since 2020 and only the third of her career. Noting that tangible outcome, the term “power couple” instantly comes to mind. Still, according to Shiffrin, despite her recent success and having an undeniable competitive advantage, she doesn’t seem to be 100% convinced to spend more time focusing on speed events, saying, “It’s hard to say, but my instinct or tendency would actually be to work a bit more with my GS and slalom because I was excelling more in speed over these last races of the season.” That said, if we know anything about Mikaela, it’s that it’s hard for her to hold herself back, and her passion for reaching her potential seems to be what motivates her most. With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to watch her strategy in the year ahead. To learn more about this, check out the report from SkiRacing.com.

#3: The Vail Daily’s “Inside the Skiing Pipeline” Second Installment Asks, “Are High Costs a Uniquely American Issue?”


Top Five Fridays June 3, 2022: Palisades Tahoe Alpine Racer Image

An athlete representing the Palisades Tahoe Alpine Team goes full tuck in pursuit of their dreams. Image: Palisades Tahoe Alpine Team on Facebook

Next up this week is a third highlight that focuses on the world of ski racing. This time, rather than focusing on some of the best athletes in the sport, we’re looking at those that are up and coming. Specifically, we’re checking in with skiing’s pipeline. If you read our update last week, you know that the Vail Daily has released a seven part series dedicated to the subject, with each article dissecting a different aspect of the U.S.’s skiing pipeline. As expected, they released each of these articles over the course of the last seven days, and collectively they’re a goldmine of insights and information. Normally we’d simply give an overview of the series and turn you over to them to learn more details, but because it’s June 3rd and we know we’ll encounter a drought of ski news in the weeks ahead, we’ve decided to spend the next six weeks highlighting each piece, giving each one the full attention it deserves. That said, if pacing isn’t really your thing, you can find all of the articles in this series right here. For the rest of you, let’s have a look at the second installment of the series which explores whether or not the rising costs of ski racing are an exclusively American issue.

Currently, it seems like the expensive nature of youth ski racing in America is the hottest topic in the sport, and has only risen in importance since the U.S. Team’s lackluster showing at last Winter’s Olympics. The second installment of the Vail Daily’s “Inside the Skiing Pipeline” investigates whether or not the rising cost of ski racing is an American issue, or an international issue. As it turns out, the result of this investigation is a little “yes” and a little “no.” In terms of equipment cost, there appears to be a global trend of increasing prices with decreasing sponsorship and free equipment opportunities. In other words, the cost of accessing the ski world in general is rising on a global scale and isn’t exclusively an American issue. Interestingly, Peter Lange (the publisher at SkiRacing.com, and author of the Johan Eliasch support piece we linked to in highlight #1) compares it to Formula 1 in that the sport itself is inherently expensive and there’s very little that can be done about it. That said, there are two aspects of the cost of the U.S. pipeline that are exclusively American: access to year round snow, and the pressure to compete in a high volume of FIS races each year.

In Europe, countries like Switzerland and Austria are able to offer their pipelines affordable, easy access to year round snow for training camps. Here in the U.S. however, we really just have one guaranteed domestic option in Timberline at Mt. Hood, as well as Whistler in British Columbia and Beartooth Basin in Montana, which tries to open for a little over a month each year, but isn’t always able to (such is the case this year, for instance). As a result, those who are of the mindset that they need to train year round to be successful incur high travel, lodging, and dining fees in order to train year round. In tandem with this is also the notion that in order to make a name for themselves and to be on the U.S. Ski Team track, athletes have to compete in numerous races per year, a majority being FIS sanctioned. As Dan Leever, author of the Leever Study, which is covered in part five of this series, points out, “Mikaela Shiffrin raced very little growing up… a dozen times per year compared to kids doing 50 times per year.” In lieu of racing, Leever suggests that skill development is the most important factor in youth development. Taking it a step further, Leever also points out that in addition to FIS races not being nearly as necessary as they’re made out to be, there are also a number of other race leagues that could provide competitive opportunities without the need for astronomical travel budgets. Amongst them are leagues like the USSA, CHSSL, Buddy Werner, and most controversially, the NCAA. That last league, the collegiate race circuit, has been a hot topic the last couple of years as it’s butt heads with the USST in terms of its importance and ability to develop athletes. It’s also the highlight of part three of Vail Dail’s series, and one which we’ll be exploring in depth next week. To learn more about the financial issues plaguing the U.S. development pipeline, check out part two of the series right here.

#4: New York’s Hickory Ski Center Hopes to Prove Yet Another Viable Business Model:


Top Five Fridays June 3, 2022: Hickory Ski Center Uphill Image

This year at Hickory Ski Center, uphillers could drop a ten dollar bill in a box by the base lodge and ascend to the top of the resort under their own power. As long as they stayed within the skin track anyways. Otherwise, right to jail, right away. Image: Hickory Ski Center on Facebook

Finally, for those of you whose interest in ski racing could be considered “mild, at best,” we round out this week as promised: with a highlight that focuses on a much slower type of skiing. In recent months, we’ve begun pondering this concept of the various types of ski resorts that have been emerging, evolving from the polarized concept of feeder hills and large resorts, to more of a spectrum that ranges from lift free, backcountry resorts, to multipass destinations like Vail, Big Sky, and our home mountain of Stowe. This week, we caught a cool highlight from the Adirondack Explorer that tells the story of yet another ski area occupying a unique niche on the spectrum: Hickory Ski Center in Warrensburg, NY. Originally founded by a group of WWII veterans from the 10th Mountain Division, Hickory Ski Center operated from 1946 - 2015 as a small, family style ski area with four surface lifts. During its heyday, it was a favorite spot for locals to spend a day on the slopes, mostly learning how to ski.

Since closing in 2015, a group of about 300 stockholders have come to own the mountain and are currently looking to reinvigorate it with a reimagined purpose. In the past, being a ski resort has meant running lifts and a lodge for approximately 3-4 months per year. Now, with the advent of sports such as uphill skiing and mountain biking, new opportunities are being presented for small resorts that could allow them to return to life. Currently, Hickory Ski Center operates as an uphill ski area, charging $10/day to use, with money collected via a box at the base area and the honor system. Looking ahead however, the 300 stockholders have plans to reopen the ski area with a more flexible pricing system that caters to a wide range of users. For those interested in accessing just the lower part of the resort, tickets could cost as little as $7/day. For skiers wanting poma lift access to the entire mountain, the cost would be $300 per season plus $50 per day. Finally, for those who want to continue using the resort as an uphill skiing venue, there would be the option of paying a low daily rate, or buying a $100 season pass. When the snow melts, the ski center hopes to offer summertime activities such as mountain biking and hiking, as well as dedicated weekends for four-wheeling and offroading events sponsored by Jeep.

While the story of Hickory Ski Center is undoubtedly exciting for those in the region, it’s also notable in our minds as it represents the growing diversity of ski areas. In this instance, Hickory isn’t firmly on the “lift free, exclusively backcountry” side of the spectrum, and it’s quite obviously not a mega resort either. What’s interesting though, is that it’s probably also not a mid-tier resort that might some day join an organization like the Indy Pass, nor would we consider it a small community ski hill like Howelsen Hill. With it’s 1,200’ of vertical, it’s bigger than that. Yet with its diverse product offering, Hickory Ski Center ultimately claims its own, somewhat unique spot on this spectrum, creating a business model that could feasibly exist at any number of recently shuttered feeder hills across America. With the advent of uphill skiing and the increasing popularity of mountain biking, there’s suddenly new opportunity for modest ski areas that formerly would’ve had to rely on 4 months of business to make 12 months of sustainable revenue. To us, that’s the exciting part about this story. The potential for this lower cost, year round, flexible business model to be replicated in communities across America. To learn more about the story of Hickory Ski Center, check out the report from the Adirondack Explorer.

#5: And Now, Your Edits of the Week: Is Vancouver Island the Greatest Place on Earth? With the Ability to Ski, Mountain Bike, and Surf on the Same Day, it’s Easy to Make a Case:


It’s Not Our Typical Edit, But This Sunday Morning Segment Provides Interesting Parallels With the Ski Industry:


Finally, Because it’s Summer, Enjoy 17 Minutes of Insane Mountain Bike Footage Featuring Some of the Most Badass Women in the World:


Written by Matt McGinnis on 06/03/22

One thought on “Top Five Fridays: June 3, 2022

  1. Celeste is simply AWESOME! I used to visit Vancouver Island every October in the 70s and loved every minute -- quite the outdoor variety. Fished, hiked, golfed and skied -- not all in the same day or year, but imagine one could.

    The deadly serious mountain biking is beyond my skills. At age 78, I'll take my thrills in the scenery. But hats off to their skills and courage!

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