#1: Alterra Hires Jared Smith, Former Live Nation & Ticketmaster Exec, as New President:
Hello and welcome to Top Five Fridays, June 4th, 2021! We’ve got a handful of interesting topics to discuss this week, covering a range of topics. Before we dive all the way in, let us start by asking a question: if you were tasked with hiring someone to lead one of the largest ski resort conglomerates in the world, where would you look? Would you consider someone with a rich history of experience within the ski industry, or would you look to hire a leader from another industry? We ask this question because Alterra announced this week that it has appointed Jared Smith as its new president. Now, let’s think back on that question. If your answer was that you’d hire someone from within the ski world, you’d be well justified. As it turns out though, that’s not the route Alterra took. Prior to this week’s announcement, Jared Smith had spent 15 years leading the music and live event industry at Live Nation. Most recently, his role was that of President and Global Chairman of Ticketmaster. Over the course of his tenure in that industry, Smith earned numerous awards, including mentions in Billboard’s Power 100 list in 2020, 2019, and 2017, as well as multiple mentions in various “40 under 40” lists. While at first Smith may seem like an interesting choice to lead a large ski resort conglomerate, further consideration reveals numerous parallels between his work in the music industry and his new role within the ski industry. Despite his new occupation being sports based while his former role was music based, the fact of the matter is that Smith will still be in charge of attracting crowds to venues using the promise of entertainment as bait. As such, not only does Smith have a great grasp on concepts such as ticket sales, destination based entertainment, the value of brand partnerships, event marketing, and much more, but he also brings with him new perspectives. With ski resorts continuing to broaden their appeal through the addition of summer activities such as mountain biking, hiking, adventure parks, events, and other forms of entertainment, the notion of hiring someone who’s not laser focused on solely skiing comes off as a smart move for Alterra. While we’ll have to wait to see what changes and developments Smith brings to the table, there’s a certain excitement surrounding his hiring. To learn more about this, check out the report from Business Wire.
#2: Forced Modernization: How Covid-19 Caused Ski Resorts to Accelerate Their Use of Technology:
In other news this week, we caught an article from one of our favorite publications highlighting another silver lining of the pandemic: the ski industry’s rapid adoption of new technologies. In an excellent article from the Colorado Sun, author Jason Blevins takes us behind the scenes of a number of changes and upgrades made by ski resorts this year aimed at creating a socially distanced environment. While we’re all aware of how the pandemic changed the skiing experience as guests, this article is particularly interesting because it gives us a look at what it took to make those changes happen. While it may seem like the rapid embrace of technology as a means of providing conveniences such as online ticket buying was a common sense type of move, the reality is that implementing such a system was a huge task for a lot of resorts. In the words of Alterra’s head of marketing, Eirk Forsell, “COVID accelerated everything… We took a multiyear process and did it in like five months.”
Of all the adjustments and upgrades made by ski resorts this winter, none was more gargantuan in size than Vail’s implementation of a reservation system. While we spent a lot of time over the course of last summer wondering which ski resorts would require reservations, we rarely thought about which ski resorts were capable of implementing such a system. As we learned from this article, it turns out that Vail was uniquely qualified to pull off the feat, and even for them it was an incredible challenge. Between coordinating the effort across all departments (marketing, sales, IT, etc.), as well as the unique challenges and regional regulations faced by each of Vail’s 34 North American resorts, the implementation of the system required an incredible amount of work. Fortunately for Vail, a large portion of that system was already in place as a result of previous efforts to create one pass that worked across all resorts. So, while the task was massive in scale, Vail’s IT team knew it was a challenge they could complete when they made the decision in the Spring of 2020.
In addition to sharing details behind the effort to launch Vail’s reservation system, Blevin’s article also highlights a number of other success stories within the industry. At Sunlight Mountain Resort, CO, for example, they had, “the busiest season in its history and sold 80% of its daily lift tickets online, compared to an average of about 30% in recent years.” Another area that flourished under newly adopted technology was the reduction of wait times and lines at amenities such as rental shops and cafeterias as the ability to pre-order online allowed skiers and boarders to only arrive when their orders were ready. These conveniences, which likely would’ve taken a few more years before being introduced to the ski industry had it not been for covid, are most certainly here to stay. To learn more about how Covid-19 forced the ski industry into the modern world, check out this excellent read from the Colorado Sun.
#3: Drones Continue to Grow in Use as a Tool to Help Ski Patrol Monitor Terrain & Assess Rescue Operations:
In other “skiing is entering the modern world” news, we caught a pretty cool article this week from Drone DJ, highlighting the use of drones at French ski area Val Thorens. Now, to be perfectly clear, the article itself was published by the manufacturer of the drones being used at the resort, so it’s a bit of a sales pitch. That said, it still highlights an interesting development in the world of skiing, particularly in light of the ongoing discussions regarding the role of ski patrollers in America. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves though, let’s take note of some of the highlights from the article. In the report and accompanying video, we learn the many ways in which ski patrollers at Val Thorens are using drones to make their jobs easier and the mountains safer. The most obvious use of course, is in rescue missions where drone pilots can quickly and safely scan terrain to either locate missing or injured skiers, or to assess the best plan of action in the event of a rescue mission. In a similar light, patrollers are also using the drones to inspect avalanche mitigation equipment. Rather than having to travel to these pieces of equipment on foot or via snow machines, patrollers are using drones to get eyes on them and ensure that everything’s in order. Doing so enables them to inspect equipment more quickly and more frequently. Finally, yet another way that ski patrollers at Val Thorens are using the drones is for their regular safety inspections of on-piste trails. Whereas traditional methods would require patrollers to manually ski and inspect each trail, the use of drones enables them to survey open terrain far more efficiently, ensuring that they’re aware of all on-trail obstacles and can handle them accordingly.
What’s most interesting to us about this article though aren’t the simple facts of how drones are being used. Rather, it’s the implication they have for the future of ski patrolling. It seems almost like a foregone conclusion to assume that the use of drones will only increase over time, which means that ski patrollers will have less “manual observation” tasks, shifting the job requirements away from simply being a set of eyes, and into higher levels of ability, such as operating drones or performing medical rescues. While the time savings could reduce the number of patrollers needed at each resort, it will also shift their work into an even higher level of complexity- one which certainly demands higher compensation. As per usual, we don’t have answers to these questions yet, but they’re interesting to consider as we keep our eye on what’s sure to be a developing story in the coming years. For more on this, check in with DroneDj.com.
#4: The Story of Elk Creek Mine: Inside Aspen Skiing Co’s Groundbreaking Efforts to Convert a Leaky Old Coal Mine into Useable Electricity:
Finally, we end this week with an excellent story from the Washington Post that highlights a world-leading effort from the Aspen Skiing Co. to have a direct impact on the fight against global warming. The story goes like this: back in 2012, the Elk Creek coal mine shutdown operations as the result of a large fire and dwindling interest in coal. While the halt of coal mining is certainly substantial in terms of reducing emissions, the unfortunate fact is that coal mines continue to leak methane well after they’ve ceased operations. Seeing this problem as an opportunity, the late Randy Udall shared with Aspen Snowmass his idea to capture the leaking methane and convert it into electricity. Seeing the concept as a way to both reduce methane emissions as well as to power Aspen Snowmass’s four resorts, the team as Aspen was immediately interested in the idea. While it took a bit of convincing to get the former mine operators to join them on the project, the environmentalists were eventually successful, leading to the creation of a methane conversion power plant.
Fast forward several years, and the plant’s efforts have paid off, quite literally. Financially, the power plant generates approximately $100k-$150k in revenue per month, while Aspen has paid off $4.59m of its initial $5.34m investment. In terms of environmental savings, the plant captures an estimated 250 billion cubic feet of methane, the equivalent of removing approximately 500,000 cars from the road each year. Combining both the environmental and financial successes of the mine conversion, it would seem like common sense to replicate this approach at all coal mines that have recently been, or plan to be closed, right? Well, unfortunately it’s not that simple. Despite its ability to generate revenue each month, the project still hasn’t paid itself off and become profitable for investors nearly 10 years later. Plus, with the addition of new, cheaper alternative energies hitting the market, converting leaked methane into electricity is much less financially attractive than it was 10 years ago. As such, the only realistic way for this concept to be replicated, is if governments step in with incentives and subsidies to make the financial burden less significant. Still, despite the hurdles that might prevent this operation from being recreated on a large-scale, the story remains intriguing and is an absolute credit to Aspen Snowmass who put their money where their mouth is in taking this actionable step against climate change. To learn more details, check out the full article from the Washington Post.