#1: The Ski Industry Reacts to a Week of Racial Unrest in America:
Buckle up everyone, because unfortunately we have yet another tough week of ski news ahead. To get the ball rolling, let’s jump right into a topic that’s rightfully dominated headlines across America and the world at large this week. As you’re well aware, we’re currently living through one of the most significant upheavals in at least a half century in terms of racial injustice. While it’s impossible not to have thoughts and feelings on the subject that extend far beyond skiing, our responsibility in this setting is to discuss the impact that racial injustice has on the ski industry. Or, put more accurately, the impact that the ski industry has on racial injustice.
Thankfully, one of the most powerful and reasonable voices in the ski industry was the first to break the ice on the topic. On Tuesday, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz sent a letter to all Vail employees addressing the subject. A day later, as is Katz’s typical M.O., the letter was released publicly. In the memo, Katz gets real about skiing’s lack of diversity while acknowledging how difficult of a subject it is to tackle. While Katz admits to not being 100% sure what the right moves are, he’s aware that it’s up to him to figure them out, confessing that not making more progress is something that he considers a “personal failing”. We’ll limit our recap of his letter to what we’ve shared above, but encourage you to give it a read in full, particularly if you’re prone to feeling defensive about race issues.
Now, it’s our turn to take a measured swing at the issue. It’s no secret to anyone, skier or not, that ski and snowboard culture is overwhelmingly white. That’s not to say that ski culture is overtly racist or that mountain culture is consciously making an effort to keep people of color out. That’s not at all the case. Unfortunately, for lack of a better phrase, that’s simply the way it is currently, for a variety of reasons. Much like Rob Katz, we also see the need for change, and are also unsure of what specific steps we should take. But, we know that steps need to be taken, and that process starts by reflecting on the reasons why mountain culture is currently so exclusively white. While there are certainly economic and geographic factors at play, there’s also a deeper, more veiled factor that’s a mix between “acceptance” and “expectation.” Nothing about the act of skiing itself restricts itself to a certain type of person, yet those who see the sport, whether as a participant or an outsider, see it as a sport for middle to upperclass white person sport. While further reflection and consideration is certainly in order, it seems as those breaking this perception is the first step that needs to be taken. Ultimately, it’s our job, and the job of all those in the ski industry, to dismantle the notion that skiing is a “white” sport, so that one day the incredible joy of effortlessly carving down a mountain will be experienced equally by people of all colors.
On a closing note, we’ll pass the mic to a couple of the other ski industry players who’ve spoken out on the subject this week. On Monday, Level 1 Productions made an Instagram post sharing their perspective, and included a link to 75 ways white people can promote racial equality. Additionally, by the end of the day on Thursday, Armada Skis had donated $30,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on behalf of the brand and its athletes. Finally, we feel compelled to give Henrik Harlaut a shoutout for promoting black culture throughout his career (such as when he told the world that “Wu-Tang is for the children” at the 2014 Winter Olympics). While his love for hip hop culture may seem insignificant, it also showcases a way in which ski culture and black culture can become one. It’s subtle displays of unity such as this that slowly melt away preconceived notions that create a barrier to the sport. Finally, to read Rob Katz’s letter in full, click here.
#2: Summer Ski Camp Updates: Timberline Nearly Ready to Welcome Campers, Whistler Blackcomb Not Reopening:
Okay, let’s table the race discussion for now. Our next topic of discussion this week is a followup to an ongoing story that we’ve found ourselves covering in recent weeks. If you’ve been reading Top 5 Fridays recently (or watching on our Youtube channel), then you’re already aware of the uncertainty surrounding summer ski camps. The last time we checked in on the story was two weeks ago, on May 22nd. At that time, Timberline Lodge said it was ready to welcome back camps (with Covid-19 protocols in place), although Oregon’s governor had yet to give the green light for overnight camps. Unfortunately, it turns out that that green light isn’t coming this summer. As a result, there will be no overnight camps on the Mt. Hood glacier. It’s not all bad news though. While overnight camps won’t be allowed, day use of the glacier for camps will be permitted, meaning that businesses such as Windell’s that rely on glacier access will still have a way to offer on-snow training, albeit in the form of modified day camps.
For Timberline, plenty of work remains for the mountain staff as they have has plenty of logistical questions to answer in regards to hosting summer camps under social distancing restrictions. For instance, those who’ve been to Timberline in the summer know that things can get pretty crowded at the base of the mountain, particularly in the morning before campers and coaches make it to their respective lanes. In an effort to address these concerns, the team at Timberline lodge has broken the challenge into three categories: terrain, capacity, and social distancing. The hope is that if the mountain is able to solve each of these issues independently, then the resort will be able to operate at nearly regular capacity. Still, that’s obviously easier said than done. To learn more about how Timberline is looking to manage these challenges, as well as to read an in depth account of how health guidelines are impacting race camps on the glacier, check out this article from Ski Racing Magazine.
Finally, before we wrap this highlight up, we also have to share the news that Whistler Blackcomb has made the decision that it won’t reopen for skiing or snowboarding at all this summer. That decision was ultimately made so that the resort, which is well known for summer activities such as its world-class mountain biking, can focus on properly welcoming guests for its off-snow offerings. While businesses such as Momentum Ski Camps and the Whistler Mountain Ski Club expressed disappointment over the decision, they also understand the verdict as the situation at hand is ultimately bigger than any one person or business. Perhaps most disappointed though, are Canada’s professional athletes who rely on the glacier to continue their training in the offseason. Now, with Canada’s one glacier closed for the Summer, these professional athletes are left hoping that their dry land training won’t put them at too significant of a disadvantage in the year to come. To learn more about this, check out the recap from Pique News Magazine.
#3: Antibody Testing Once Seen as a Grand Slam, Now Considered a Swing and a Miss for Ski Resorts:
In other Covid-19 news this week, we continue to monitor the potential impact of the pandemic on the reopening of ski resorts in the season ahead. Now, before we jump into this week’s update, we want to iterate that the situation is constantly changing, and with ski season still roughly 5 months away, there’s plenty of time for the landscape to change in either direction. Keeping that in mind, we came across an article from the Colorado Sun this week that pulls the curtain back and gives us a glimpse of what’s going on behind the scenes in regards to planning for reopening during a potential second wave of the pandemic.
As it turns out, Plan A, at least in Aspen, Jackson Hole, and Telluride, was to utilize antibody testing to determine which guests had already been exposed the virus. In doing so, the hope was that certain guests could be considered “safe” in the sense that they could no longer carry or catch the disease. Unfortunately, according to this week’s news, that ideal scenario is no longer being seen as a feasible route forward. Aside from the fact that little is known regarding the length of the immunity provided by Covid-19 antibodies, there were also significant problems with the tests themselves. While there are currently over 100 different antibody tests on the market, recent CDC guidelines state that these tests are prone to giving false-positives, meaning they could create a false sense of security. As such, the organization recommends that antibody test results not be used to make decisions regarding the relaxation of social distancing measures. Unfortunately, for the time being, that means we’re, “actually a step back to where we started,” according to Pitkin County Incident Management Team spokesperson, Bill Linn. To learn more about this story, check out the full article from the Colorado Sun.
#4: Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon to Receive Twelve New Remote Avalanche Control Towers:
Finally, let’s round out the week with some news that’s at least slightly positive. As you likely picked up from the previous highlight, there’s at least a chance that resort skiing won’t be quite the same next year. Last week, we shared an article from Powder Magazine that addressed just that, focusing on how a change in ski resort operations could lead to an absolute surge in the population of backcountry skiers. In our coverage of that article, we did our best to highlight both the pros (it could be an evolution of the sport) and the cons (there are going to be a lot of ill-prepared backcountry skiers out there) of that scenario. Ultimately one of the biggest concerns regarding a sudden increase in backcountry skiers and snowboarders is an increased risk of avalanches due to a lack of education amongst participants. Fortunately, there’s been a positive update in this regard, at least for skiers in the Salt Lake City area.
This week, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) announced that it’s began work on installing twelve remote avalanche control towers along the Toledo and Emma ridges in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Built by Wyssen Avy Control, these control towers will enable avalanche condition watchers (presumably UDOT staff) to remotely blast terrain that could be subject to sliding. In doing so, the plan is to mitigate avalanche danger in this particular area, creating a safer environment for outdoor enthusiasts. While we have to assume that the plans for this system have been in the works for a while now, the timing couldn’t be any better as UDOT hopes to have all twelve towers installed by the end of September. Should everything go according to plan, that means this particular zone should be significantly safer come ski season. While that doesn’t alleviate all of the concerns surrounding an increase population of backcountry skiers next year, it’s at least a step in the right direction. To learn more about this, check out the official UDOT Avy Division page on Instagram.