Lead Image: Mikaela Shiffrin letting her emotions show after putting down what would become a second place Super G run, ultimately securing this year’s Overall World Cup Title. Image: U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team on Facebook
#1: FIS Alpine World Cup Updates: Shiffrin Finishes Strong While RCS Makes a Mainstream Media Appearance::
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the March 25, 2022 edition! This week, the biggest news for us personally is that we’ve just wrapped up our 6th and arguably most successful ski test so far. Over the course of this week, we tested hundreds of skis and snowboards from over twenty brands as we look to bring our most comprehensive ski test ever to you sometime towards the middle or end of August. We’ll have plenty more to share with you on that front in the months ahead, so for now, let’s focus on the task at hand: this week’s ski news. With the final races of the FIS Alpine World Cup Season behind us, we’ve got final results to share, as well as a couple of additional updates from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team. From there, we’ll share a pair of stories that dive into more summer-esque ski news themes like housing, traffic congestion, and the value of reservations. But first, let’s round out the FIS Season.
Last weekend in Courchevel, both the Men’s and Women’s teams had just one Slalom and one Giant Slalom race each left on the event calendar. In the leadup to those events, Mikaela Shiffrin had already secured the Overall Crystal Globe, as well as the overall bronze in Super G. With just the two slalom events left, Shiffrin’s best possible outcome would’ve been a gold in the Giant Slalom and second place in Slalom. So, how did she do? Well, in Saturday’s slalom event, Shiffrin finished in 8th place. Certainly not her best slalom result of all time, however it did earn her 32 points, more than enough to secure a second place overall finish in the 2022 FIS Slalom category. A day later, Shiffrin put up a similar result, coming in 7th in the Giant Slalom, earning herself 36 points. That total was enough to secure 3rd place overall in the Giant Slalom category. So, when all was said and done, Shiffrin finished the 2022 FIS Season with 1st place overall, 2nd place in Slalom, 3rd place in Giant Slalom, and 3rd place in Super G. For an athlete rebounding from not only the two most challenging seasons of her career, but also the most disappointing Olympic showing of her career, Shiffrin’s final FIS results are nothing short of spectacular. We’re once again in awe of her performance. You can check out Shiffrin’s final results over on the official FIS website.
On the Men’s side of things, results were a bit more subdued, although we do want to take a moment to highlight rising star Luke Winters who finished in 8th place in the final Slalom event of the season. Towards the back half of the year, Winters has been putting up consistent results that provide plenty of promise for the Men’s team in the year ahead. On the whole, the squad has been missing a more technically talented skier, and it’s looking like Winters might turn out to be the solution to that problem. You can check out his result here.
Finally, before rounding out our first FIS Alpine highlight of the week, we want to quickly mention that U.S. Ski Team athlete Ryan Cochran-Siegel was featured in this week’s episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, where they shared the story of not just RCS and his recent rise to success, but also his Olympic family’s interesting background owning and operating a local rope tow here in Vermont. The trailer for that segment accompanies this highlight.
#2: U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Makes Two Significant Hires as it Shifts Focus to Period of Rebuilding::
In other ski racing news this week, we have a couple of significant additions to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team to share with you. As you might recall, in the wake of the Olympic games, USST Alpine Director Jesse Hunt announced his resignation. Now, a month later, we bring you news that his position has been filled by team alum Patrick Riml who had previously been steering the ship for the Austrian team as their Alpine Director. What’s interesting about this hire, for better or worse, is that it’s not Riml’s first stint as the USST Alpine Director. In fact, he first took over that role from Jesse Hunt back in 2011, before handing the reins back to Hunt again in 2018. Now, four years later, Riml is once again taking over. While current CEO Sophie Goldschmidt recognizes that there might be some feedback for this decision and the seemingly never ending 2 person merry-go-round of Alpine Directors, she stands behind her decision, saying, “When I think about Patrick, it is a combination: we are reinstating established authority and we know experience matters, especially in Alpine. With Patrick, we get that in spades.” In other words, as a relatively new CEO tasked with filling one of the largest positions on the team, Goldschmidt has opted to play things safe by hiring a known entity rather than roll the dice on someone offering a high risk and high reward scenario. While there’ll likely be disagreement regarding this hire, from our perspective, we like the move. Riml has experience and respect on an international level, and returning with new perspectives may be enough to give the USST the boost it needs.
The other hire made by Goldschmidt is to fill the recreated role of Chief of Sport. Once a key member of the leadership team, this position hasn’t been around in recent years, and Goldschmidt says she knew immediately upon accepting her role as CEO that she would be bringing it back. Operating as something of a point person or liaison between the business side and the sport side of the organization, the Chief of Sport is, in our own words, is tasked with making sure all levels of competition across all sports are running smoothly and in a way that promotes excellence. To be sure, it’s a massive, somewhat vague job, but it helps to think of this position as the CEO’s right hand man, or in this case, woman. To fill that role, Goldschmidt has tapped Anouk Patty, a Harvard MBA graduate, former collegiate alpine skier, and board member for POWDR corp and the Green Mountain Valley school. In other words, Patty has an incredible business acumen, experience as an athlete, and practical experience regarding the operation of both ski resorts and ski academies at the junior level. That combination of experiences is both incredibly rare and absolutely perfect for the role of Chief of Sport, where a wide range of knowledge and experience regarding the world of skiing is crucial. Ultimately, these new hires, as well as Goldschmidt’s success will be measured again in four years after the next Olympic games. Until then, we’ll be excited to watch the early results of their work begin to show up in the year ahead. To learn more about these hires, check out the press release form the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team, or this recap from SkiRacing.com.
#3: The Impact of the Housing Shortage Hits Main Street in Mountain Towns:
Alright, let’s switch gears here and take a look at some of the bigger issues affecting the industry. This week, we caught an article coming out of Telluride, CO that once again highlights the ski town housing shortage issue, although from a slightly different angle than we’re used to. Typically when we cover this theme, we’re discussing how the lack of housing in ski towns makes it difficult for resorts to house their employees, as well as the ridiculous cost of living for locals. This week, Western Slope Now published a brief yet thought provoking article that examines how the housing shortage also impacts local businesses. In summary, the housing shortage that’s made it difficult for resorts to attract employees has also trickled down to businesses within the community as well, resulting in reduced hours or even permanent closures. More specifically, the situation at local Telluride businesses sounds far from ideal. In one instance, the owner of a local bakery and pizza shop, Baked in Telluride, has even gone to the extreme of purchasing a property to house his employees. While that move seems necessary in this instance, it also creates the awkward scenario where his tenants are also his employees, creating both an employer / employee relationship, as well as a landlord / tenant relationship. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to dream up the many ways this could go wrong.
One of the underlying elements of this story that really grabbed our attention with this article though, is how it highlights the intricate relationship and delicate balance that’s required for both ski resorts and mountain towns to prosper. While the ski resorts are the economic driver of their communities as they’re responsible for bringing tourists to town to support local businesses, oftentimes issues at the resort can result in problems within the community. In this case, due to a number of factors, ski resorts have resulted in a real estate market in which home prices have skyrocketed and availability has plummeted. That combination has made it increasingly difficult for both year round and seasonal workers to find a place to live in mountain towns. The solution to this issue might seem simple: build more housing. As it turns out however, it’s not that easy as mountain communities are reluctant to favor development over the preservation of the wilderness that’s made them so attractive in the first place.
For better or worse, it feels inevitable that the development side of the argument will prevail as the lack of housing is impacting both the resorts that drive the local economy, as well as local businesses who are now also struggling to retain a full workforce. While there’s sure to be disagreement here, it feels as though there’s enough growing consensus between local residents, local businesses, and the resorts themselves that something has to be done about the housing crisis. In last week’s article, we shared an announcement from Vail which, in part, promised to create new housing developments for employees, should local governments approve it. While many might bemoan this development, the inarguable fact of the matter is that the mountain town housing crisis is reaching a point where it’s no longer just affecting staffing at the resorts themselves. Ultimately, it’s a complex issue and one we’re sure we’ll find ourselves covering through the summer. For now, we’ll turn you over to Western Slope Now to learn more about this additional angle.
#4: Could Alta’s Paid Parking Reservation System Save Utah Taxpayers Millions of Dollars?
Last up this week is an article that feels like a nice transition into off season news. While there are still a few weeks of skiing left at many resorts, and even months at some, it’s also that time of year when the news shifts into reflection on the past year and preparation for the year ahead. As such, we want to share with you an opinion piece published by Utah’s Deseret News in which author Glen Spencer argues that Alta may have silently discovered the solution to Little Cottonwood Canyon’s overwhelming traffic congestion issues. Now, it’s been a few months since we’ve last shared this story, and if we’re doing our jobs moderately well, that means we’ve likely picked up a few new readers over the course of the season, so bear with us while we quickly review the issue at hand.
In recent years, traffic congestion in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, the winding, narrow two lane road accessing Alta and Snowbird, has become incredibly problematic. Due to a number of issues, traffic on the canyon road has resulted in consistently making what could be a 30 minute drive a multi hour ordeal. As such, back in June of 2020, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) announced that they would be taking definitive action to mitigate the issue, presenting a number of possible solutions such as adding a dedicated bus lane to the road, building a railway up the canyon, and most polarizingly, building a gondola that would run the length of the canyon. As you can imagine, all of these solutions came with a hefty price tag, ranging from $283 million on the low end, to nearly $1 billion for the railway solution.
It’s with this background in place that we share with you Glen Spencer’s opinion this week, who brings his experience skiing at Alta this winter to our attention. There, Alta, who has been dealing with parking issues of their own in recent years, implemented a paid parking reservation system for weekends and holidays. Unlike the Epic Pass’s reservation system during the Pandemic Season, Alta’s reservation system doesn’t determine access to the resort, just the ability to park there. By pre-registering your car’s license plate with the resort, you’re guaranteed a parking spot at the mountain on a weekend day. The result, according to Spencer, was a great improvement of the traffic conditions within the canyon, and a stress free parking experience at the resort. All sounds great, right? Well, there is a catch, and one that Spencer willfully ignores: the price to reserve a spot on a weekend is $25/day. With that in mind, another layer of complexity is added to a seemingly simple solution and we find ourselves thinking back to the question recently posed by The New York Times, “Who Gets to Ski?”. We don’t have the answer for that right now, and there are plenty of additional considerations to make with this story which we’ll surely dive into over the course of the summer. For now, we’ll suggest reading Spencer’s op-ed and sharing your thoughts on the matter with us in the comments section below.