#1: FIS World Cup Ski Racing Update: That's a Wrap on the 2020-2021 Season:
Well, we’ve finally made it. At one point this summer, there were concerns that this day wouldn’t come, or that if it did, we’d only have European competitors to talk about. Alas, the FIS event organizers have prevailed and we find ourselves able to discuss a World Cups season that felt mostly normal. Before we get into the overall recap, let’s take a look at the final races of the season which took place in Lenzerheide, Switzerland this week. For Mikaela Shiffrin, both the slalom and giant slalom races went quite well as she finished in second place in both. These results continue her return to form, which started after her strong showing at the World Championships back in February. Since then, Shiffrin’s been consistently showing up on the podium, a trend that we hope, and even expect, to continue next season. Also impressing in last week’s slalom event was Paula Moltzan who finished in 7th, continuing a hot streak of her own in which she’s now tied or improved upon her previous career-best finish three times over the course of the previous two weeks. In the giant slalom event, U.S. athlete Nina O’Brien also earned points with her 12th place finish. Unfortunately, on the men’s side, no athletes earned points, reinforcing the notion that speed events, and not technical events, are the U.S. team’s strong suit.
Now, with last week’s results wrapped up, as well as the season on the whole, let’s talk about overall standings. On the men’s side, Ryan Cochran Siegle led the U.S. team, coming in 22nd overall. While that may not come off as overly impressive, it’s crucial to keep in mind that RCS’s season came to an abrupt end after a fall in January forced him out of competition and into rehab. Considering the fact that he ultimately missed two months of competition and still finished in 22nd overall is downright impressive and creates hope that next season he’ll be able to build on his success. For the women’s team, the overall results were even more impressive. Despite just missing the overall podium, finishing 4th, Shiffrin managed to secure a second place overall finish in both slalom and giant slalom events. Again, it’s also important to note that Shiffrin’s return to form really didn’t happen until the last month of competition, suggesting that next year her results could be further improved. In addition to Shiffrin, Paula Moltzan also earned an overall second place finish, this time in the parallel slalom event. Finally, just missing the podium in the overall downhill standings was U.S. athlete Breezy Johnson who finished in 4th. In addition to Shiffrin’s fourth place finish in the overall standings, Breezy Johnson earned a 17th place finish and Paula Moltzan in 21st, both very respectable results. Ultimately the takeaway from the season for the U.S. Women’s team is that there are a number of athletes on the rise, and next season has the potential to be something of a breakout year for both those athletes as well as the team on the whole. To see the complete list of overall results from this season, check in with the FIS website.
Finally, before we end this highlight, we want to quickly share an article from the Wall Street Journal that highlights Shiffrin’s return to form. If you’re interested in seeing what went into Shiffrin’s comeback year, you can check out that article here.
#2: Freeride World Tour Stop #4 & Overall Results:
In other season ending competition news, we’re excited to share with you the results from last week’s Freeride World Tour stop #4, which marked the end of this year’s series. As always, the final stop of the tour was held in Verbier, Switzerland, where the terrain enabled athletes to let loose and highlight the best of their abilities. That might come off as simple and obvious, but a quick watch of the accompanying highlight reel will certainly put some weight behind that statement. With a solid mix of steep chutes, trickable cliff features, and even rolling wind drifts, athletes were able to take advantage of the variety of options to put down their best runs. The availability of features, as well as the pressure of it being the final event of the season, ultimately resulted in athletes throwing down some absolutely ridiculous runs. Proof of this can be quickly and easily verified by citing the fact that Blake Marshall finished in 8th, even after putting down an insane cork 7. As for the first place run, that was put together by Kristofer Turdell, whose combination of speed and technicality was impressive enough to earn him a score of 90.67. While a number of other competitors put down amazing runs, we yet again have to shout out Aymar Navarro who absolutely blew our minds for the second week in a row. In his run, Navarro sent an absolutely massive double stage cliff drop which required the abandonment of turning and resulted in easily the highest speeds of the day. It’s difficult to put into words how insane this section of his run was, and we definitely recommend checking it out via the replay. On the women’s side of things, the competition really came down to two athletes: Arianna Tricomi and Elisabeth Gerritzen. Both of these athletes looked to mix technical skiing with speed and XL sized drops to put themselves on top of the leaderboard. Ultimately, it was Gerritzen whose run scored higher, most likely due to her last cliff feature, which she took off the point and exited with considerable speed.
With the completion of the fourth stop, we also have the conclusion of this year’s tour. As such, we also have final overall results to share. On the women’s side, Elisabeth Gerritzen took home the first place trophy after winning the 2nd and 4th stops of this year’s touring. Coming in second, and just 20 points behind Gerritzen, was Hedvig Wesseel whose consistent performances all season long earned her a first, second, and third place finish, along with a seventh place finish at the second stop of the tour. Finally, in third place was Zuzanna Witych. On the men’s side, Kristofer Turdell took home first after finishing first, second, and third this year across the four stops. Coming in second was U.S. athlete and tour rookie Ross Tester who earned two gold medals this year at the first and third stops of the tour. Finally, in third place, was Carl Regner Eriksson, who only had one third place finish during the season, but made up for his lack of podium results with consistent quality finishes at each stop of the tour. Lastly, before we wrap up this highlight, we’d also like to declare the event organizers as winners as their flexible approach to the season enabled them to successfully host the tour, presenting a highly entertaining product at each stop. So, shout out to the FWT organizers, and we can’t wait to watch again next year. Until then, you can learn more about last week’s event here, and see the final overall standings here.
#3: Epic Announcement: Vail Lowers Epic Pass Price by 20%:
Next up is a highlight that we’re positive is going to get mixed reactions. This week, Vail announced that it’ll be dropping the price of its entire Epic Pass offering by 20% for next season. In doing so, the cost of a full Epic Pass has dropped from $979 to $783, while the Epic Local Pass has been reduced from $729 to $583. In the press release from Vail that announced the reductions, the goal of becoming “Epic for Everyone” is cited as the leading reason for the change. By reducing the prices to a cost not seen since the 2015/2016 season, Vail hopes to enable more people to ski by reducing the financial barrier to entry. In addition to the reduction of its season pass offerings, Vail has also introduced the Epic Day Pass, which is a new type of pass offering that allows buyers to customize their access to the mountains. Created to enable those who ski 7 days or less each year, the Epic Day Pass allows skiers to choose the number of days they want to ski next season, as well as whether they’d like their pass to be valid on holidays. Depending on the purchaser’s selections, the Epic Day Pass can reduce the cost of a day ticket to just $74/day. For comparison’s sake, a day pass to Stowe that’s valid for today, March 26th, would cost $139, while peak season prices are typically even higher.
Those are the facts behind this week’s news, but we expect the real headlines regarding this update to be centered around the impact of this decision. While Vail’s goal of making skiing accessible to everyone is noble and something we very much support, there’s also the ever present, growing issue regarding crowd sizes. As we’ve covered several times over in recent years, the rise of multi-passes has resulted in a rise in congestion at participating resorts. In Utah, for example, traffic congestion in Little Cottonwood Canyon has neared a breaking point, resulting in the Utah Department of Transportation’s consideration of multiple costly resolutions, including the implementation of a gondola up the Canyon. Elsewhere, parking and lift lines are the prominent issues, both of which are equally frustrating to locals. Now, with a sub $600 season pass offering, it’s a foregone conclusion that the number of Epic Passes sold next year will likely increase significantly. For ski areas that already seem to be at capacity, such as our home mountain of Stowe, it’ll be interesting to see how Vail manages a further increase of crowd sizes.
Finally, before we wrap this highlight up, we want to bring in one more area worthy of consideration into the conversation: the impact on local businesses. While the resorts will have their hands full in terms of managing a surge in visitors, the towns that rely on tourism to bring in business will also benefit from Vail’s announcement. We bring this up simply to remind our readers that, as with all things in life, the impact of this announcement isn’t black and white. Instead, it’s filled with shades of gray, with many valid arguments relevant to the issue. To read Vail’s official announcement, click here. If you’d like to read some reactions to the announcement, check out this article from the Salt Lake Tribune, as well as this report from Forbes.
#4: The End is Near: Industry Leaders Discuss the Transition Out of Pandemic Skiing:
Continuing with our trend of looking ahead to next season, we round out this week with an excellent article from the Colorado Sun that takes a closer look at what we can start to expect next season as resorts look to return to normal. As is always the case with the Colorado Sun, the article does an excellent job of investigating a number of aspects of this story, and not just the obvious ones. That said, let’s start with the biggest, most obvious highlight from the article: Vail has announced that it will do away with the reservation system next year. After committing a considerable amount of resources to create the reservation system, which, all things considered, went reasonably well this year, Vail is ready to leave it in the past as the pandemic looks to recede into our collective rearview. In addition to this major announcement, which signals a return to normalcy next year, the article also dives into a number of different changes that came about due to the pandemic, and will likely remain in place in a post-Covid world as they’ve ultimately enhanced the resort experience. Amongst those changes is the addition of a significant digital infrastructure which hadn’t previously existed at resorts. In the article, Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory cites the digital guest experience as one that, “became a big part of our business this year,” as it’s enabled guests to buy passes, rent equipment, and order food all from their phones. Pandemic or not, this type of convenience has greatly improved the guest experience as it’s eliminated the need to wait in lines. In addition to these two highlights, the article also discusses a number of other considerations, such as Arapahoe Basin’s recent decision to decrease its daily ticket sales next season. Ultimately, the article is a great read for any skier who’s eager for resorts to return to normal next season and is interested in learning more about what changes might survive the pandemic. If that description fits you, then we’d encourage giving the article a read in full.