#1: To Ski or Not to Ski, Part 2:
Well, it’s official: it’s the Coronavirus’s world and we’re all just living in it. Unfortunately that means we’re back with yet another virus-heavy Top Five Friday. We’ll start that dreadful task by revisiting a discussion we began last week as we explored the idea of whether or not it’s a good idea to extend your ski season via touring at your local ski area. To be sure, it’s an unprecedented conundrum that skiers with touring setups everywhere are struggling to make sense of, and one that’s been as divisive as any issue we’ve seen in the ski community in recent years. While we’ll share our current take on the topic at the end of this highlight, we also want to iterate that the purpose of this conversation is to keep everybody as well informed on the issue as possible so that the best decision can be made by each potential uphill skier. So, with that preface, let’s jump in.
As you likely realize, there’re two staunchly divided perspectives regarding whether or not it’s ok to go skiing right now. On one side of the argument are those who feel as though touring is an exceptionally low risk activity when it comes to spreading the Coronavirus, so long as participants are following CDC guidelines such as traveling to the mountain in separate vehicles and maintaining a 6’ radius in the parking lot as well as on the skin track. That perspective is summed up quite nicely in this photoessay from Powder Magazine. In the short writeup that sets the stage for the accompanying photos, skier and writer Liam Doran does an excellent job of succinctly representing the responsible way to go uphill skiing at a time like this. In reading the quick piece, a simple, concise version of what skiing during the self-isolation era can look like is presented. Summarized all too briefly, Doran’s ideology is this: go skiing, but do it safely. Maintain social distancing, scale way back on the send factor, and be hyper aware of avalanche conditions. The goal of skiing at a time like this is to get some exercise and to maintain your sanity, not to push your limits and add stress to the medical community by either contributing to the spread of the Coronavirus, or requiring a mountain rescue. If you’re someone who’s considering going uphill skiing, we definitely recommend reading the piece, if only to learn how others are handling themselves.
On the other side of the discussion, are those who are strongly against uphill skiing. Their perspective is multifaceted but hinges on the argument that skiing is not a necessity, and the simple act of going skiing at a time like this is problematic. While it’s possible to go skinning in solitude, those adamantly against skinning share the idea that those choosing to continue skiing are continuing to spread the virus to mountain communities, aren’t practicing proper social distancing, and run the risk of stressing out overwhelmed health care systems in the event that they require rescue. Unfortunately, at least one of their claims is indisputable as parking lot crowding has been occurring at many ski ares in Utah and Colorado. As a result of uphill skiers ignoring social distancing standards, many ski areas and regions are instilling official bans on touring. Loveland Pass, CO for example, announced on Wednesday that they’re closed to uphill traffic, specifically as a result of skiers flooding the parking lots.
So what’s our take? Again, our goal here is to provide additional perspective that you can use to make your own decisions, not to pretend to be an authority on the subject. Truth be told, there really aren’t any authorities on whether or not it’s ok to go skinning during a pandemic. That’s why this debate exists. All of that said, it seems to us that those arguing against uphill skiing for the rest of the season imagine a reality in which that means crowded parking lots, reckless skiing, a raging aprés scene, and a total disregard for social distancing. On the other hand, proponents of allowing uphill skiing see it as a low impact way to get some fresh air and exercise while practicing social distancing. The reality of the situation is that both scenarios are likely to be validated many times over during the course of the next couple months until the snow melts away. For us, we encourage anyone who’s planning on going uphill skiing to not lose sight of the realities associated with the pandemic. Please don’t head to the resort and treat the experience like a typical sunny spring day at the mountain. Keep your turns mellow, and your social spacing adequate.
#2: Early Notes on the Economic Impact of the Coronavirus on the Ski Industry:
Next up in ski news this week is an article from the Associated Press that takes a closer look into what the economic impact of the Coronavirus on the ski industry could be. While it goes without saying that ski areas are losing money as a result of the closures, and that the U.S. economy on the whole is likely on the brink of a serious recession, this week’s article shares some hard figures and statistics to consider when examining the economic impact on ski resorts, specifically. For example, one powerful anecdote is that March is typically Colorado’s busiest month for skiing. Last year, the state’s resorts hosted 13.8 million skiers and snowboarders, generating between $5 billion and $6 billion for the economy. Zooming out to examine the fiscal year on the whole, Colorado Ski Country USA’s CEO and President, Melanie Mills, estimates that most ski resorts earn 25-30% of their annual revenue between the start of March and the end of the season. In other words, while it may feel ski season was coming to an end by the time the closures hit, the reality is that we were just entering the start of a very important season for ski resorts as the 25-30% of revenue earned during this time is likely what they rely on to fund operations until the next season starts.
Looking ahead, the loss of revenue raises significant questions about what happens next. For instance, will the pre sale of next year’s season passes be enough to carry Alterra and Vail into next year without incurring significant financial damage? Or, were they relying too heavily on March and April revenue to cover operating costs until next season? Another significant question is what the wider economic impact of the virus will be on North Americans’ ability to afford season passes next year. Will the fallout from a shuttered economy prove damaging enough to negatively impact pass sales next season? If so, how long will the decline in participation last, and will ski resorts be able to recover? To be sure, these aren’t fun questions to be pondering. Unfortunately though, they’re very real considerations whose truths will only be revealed once we arrive at a post Covid-19 world. Until then, we encourage you to read this report shared by the Salt Lake Tribune if you’d like to stay informed in regards to the virus’s economic impact on the ski industry.
#3: Think the Closure of Ski Resorts was Unnecessary? Think Again:
Finally, CV update number 3. We know you’re probably sick of Coronavirus news; we are too. Unfortunately, the pandemic has become so thoroughly disruptive that even in the world of skiing it’s almost all that matters at the moment. (Almost. We’ll bring you a bit of relief in highlight #4 this week, promise). With that in mind, we bring you a news piece this week that answers the question, “did all ski resorts actually need to close?” In short, the argument against closing ski resorts is simple: skiing itself is a solitary sport, and if precautions such as closing lodges, gondolas, and other indoor spaces had been taken, the risk of spreading Coronavirus at a ski resort is relatively low. After all, skiers are typically bundled up, making it much harder to actually transmit or catch the virus. That argument of course, ignores what goes on after a day of skiing, as well as the tendency of skiers to travel.
This week, news broke in Austria that backs up the decision of ski resorts to shut it down for the season. There, a ski resort called Ishgl, in the Austrian province of Tyrol, is being cited as a hotspot for infections that’ve since spread to a number of other European countries. Known by many as a party mountain, the resort of Ishgl is being accused of covering up known Coronavirus infections in order to continue operating. As a result, thousands of infections across numerous European countries (Iceland, Norway, and Germany to name a few) have been traced back to visitors at the resort in early March. You can read plenty more about Ishgl’s alleged role in the spread of the Coronavirus with a simple google search. For our part, we’d just like to reiterate that this news is exactly the reason why ski resorts, particularly those belonging to multi-passes, needed to shut down when they did. It wasn’t simply a matter of catching the virus while skiing. Instead, it was a decision made that acknowledges the literal closeness of the ski community, as well as the travel dynamic which could only serve to accelerate the spread of the sickness. So, like it or not, the decision to shut down ski resorts early this year was undoubtedly the right one.
#4: Ski Racing "Health of Sport" Task Force Focusing on Solving Rising Cost of Ski Racing:
Finally, let’s round out the week with some virus-free news. Earlier this year, we shared with you an article from Ski Racing Magazine highlighting the incredible costs associated with competitive youth ski racing. While there was a lot to cover in that initial article the two most important notes to keep in mind are that current estimates suggest a serious youth-level ski racer would have to spend nearly $500,000 through the end of high school to remain competitive, and that a “Health of Sport” task force had been formed to explore ways to solve that issue. This week, we’ve started learning more about some of the solutions being proposed by that task force.
In total, the task force came up with four areas requiring attention: the allowed number of starts, traveling and missed school, retention and standards for advancement, and entry & exit from the sport. Of these four areas for improvement, the number of allowed starts is likely to stir up the most controversy, as well as the most financial savings. In short the idea is this: in limiting the number of starts each racer is allowed per season (starting with 30 in an athlete’s first year), racers and families of racers will have to prioritize their competition schedule. In doing so, not only will they be forced to travel less, but it’s likely that more trips will be taken closer to home, lowering the cost of each race. In addition to limiting the number of starts, the task force also recommends reexamining the schedule with a focus on increasing the number of weekend races (which currently make up approximately 50% of the schedule) in an effort to decrease the amount of missed school. Third, the Health of Sport task force is also recommending a revisitation of the system for advancement in an effort to deemphasize the importance of FIS points which often cause skiers to compete in more races. Finally, the task force will also look to spend more time examining causes of entry and exit from the sport as they hope to increase participation while decreasing the number of racers who leave the sport behind. At the moment, the task force is simply presenting its findings and none of their suggestions are set in stone. To learn more about the issues at hand as well as the Health of Sport task force’s proposed solutions, check out this article from Ski Racing Magazine.