Lead Image: Isabella Wright en route to a career best 10th place finish in last weekend's Downhill race at Crans-Montana. Image: U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team on Facebook
#1: FIS Alpine World Cup Recap: Questions Linger Regarding Team USA's Olympic Performance as They Make a Slow Return to World Cup Competition:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the March 4, 2022 edition! This week, we’re bringing you a suite of ski resort news, although each piece takes a decidedly different angle on the theme. From the slopes of Austin, TX (yes, you read that right), to the hills of Idaho and New Hampshire, this week’s coverage really spans the entire United States, hitting regions and resorts of all sizes. We’ll quit being cryptic soon, but before we reveal the rest of this week’s highlights, let’s start by seeing what happened on the FIS Alpine World Cup circuit in the first post-Olympic races of the year.
Last week, after a short break following the Olympic games, both the men’s and women’s circuits returned to snow for the first time. For the women, that meant a pair of Downhill races in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. As you know, Downhill isn’t the strong suit of the U.S. Women's team, particularly with Breezy Johnson still injured on the sidelines, but that doesn’t mean last weekend’s races were entirely devoid of results. In last Saturday’s race, Keely Cashman and Isabella Wright both earned points, coming in 28th and 30th respectively. A day later, Isabella Wright put up the performance of the weekend, finishing in 10th. On the men’s side, things were unfortunately much less notable, as Garmisch, Germany hosted a pair of slalom races where only Ben Ritchie earned points, placing 20th in Sunday’s event. The good news though, is that this week’s schedule provides significantly more promise as the Men’s circuit is in Kvitfjell, Norway for a pair of Downhill races and a Super G, both of which are more fitting for the U.S. team. On the women’s side, Lenzerheide, Switzerland will play host to a Super G and Giant Slalom race. You can preview those stops as well as the rest of the calendar here.
Before we round out ski racing news for the week, we also want to share a pair of articles published by SkiRacing.com in the wake of the Olympics. The first one, titled, “Yes, We Need to Talk About Medals,” was an editorial style piece in which the publication addressed its intentions to continue to examine the U.S. race team in a critical light after coming up short in the Olympics. The point of the piece isn’t to point fingers or criticize any person or organization in particular, more to simply give its readers a reality check as to why the U.S.’s poor results should be addressed head on. Then, a few days later, the online magazine published a very special letter from Breezy Johnson in which she not only defends the U.S. Team, but also shares why she felt our collective expectations for the team had been set way too high as a result of recent success. All told, both pieces are excellent reads for those interested in reading all they can about the U.S. Alpine Team. If you’re curious, you can read Ski Racing’s editorial here, and Breezy Johnson’s response here.
#2: Three Big Announcements From the Ikon Pass:
Next up this week are a number of exciting announcements from the Ikon Pass. To kick off this round of highlights, we’ll start by sharing the news that the Ikon Pass has just gone on sale for the 2022-2023 season. Now, the pricing strategy for next year is a bit interesting. For new Ikon Pass holders, prices are up from last year, with a full adult Ikon Pass on sale for $1,079, an increase of $80 over last year, and a Base Pass on sale for $769, an increase of $40. Current pass holders however, are eligible for a $100 discount on a full Ikon Pass, and $50 off a Base Pass, meaning that if you’re an existing pass holder, next year’s pass will actually be just a little bit cheaper. It’s an interesting and very strategic move for an industry where pass prices are heavily scrutinized and have serious ramifications for a company’s bottom line.
In addition to putting next year’s passes on sale, Ikon also announced three new participants for next year: Chamonix-Mont Blanc Valley, France, and interestingly, Snow Basin in Utah, and Sun Valley, ID. What’s interesting about Snow Basin and Sun Valley, both of which are independently owned by the R. Earl Holding family, is that for the previous three years, they were a part of the Epic Pass. Now, after seeing what Vail had to offer them, they’ve decided to switch teams, now allowing full and base Epic Pass holders to ski their resort for 7 or 5 days respectively. Also of note, the two resorts have joined the Mountain Collective Pass, opting to diversify their customer base rather than stick with Vail after what many would call a tumultuous year.
Finally, the third Ikon highlight we feel compelled to share this week is that the company announced a massive spending initiative, ultimately green lighting $344 million across five of it’s largest resorts. Between these five resorts: Deer Valley, Palisades Tahoe, Steamboat Springs, Mammoth Mountain, and Crystal Mountain, Ikon will look to tackle projects ranging from renovating base areas, to relocating chairlifts, installing new chairlifts, and in the case of Deer Valley, constructing an entirely new base area. In recent years, we’ve become accustomed to seeing Vail flex its financial power in the form of significant upgrades. Now, we’re seeing Ikon follow suit in equally impressive fashion. You can learn more about all of these planned upgrades in this article from Gear Junkie.
#3: Alpine-X Announces Plans to Bring Skiing to Texas in 2025:
Moving right along, our third highlight this week is more ski resort news. Well, kind of. If you’ve been reading Top Five Fridays recently, you’ve probably read about Alpine-X, the indoor ski area developer that has its sights set on bringing the ski experience to unexpected metropolises across America. When we first reported on Alpine-X back in March of 2019, their known goal was to develop the first indoor ski resort in North America, in Fairfax, VA. Since then, Big SNOW American Dream became the first indoor ski area to open in North America when it opened in New Jersey, but the team behind Alpine-X has only set their sights higher. Recently, back in December, the company announced a partnership with ski legend Bode Miller, who stepped in as their Chief Innovation Officer. At that time, it was already known that the resort planned on opening approximately 20 locations across the United States, and with Bode Miller on the team, a growing sense of excitement began swirling around the idea.
This week, the team made progress as it was announced that they’ve signed letters of intent to develop two new indoor ski areas in Texas: one in Austin, and one in Dallas. While a number of details are undisclosed, such as specific sites, size, slope and chairlift count, etc., we do know a number of the basics. For starters, the team hopes to open both resorts in 2025, along with a slew of supporting amenities, including lodging, restaurants, and of course, rental shops. We also know that along with the ski centers will come a range of initiatives aimed at increasing participation in snowsports and accessibility. If you’ve been reading along with us recently, you likely realize that striking a balance between creating a welcoming sport that all can enjoy and the frustrations that come along with skiing at an overcrowded resort has become one of the more difficult challenges arising within skiing. At the very least, these Alpine-X venues should provide a way to open our collective doors to more new participants. At the very best, they could potentially be the entry point for more talent to find snowsports, bolstering Team America’s chances at future Winter Olympic Games. Regardless of the outcome there, we have to admit, we’re pretty excited about these new developments, and think it’s a great way to share the sport of skiing that we all love with an even wider crowd. We also can’t help but wonder how long it will take for either the Ikon Pass or the Epic Pas to team up with Alpine-X to offer year round skiing for their pass holders. Our bet is 2026. For now, you can learn more about this development by checking out the press release from Alpine-X, or this writeup from Austonia.com.
#4: Worried That Overcrowded Ski Resorts Are the Only Way Forward? Breathe. Human Powered Skiing is Growing in Popularity:
Finally, rounding out the week, we have a second piece of news that carries on with the theme of spacing out skiers by participating in the sport in different ways. Unfortunately however, our final highlight this week is actually a bit of a lowlight. Back at the end of January, we shared the story of Black Mountain, New Hampshire, who at the time threatened to shut off the resort to uphill skiers. One of the most alarming parts of that headline was the fact that Black Mountain had become something of a mecca for uphill skiing in the region, thanks in no small part to a group called Ski the Whites that operated an uphill touring shop out of the resort. There, customers could rent gear, creating an easy point of entry for first time uphillers. As a result of the seemingly symbiotic relationship, regular uphill events were hosted at Black Mountain, with their popular “Friday Night Lights” event drawing in crowds of around 150 people.
Unfortunately, all of that came to a screeching halt last week as the resort officially announced the end of its $10 uphill lift ticket policy. Not only that, but it turns out the development happened in dramatic fashion as tensions reportedly exploded at a Ski the Whites Friday Night Lights event last week when resort owner John Fichera lost his cool after discovering that a participant had smuggled beer into the lodge. That was the last straw for Fichera who called the cops on the participant, shut down the event, and kicked everyone off the hill. The next day, the resort’s social media account shared the news that uphill skiing would no longer be allowed at the resort. In the aftermath, Ski the Whites thanked Black Mountain for their long term support, but announced that they would be vacating their space at the resort immediately.
All told, it’s a sad moment for all parties involved. Black Mountain has lost a partnership that brought them considerable media attention, Ski the Whites has lost its long term home on the mountain, and area uphillers have lost a popular venue and event series. From a broader perspective, this story should really be taken as a cautionary tale of what can happen when uphillers and ski resort owners stop seeing eye to eye. As the sport of uphill skiing continues to grow in popularity, and ski resorts continue to be used as venues with a smattering of varying policies, this story could become something of a canary in the coal mine, warning the industry at large that we need to come to a consensus around the value and policies of uphill skiing at ski resorts as quickly as possible. To learn more about this particular situation, check out this writeup from the New England Ski Journal.