Top Five Fridays: May 12, 2023

MAY 12, 2023 | WRITTEN BY Matt McGinnis

Lead Image: Snowbird, Utah is one of the snowiest places in America. It’s also one of several Utah ski resorts that’s been experiencing growing traffic issues in recent years due to their locations at the end of long canyon roads. This week, the Utah Department of Transportation announced a new plan to alleviate the issue, starting in 2025. More on that below! Image: Snowbird Ski Resort on Facebook

#1: The 2022/2023 Ski Season Saw a Record Number of Skier Visits, According to the NSAA’s Annual Report:

Top Five Fridays May 12, 2023: Mammoth Mountain Ski Image

If the slopes felt a bit busier this year, don’t worry, you’re not imagining things. In this year’s annual skier visitation report, the NSAA shares the news that the 2023-2024 hosted the most skier and snowboarder visits ever. Image: Mammoth Mountain on Facebook

Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the May 12, 2023 edition! This week’s a big week for us ski news reporters as the NSAA has just released its annual ski area visitation report. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, this report is centered around collecting data regarding the volume of skier visits each year. By tracking statistics centered around ski area visitation, and drawing connections between other themes in the ski industry, we’re able to get an annual snapshot regarding the health of the ski industry. Keeping all of that in mind, it’s with excitement that we share the news that the 2022-2023 set a new record for most skier visits ever, with 64.7 million visits recorded. That’s a 6.6% increase over last year’s previous record setting highmark of 60.69 million visits. In other words, in a post-covid world, the ski business is booming.

In addition to sharing these statistics with us, the annual report also provides a number of factors that influence these numbers. It should come as no surprise that historically speaking, there’s a direct correlation between snowfall and skier visitation. This year, that led to both the Rocky Mountain region and Pacific Northwest regions having their best years on record- a perfect complement to their record setting snowfall. In addition to the weather, the increased use of season passes also resulted in more visitation. In a trend that’s directly related to the evolution of multipasses, season pass usage has surpassed daily lift ticket usage for the fourth consecutive year. This time around, season passes accounted for 50% of visits, while daily lift tickets accounted for 33%. Finally, one last statistic that emerged from this report that we found interesting, and that speaks to the overall health of the ski industry, was the substantial increase in capital investments from ski resorts in the last year. In 2022-2023, resorts spent a record-setting combined $812.4 million on infrastructure upgrades, which could include everything from new chairlifts and snowmaking infrastructure, to new lodges and base area renovations. When broken down across skier visits, that comes out to about $26 per skier visit being reinvested back into the resorts. So, if you’re someone who went skiing 30 times this year, congratulations, you contributed $780 towards the ski industry’s infrastructure! Obviously the math isn’t that straightforward, but it at least makes us feel better about the amount we ski. Afterall, it’s for a good cause, right? To learn more about these statistics and to read the report in full, go ahead and click here.

#2: Tolls Coming to Utah’s Cottonwood Canyons in 2025:

Top Five Fridays May 12, 2023: UDOT Transportation Image

With a final decision on the Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola project still pending, the Utah Department of Transportation announced plans to add tolls to the top of both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons in 2025, as well as increased public transportation options. Image: UDOT Cottonwood Canyons Facebook Page

In other ski industry news, we have yet another update from Utah’s Cottonwood Canyons, where the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) continues to pursue concepts that will reduce the traffic issues found in both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. Previously on Top 5 Fridays, we’ve checked in a number of times on the status of the proposed gondola project in Little Cottonwood Canyon. That issue has become quite contentious, with proponents hailing it as a solution that will alleviate traffic issues while also attracting more tourism. Those opposing the concept have a list of arguments against it, ranging from cost, to environmental concerns, to the fact that it’s a solution that ignores the needs of non-skiing and snowboarding recreational enthusiasts. It’s with that backdrop in mind that we share the news that UDOT is planning to implement tolls in both Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons by 2025.

In news coverage from Salt Lake’s Fox 13 Now, we learn some of the details and reasons behind the announcement. Ultimately, at the heart of it, the introduction of tolls are meant to be a way to target the high volume of traffic specifically heading to ski resorts, and encourage visitors to take public transportation instead. One way in which the tolls solution specifically targets ski resort traffic in a way that the gondola solution wouldn’t, is that the tolls would be implemented quite a ways up the canyons, well past a number of popular pull offs for outdoor recreationists. This would enable those who are looking to enjoy national forest land to do so without having to pay to access it, while those visiting a ski resort would have to pay the toll.

In tandem with the introduction of these tolls, UDOT also hopes to increase its mass transit services. When it does, the idea would be to charge those passing through the tolls a more expensive rate, while keeping bus fares as close to free as possible. At the moment, there isn’t a final figure, early reports suggest tolls could cost in the range of $25-$35/car. In other words, the strategy is this: if you want to drive to the resort, it’ll cost you. If you’re willing to take a shuttle, your trip will be free or close to it. By implementing this dynamic, the hope is that it’ll encourage use of public transportation rather than low occupancy vehicles. While the gondola project remains in limbo, if it comes to fruition, it would provide a third means of distributing traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon, which UDOT hopes would result in a solution to the canyon’s traffic issues once and for all. As you can imagine, this story is far from over, so when we find out more we’ll be sure to share it with you. Until then, check out the latest update from Fox 13 Now, or if you’re a subscriber, check out this report from the Salt Lake Tribune.

#3: Plans For a New Ski Resort in Valdez Receive Preliminary Approval from State of Alaska:

Top Five Fridays May 12, 2023: The Last Ride Project Image

A rendering of the proposed East Peak Resort, which would overlook the town of Valdez and Prince William Sound. Photo by Jeremy Talbott, taken of a painting done by Ryan McCune, who originally envisioned the concept in the 1990’s. Image: East Peak Resort Official Website

In other ski resort type news, we caught a headline coming out of Valdez, Alaska that we can’t help but feel excited about. There, three partners have just received preliminary approval from the state for a ski resort located on East Peak, just 6 miles from downtown Valdez. Now, when we first came across the headline, we’ll admit, we were drawn in by the concept of a “new ski resort in Alaska.” As we read the story itself though, our interest grew for a different reason. In addition to being the snowiest town in the United States, averaging 279.4” per season, the resort makes sense from an economic standpoint as well.

Currently, Valdez's economy is largely dependent on the oil industry. With its proximity to the great outdoors, residents of Valdez are acutely aware of the impacts of climate change, the discussions around lessening the global dependency on oil, and what that means for the future of their economy. In short, it’s bleak. At the same time, the town, which is home to approximately 4,000 year round residents, is also a huge destination for summertime cruise ships. This year, they expect to welcome over 40 cruise ships to their port, bringing in roughly 50,000 tourists over the course of the summer, in addition to RV and more traditional road trip traffic. So, while Valdez is currently supported by oil money, they have all the ingredients required to become a year round, ski resort based, destination economy.

This week, the state of Alaska gave the trio spearheading the project preliminary approval to pursue their ambitious goals. Currently, they own approximately 200 acres of land at the base of the proposed ski area, which would eventually become the site of real estate developments that would evolve into a mountain village. Now that they have the state’s approval, the team behind the project is looking to lease an additional 800 acres of land which would allow them to begin exploring their options for the terrain as well as implementing some early construction features. From there, a number of additional dominoes need to fall in order for the project to happen, such as an updated planning and zoning process from the town of Valdez to include the private resort, as well as additional funding for the project. Still, the good news for the team is that there seems to be significant public support for the project, and with both economic and tourism factors playing into their favor, the East Peak project looks to have real potential, even if it takes several more years to materialize. To learn more about this, we recommend checking out the article from Anchorage Daily News.

#4: Level 1’s SuperUnknown 20 Has Come to Completion, and it May Have Been the Best One Yet:

Finally, we wrap our ski news coverage this week with another recap of yet another super fun, season ending freeskiing event. In recent weeks, we’ve covered Red Bull’s Unrailistic and Cascade events, as well as the Swatch Nine’s event and Kimbo Sessions. Lost in that mix was Level 1’s SuperUnknown 20 event, which took place at Mammoth mountain at the end of April. Now if you’re a freeskier, you undoubtedly already know about this competition. If you’re unfamiliar, the long and short of it is this: back in 2004, film company Level 1 Productions launched a contest where amateur skiers could submit an edit featuring their skiing for a chance to win a segment in their upcoming film. The concept was to find a “super unknown” skier who deserved a spotlight, and to blow them up. Over the years, some pretty significant names got their start as SuperUnknown winners, including athletes like Magnus Granér, Corey Vanular, and perhaps the biggest name of them all, Tom Wallisch. In the years since its inception, the landscape of ski filmmaking has changed while the proliferation of high quality cameras and social media have made it increasingly easier to become known as a skier if you deserve to be. As such, the contest itself has morphed from being a winner takes all, film part oriented contest, to one in which a selection of the top athletes are invited to a private park shoot at Mammoth Mountain, California, where they compete over the course of the week to win the title of SuperUnknown.

This year, for the event’s 20th iteration, Level 1 took things a step further and invited not only this year’s 16 semi-finalists, but also an additional 40 pro skiers from Level 1’s current and previous rosters. As a result, this year’s event was a celebration of freeskiing, with the hottest up and coming talent skiing right beside athletes they looked up to growing up, as well as those currently filming industry leading segments. At the end of the event, it was ultimately Mikkel Brusletto-Kaupang and Caoimhe Heavey who took home the title for the men’s and women’s category, each winning $2,500 a piece, a 23/24 Ikon Pass, and of course, the title of SuperUnknown 20 champion. As you’ll see in the attached edit, the one overlying commonality between these two skiers is the incredible smoothness with which they land tricks. Whether hitting a rail feature or a jump, both Mikkel and Caoimhe showcased an incredible ability to land a trick as if they’d never left the ground at all. In addition to these two winners, this year’s event also gave prizes to the “Best Pro Skier”, which was won by Kuura Koivisto, as well as a “Best Over 30 aka The Retirement Home Award”, which went to the legendary Parker White. All in all, this year’s event was an incredible success by all accounts, and based on the edits that we’re seeing, it seems like Level 1 may have stumbled across a format they’ll be reusing in future iterations. To learn more about the event, check out the recap from Level 1, or this first hand coverage from contributor Milo.McSenderson, who produced an entertaining recap video which you can find by following the link.

#5: And Now, Your Edits of the Week: Don’t Call it a Vlog, But Don’t Call it an Edit Either. Magma’s “He Was Not Happy” Provides a Rider’s Perspective on the Red Bull Cascade Event:

Beau-James Wells’s Brand of Pop Punk Park Skiing is at Your “Servus!”:

Finally, Watch The Bunch Take on the Swatch Nines:

Written by Matt McGinnis on 05/12/23