Lead Image: This week, the NSAA announced their annual statistics regarding skier visits at resorts across America. Here, ski legend Glen Plake protests the end of the season at Mammoth Mountain, where lifts are set to continue spinning into June. Image: Mammoth Moutain on Facebook
#1: Pending Final Approval, U.S. Hopes to Host Two More FIS World Cup Events Next Season:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the May 20, 2022 edition! This week, we’ve got a couple of highlights from the world of ski racing, which we’ll use as bookends to surround a couple of ski resort highlights. To kick things off this week, we’re extremely excited to share the news that the FIS has granted provisional approval for the United States to host two additional stops for next year’s World Cup Circuit! If you follow along with the sport of ski racing, you likely know that in recent years, the U.S. has played host at just two venues: Killington and Beaver Creek. You also have likely realized that both of these events are highlights of the season, not just for us as domestic fans, but for international athletes and audiences as well. With this week’s news, it’s seeming likely that the World Cup calendar will include races at both Palisades Tahoe and Aspen next year, should they be confirmed at next week’s annual FIS congress.
If approved, next year’s schedule would feature back to back race weekend’s in the U.S. for the men’s division, starting with a slalom and giant slalom race at Palisades Tahoe on the weekend of February 25th & 26th. While there haven’t been any World Cup races held at the resort in recent years, it’s a sensible location to play host. Between hosting the Olympic games in 1960, and the fact that there are currently seven former Palisades Tahoe athletes on the USST roster, it’s pretty much a no-brainer to bring FIS racing back to the resort. After these two races, the men would then travel just under a thousand miles due east to Aspen, where the resort would host a super-G and downhill race. Again, Aspen is another strong choice of venue as the resort has a long history with the sport, hosting the first ever World Championship outside of Europe in 1950, as well as over a hundred World Cup races in total. Adding these two venues and four races to the already successful events at Killington and Beaver Creek could go a long way in reigniting interest in ski racing here in the United States. Overall, it’s extremely exciting news for fans here in America, and another big step in the right direction for Johan Eliasch as he pursues his goals of expanding interest in the FIS on a global scale. With his promised tenure quickly coming to a close, it’s safe to say that between this week’s news and his push to solidify international broadcasting rights (which we covered a few weeks back), we truly hope Eliasch gets re-elected as FIS president as the future of the sport looks bright under his leadership. To learn more about the newly announced U.S. races, check out this writeup from SkiRacing.com.
#2: The Results Are In: NSAA Releases Official 2021-2022 Ski Season Statistics:
Remember a few weeks ago when we shared an article from Forbes discussing the trends that are defining skiing? At the time of that publication, Forbes shared a few statistics regarding overall trends in skier visits in recent years, and while we didn’t voice it in our coverage, we found the timing of the piece odd as we knew that updated statistics regarding skier visitation would be coming soon. As it turns out, this week is the week in which we received that information as the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has released statistics for skier visits over the 2021-2022 season. If this is your first time reading about the NSAA’s annual skier visits report, let us bring you up to speed real quick. Each year since the 1978-1979 season, the NSAA has measured what they call “skier visits” across all U.S. resorts, meaning every time an individual used a lift ticket or season pass at a ski area. In other words, if you skied 35 days last season, you contributed 35 skier visits to their data. Taking it a step further, the NSAA also breaks the data up into six regions: the Rocky Mountains, Northeast, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, Pacific Southwest, and the Southeast. In collecting and announcing these figures each year, the NSAA’s annual report enables us to track trends and changes regarding the overall interest in skiing and snowboarding. Now that we’ve got you prepped with the background info, let’s take a look at this year’s data.
First, the big news: the 2021-2022 was a record breaking year for skier visits, with resorts welcoming over 61 million skiers and riders. Prior to this season, the record had been set in the 2010-2011 season with just over 60.5 million skier visits. Looking further into the historical trends provided by this dataset, it’s interesting to note that out of the 6 most popular ski seasons dating back over 40 years, 3 of them occurred in the last 4 seasons. The outlier in recent years was obviously the 2019-2020 season in which Covid forced resorts to shut down in the middle of March. Had that not occured, that season would’ve likely made it 4 straight years with top tier figures. Zooming out a bit on this concept, it highlights two encouraging facts. First, skiing and snowboarding were on the rise prior to the pandemic, a bit of a relief for those who saw the figures between 2011-2012 and 2017 - 2018 seasons, a period in which annual visitation never broke the top 10 and the average ranking was 21st. The second takeaway is that in a post-Covid world where people are eager to explore the outdoors, it feels as though our sport is poised to continue growing comfortably.
Beyond these two observations, the NSAA report also brings forth a handful of other trends that they’ve identified as a result of their annual statistics. One of those notes is that last year actually saw an uptick in operating ski resorts, growing from 462 to 473. Again, this is a sign of healthy growth, and a reversal from recent years in which the number of ski resorts had been decreasing. Yet another sign of overall, sustained growth is the fact that while snowfall has typically been directly correlated with skier volume, this year’s record breaking season actually saw a below average amount of snow across the United States. This suggests strong potential moving forward, should snowfall return to average or above average levels in years ahead. Finally, the last trend worth noting, and one whose meaning we’ll continue to ponder, is that season pass holders made up 51.9% of all skier visits, while single day lift tickets made up 37.3% of visits (with the balance consisting of employee visits or free lift tickets). While it’s too dense of a topic to dive into at this point, we’re sure we’ll come across a reason to further investigate the dynamic between overall skier visits and the popularity of season passes at some point in the summer months ahead. Until then, we’ll turn you over to the NSAA’s official report on the 2021-2022 season.
#3: Our Home Mountain, Stowe, Has Announced Pricing for Next Year’s Paid Parking Policy. Here's How We Feel About it:
In other “things we recently discussed” news, back at the end of April we shared the announcement from Stowe that starting next season, a paid parking policy will be in place on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. While it’s not a new concept, and it’s something that’s been slowly becoming more common at resorts across the U.S., this instance hit home for us as we’re located right in Stowe, making the resort our home mountain. As such, it’s given us direct experience with what it’s like to have your local mountain suddenly implement a paid parking program. When that initial announcement was made, we didn’t know exactly what that would mean in terms of pricing, but we had some guesses.
This week, in an article from our local newspaper, the Stowe Reporter, we learned that Stowe has quietly announced pricing for parking next season by simply updating their website. For those arriving on a Friday, weekend, or holiday, a single day of parking will cost $30/day. Additionally, a limited number of season parking passes will be available for $450. To put that pass into perspective, it would basically mean you’re expecting to visit the resort at least 15 times on a paid parking day. As a reminder, the goal of this program is to reduce the volume of traffic heading to the resort on busy days. In an effort to put weight behind that assertion, the resort has announced plans to use the money earned from parking to, “further improve guest arrival and departure,” experiences, as well as make contributions to Green Mountain Transit, who provides a free shuttle service up the mountain road. Another aspect of this to keep in mind is that skiing at Stowe on the weekends doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay for parking. Instead of paying, guests can choose to either carpool with at least four people in their vehicle, park at the Toll House Double, or park at an auxiliary lot in town and take public transportation to the resort. Finally, one last anecdote that feels necessary to paint the entirety of this picture, is the fact that prior to announcing this plan, Stowe did try to build a new parking lot, a plan which was ultimately shot down in early January. While that decision once again delves into the debate of man vs. nature, it does feel like a necessary component of this story to keep in mind as you form your opinion.
With the facts laid bare, there it is. Those are the details of the great experiment that will be the Stowe parking lot next winter. As locals, there are plenty of questions swirling around our heads in terms of how this will all play out. Many of us are wondering if we should begin making plans to split a season parking pass with some buddies who we plan to always arrive with, or if parking in the village will be our best bet. Those of you who’ve ever visited Stowe might be aware that we also post a daily snow report on Instagram under the handle @stowesnowreport. That’s something we like to have posted as early in the day as possible, which will likely result in logistical issues for us to navigate next year as the reporter responsible for that day’s post might incur a $30 parking fee. And then there’s the more regional questions too. For years Stowe has been one of the go-to resorts for diehard skiers and riders in the greater Burlington area as Mt. Mansfield offers some of the most exposed and technical terrain around. With this new cost of parking, will we see a further shift in the clientele at Stowe? Or, will those types of skiers and riders continue to find a way to make it work, noting the terrain they’ll be accessing? At the moment, it’s much too soon to answer any of these questions, and it’s sure to be a summer of speculation here in Stowe. To learn more details about Stowe’s paid parking plans, check out this writeup from the Stowe Reporter.
#4: Big Shiffrin News: The Jeff Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency Fund Continues to Make an Impact, While Mikaela Resigns With Atomic:
Finally, rounding out this week we have that second piece of FIS ski news that we promised you at the start of this week’s coverage. If you were reading along with us at about this time last year, you might recall us talking about the second phase of the Jeffrey Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency Fund. As a quick reminder, that fund was created by Mikaela Shiffrin to honor her late father and to continue his legacy. Initially established in response to Covid, the fund began by writing checks for $1,300 to every USST athlete. In its second phase, the fund morphed last Summer into a charitable fund that aims to provide financial support to, “athletes who are hardworking, disciplined, and constantly pushing themselves to be better and overcome challenges to compete at the top of their game.” More concretely, the fund began raising money last June, successfully accumulating just over $250,000 to support its cause. This week, we learned some details about how that money was spent.
Awarded based on a combination of merit and need, the $264,514 generated by last year’s round of funding was awarded to 44 USST athletes, with grants peaking at $13,000. Amongst those 44 athletes, every level of USST talent was represented, with awards being given to athletes at every team level, from the development team right up to the A team. Additionally, it’s worth noting that 59% of the awards went to female athletes. All in all, it was a successful first iteration of this version of the Jeffrey Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency Fund, and the group’s organizers have already begun planning for next year’s iteration, with plans to officially begin another round of fundraising starting on Father’s day. Between this year’s success and plans to repeat it next year, it feels safe to say that this amazing fund will likely become a staple of the USST for years to come. To learn more or to make a contribution of your own, click here.
Finally, on a closing note this week, we’d like to just quickly share the news that Mikaela Shiffrin has resigned with Atomic to represent their skis, boots, bindings, and helmets through 2024. Atomic has always been Mikaela’s sponsor throughout her World Cup career, and this week’s news further extends that solid relationship. With that, we’ll close the week out by saying congrats to both Atomic and Mikaela for their continued successful partnership. You can learn more about that by scrolling down past the fold in this report from the Vail Daily.