#1: The Reopening (and Not Reopening) of Ski Resorts - An Update:
To kick things off this week, let’s start by checking in on the status of ski areas that’ve reopened, as well as those who potentially could. First on that list are Timberline Lodge and Mt. Bachelor, two Oregon ski areas that have been open for just over a week now. At both of these resorts, reservation policies have been enacted in an effort to control on-hill capacity, allowing for social distancing to remain in place. So, now that we’re a week into the “experiment,” how have things gone? Judging by social media posts from both resorts, the experience has by and large been successful. Skiers and snowboarders have been cooperating with policies and maintaining an appropriate level of social distancing. One area where the process does seem to be experiencing some level of difficulty is in the online reservation systems which are consistently overwhelmed by skiers and snowboarders eager to book their reservations. As a result, there have been some technical difficulties, although they seem to be minimal. To hear it in their own words, we recommend checking out some recent posts on the Timberline Lodge Facebook page, as well as this particular Facebook post from Mt. Bachelor.
In related news, Vail CEO Rob Katz broke his silence on the matter of reopening this week via an internal Email to employees that was subsequently posted on the Vail Resorts website. In the letter, Katz states that no Vail resorts will open for skiing and snowboarding for the remainder of the Spring season, including Breckenridge, Heavenly, and Whistler Blackcomb. The reason for the decision, as difficult as it may be, is quite simple: safety is paramount. With that in mind, it’s not Vail’s goal to be the first to reopen. Rather, their goal is to be able to reflect upon this time as one in which they protected the mountain communities they’re a part of. As such, there’s currently no timeline for Vail resorts to reopen for either summer or winter activities. That said, as always, the situation is quite fluid and always changing. It’s currently not out of the question that Whistler could reopen for summer skiing in the months ahead, but for now all we can do is wait and see how the climate surrounding Covid-19 progresses. For more information regarding Vail’s position on reopening, check out the open letter recently posted on their website.
Finally, before we close this highlight out, we want to point you towards a couple of articles which help provide a fuller picture of the current landscape ski resort openings. First on that short list is an article from the Aspen Daily News that does an excellent job of summarizing the status of ski resorts, both in North America and abroad. The second article is a cool piece written by Josh Malczyk for Freeskier which recaps a first hand account of what it was like to ski at Timberline Lodge the first day it reopened. Both articles are highly recommended for those interested in learning more about this subject.
#2: Various Summer Ski Camps Cautiously Optimistic About Operating at Timberline This Summer:
Keeping with the theme of businesses that are open / not open for skiing, we’ve started hearing more from summer ski camps this week as plenty of questions remain regarding whether or not they’ll be able to operate. Kicking off that discussion is another followup to last week’s news that the U.S. Ski Team is eager to get back on snow. This week, Ski Racing Magazine published an article providing insight into the likelihood of resuming ski camps at Timberline Lodge. Ultimately the report shares some good news. According to Timberline’s marketing director John Burton, after a successful first week of reopening, the resort expects to be in phase 2 of its plan by the first or second week of June. While specific details of what that means aren’t shared, Burton does say phase 2, "has a reasonable carrying capacity based on a typical summer.” In other words, from a mountain operations standpoint, it’s conceivable that the resort could host its typical number of camps and guests within the first two weeks of June. While a number of logistical challenges remain, such as how to maintain social distancing in the morning before skiers and snowboarders make it from the base lot to their designated lanes, the overall message is that if things continue to trend in this direction, summer camps will be able to operate on the glacier, starting in June.
It’s important to note that this is only half of the story though. While opening the resort for private camps means groups like the U.S. Ski Team can begin training, it doesn’t mean that the reopening of overnight camps catering towards youth athletes is a foregone conclusion. In short, businesses such as Windells and High Cascade are awaiting clarification regarding their ability to operate an overnight camp. In the most recent round of guidances release by Oregon Governor Kate Brown, day camps were given the green light to operate while overnight camps remained banned, “at this time.” Despite the current restrictions, owners of these camps are hopeful that guidelines will be expanded to include overnight camps, allowing them to open for the season. The timing of this announcement is crucial as most summer camps begin operations in mid-June, although Windells and High Cascade have already moved guests who’ve registered for the first two weeks of camp into later weeks. At the moment no further information is available, although we suspect to hear more in the week ahead. For now, you can keep up with the latest updates regarding Windells (and also High Cascade, as they’re under the same ownership), on the Windells blog.
#3: FIS Considering Restricting 2020-2021 World Cup to European Locations, Competitors:
Next up this week is news from the world of ski racing which, to be quite honest, is a bit hard to comprehend. Let’s start with the basics: in preparation for the upcoming 2020-2021 season, the FIS, just like every other sports league in the world, is attempting to put together an operation strategy that will allow their events to continue while maintaining the safety of their athletes, organizers, and fans. Unlike most sports leagues though, the FIS has the incredibly difficult challenge of creating a strategy to limit the spread of Covid-19 while simultaneously hosting events in locations all across the world, featuring athletes from equally diverse regions. Or, perhaps not.
This week, the FIS began hosting its annual Spring Committee meetings in which FIS officials begin to shore up plans for the season ahead. As you could easily guess, this year’s meetings are dramatically different than previous iterations as conversations thus far have mostly centered around one major question, “What will the 2020-2021 season look like?” To answer that question, a number of unique ideas were reportedly floated by committee memebers. While it’s important to note that discussions at this point are essentially equivalent to a brainstorming session, one concept that emerged was a European-centric model, given that a majority of FIS athletes come from European countries. In that version of the World Cup season, every race on the schedule would be held at a European venue, and athletes would spend their entire winter in Europe in an effort to eliminate the circuit’s spread of the coronavirus. While that idea is far from an ideal scenario, it does seem like a feasible route forward.
There is, however, one potential hitch in that plan that lead to some taking the idea a step further: Europe may not allow entry for athletes from outside its borders. In that case, the FIS World Cup could be hosted at entirely European venues, and feature only European skiers. This would obviously result in a drastically different World Cup event, and brings up an incredible amount of concerns, complaints, and asterisks regarding the season. While that idea is merely a hypothetical situation, and one that all involved would regard as a worst case scenario, we can’t help but wonder what that would mean for the U.S. Ski Team. In place of the World Cup series, could some sort of domestic circuit be created as a replacement? If so, and if it were successful, could a U.S. based ski circuit be something that sticks around in future years? Of course these questions are purely speculative at the moment, but it’s hard not to consider what would happen in the event of a European only edition of the FIS World Cup. For more on this, check out the writeup from Ski Racing Magazine.
#4: Details Emerge Surrounding Plans for a Proposed 11,000 Acre, Backcountry Only Resort in British Columbia:
Finally, we’ve saved what we consider the most exciting news of the week for last. As we did our weekly news dig, we were surprised to see a story regarding a proposed backcountry focused ski area being planned just over the U.S. / Canada border in British Columbia. Known as Zincton, this particular mountain range has a rich history of mining, but has become something of a ghost town in recent decades. That is, until a dedicated team of local backcountry enthusiasts began reimagining the area as a mountain village focused on year round, world class backcountry access. Presumably launched a little over a year ago (based solely upon their first Instagram post), the Zincton project has been relatively quiet thus far, with only a subtle social media presence and limited news coverage.
That silence ended this week as the group behind the project made public their official Expression of Interest. The 12 page document essentially serves as an initial overview of their plan as they begin the process of receiving all of the approvals needed to move forward. We’ll likely find ourselves discussing all sorts of proponents and opponents of the project in the months and years to come, should the project make it that far, so for now let’s focus on concept itself which is quite intriguing.
In their own succinct words, “Zincton will be a world-class, all-season, backcountry-oriented mountain destination that delivers an unparalleled recreation experience complemented by a pedestrian-only, environmentally sustainable Mountain Village.” In reading the Expression of Interest, that concept is fleshed out into a number of interesting ideas. For example, the concept behind the ski area is to blur the lines between a ski resort and backcountry destination by implementing a handful of chairlifts to provide backcountry who would then use touring setups to access backcountry zones. While the resort will have a few key lifts, there will be no official trails beyond the occasional trimmed glades which will allows an easier return to the mountain village. Speaking of the which, the development goals regarding the base village of Zincton are also quite unique. Rather than your typical resort town, Zincton aims to have a pedestrian-only town center, with limited vehicles, creating a tight knit community vibe. While the whole concept is still just that, a concept, if it manages to win the necessary approvals and become a reality, what a reality it’ll be. To learn more details provided by the proposal, check out the official Expression of Interest.