#1: Updates from the World of Ski Racing: The 2021 Ski & Snowboard Congress Resulted in a Number of Changes for American FIS Competitors:
Greetings everyone, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, May 28th, 2021 edition! If you’re reading this, it means you’re a lot like us and can’t seem to stop thinking about skiing, even if it’s been many days since we last saw snow in real life. Fortunately, despite a lack of white stuff, ski news continues to trickle in and we’ve got four noteworthy topics to share with you this week. To start, let’s focus on a recap of the recently held U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team’s 2021 Congress. This meeting, which is held annually, provides an opportunity for everyone involved with competitive skiing and snowboarding in the U.S. to address the state of the sports, while also suggesting new concepts and rule changes moving forward. Last year, the meeting was notably heated as Covid was the hot topic on everyone’s minds, and a discussion regarding the role of collegiate ski racing led to sharply contrasting opinions.
This year, the annual meeting was far more agreeable, as the success of the U.S. Ski Team, despite a highly uncertain season, gave all in attendance a sense of accomplishment. After some initial words and virtual high fives over a job well done, the meeting was steered towards a number of new resolutions. Besides the general agreeance to continue working towards strengthening the bond between the U.S. Ski Team and collegiate athletes, the second biggest decision was likely the introduction of a tiered system for regional FIS races. The way this new system will work is by creating divisional and elite tiers by region. In other words, each region would have a divisional tier for upcoming ski racers, and an elite tier for the best of the best. This system would allow divisional level athletes the ability to compete against athletes of a similar caliber, enabling them to hone in on their skills, with the end goal of making it to the elite tier. In addition to creating a less discouraging environment for athletes still developing their skills, it would also make the sport more affordable. In the divisional tier, athletes would race primarily within their region, eliminating a lot of costly travel for races around the country. While elite level competitors will still travel, their overall number of starts will be limited to 22 starts, a reduction from previous years intended to ease the overall demands of the youth racing schedule.
In addition to this major adjustment to the structure of FIS racing, there were a few other notable adjustments and decisions made in this year’s congress. The U19 National Championships have been returned to a U18 event, giving 17 and 18 year olds a more competitive chance as they begin to determine their long term goals with the sport. In a similar move aimed at bringing more structure to FIS racing, U14 racers will no longer be allowed to compete in the U16 division. Beyond these adjustments, additional decisions were made, such as the continued use of digital methods to handle forms and meetings, as well as the requirement to keep two gates on all Super G races. To learn more about all of the topics discussed and decisions made at this year’s U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team congress, check out this excellent recap from SkiRacing.com.
#2: Calls to Boycott Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Grow in Intensity:
In other competitive skiing news, we have a far less exciting headline to share: there’s growing demand from a variety of groups to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Now, there are obviously a number of angles to address here, but let’s start by reviewing the facts. Fact: China has an extremely questionable human rights record, including claims that the nation is committing ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs who live autonomously in Northwest China. While the Chinese government rejects these claims, it’s widely believed that many of them are true, with even the U.S. State Department confirming that “genocide and crimes against humanity” have undoubtedly taken place in the region. This issue of human rights is obviously much, much more severe than we can possibly present here, so rather than attempt and inevitably fail to give it the treatment it deserves, we’ll defer you to this report from Amnesty.org to learn more.
Acknowledging that China, without a doubt, has committed severe human rights violations, the question now becomes, “what do we do about it?” While demands to boycott the games are well grounded, looking at the practicality of doing such makes the situation immediately more murky. When it comes to enacting a boycott from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) level, the issue of whether or not a private company should enter the world of politics arises. The official stance of the IOC, which is fittingly based out of Switzerland, is to remain neutral in regards to global politics. In an excellent article from Bloomberg on the topic, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach is quoted as saying, “we’re not a super-world government.” In other words, deciding to boycott a nation from hosting the Olympics would put the organization in the difficult position of essentially placing sanctions on a foreign government, forcing the group into a far more political position than it ever intended. While we’re not here to say whether this decision by the IOC is right or wrong, we can certainly understand where their perspective comes from.
In addition to the IOC itself, the growing calls to boycott the games also has an impact on athletes. In the words of Mikaela Shiffrin, “You certainly don’t want to be put in the position of having to choose between human rights like morality versus being able to do your job.” Dissecting that perspective, what Shiffrin is ultimately saying is that, as an athlete, competing in the Olympics is a massive goal for any athlete, as well as something of an obligation for anyone with the ability to compete at the highest levels in the world as it’s up to them to represent their nation as best they can. For someone like Shifrrin who undoubtedly desires a clean conscience, having to wrestle with the desire to compete for her country while also empathizing with the human rights issues at hand is an extremely challenging task. At the moment though, it’s a challenge that Shiffrin and all Olympic athletes will have to overcome as neither the IOC or the U.S. seem to have any plans of cancelling or boycotting the games. For more on this, check out the writeup from Bloomberg, or the Boycott Beijing 2022 website.
#3: The State of Ski Patrolling in America - Will it Ever Become a Career Path?:
In other news, it’s an interesting time to be a ski patroller in America. Now, we’re not necessarily equating “interesting” with “good”, rather we’re simply saying that it’s interesting in the sense that the role and value of the job is being debated in ways that could elevate its potential as a long term career option. As you know, patrollers at several American ski resorts have recently held, or are planning to hold votes in regards to unionizing. A few weeks ago, we shared with you news of recent votes to unionize the ski patrol forces at Breckenridge and Keystone resorts. Both of those decisions were decided by just one vote, with Breckenridge patrollers deciding to unionize, while Keystone patrollers opted out. This week, we caught a couple of articles that further discuss the ongoing trend to transform ski patrolling into a legitimate career path. The first of those two articles is a report from 5280.com that takes a deeper look into the human element of the unionization decision at Keystone and Breck. When we covered the story originally, we referenced a pair of news articles that did a solid job of discussing the facts surrounding the issue. What makes this article from 5280 intriguing, is that it tells the story around the issue. More concretely, it starts by sharing the story of Jonathan Cernanec and Patrick Hansen, two 20-something year olds who joined the Keystone ski patrol with hopes of making a life in the mountains. Then, reality quickly set in as they came to realize the difficulties of attempting to live in Summit County, CO on a $12/hour wage. The article from 5280 shares a number of anecdotes that reflect the hardships involved with working as a ski patroller for a living, but one of the most powerful lines in the piece comes when Cenanec realized, “his hourly pay for a job that involves saving lives matches that of a friend who works at a deli counter.” Ultimately, that simple passage tells the entire story of the problem at hand: ski patrolling requires a high level of knowledge and skill, but is being valued at the same level of importance as sandwich making. You can read more about this story here.
The second article we caught this week on the topic of ski patrol unions is one from Park City’s Park Record. In this article, we learn more about the story and difficulties being endured by ski patrollers at the resort. There, the situation is slightly different than in Keystone or Breck, as the Park City ski patrol has been unionized since 2016. As such, their current situation is something of a preview for what other resorts that decided to unionize can look forward to. Unfortunately, as we learn from this report, forming a union doesn’t exactly ensure smooth sailing. In Park City, the contract between the resort and ski patrol union expired approximately nine months ago, just before the start of the season. Since then, the contract was extended multiple times before finally expiring on May 1st. Over the course of the season, discussions between the two groups have been ongoing, although little progress has been made. Now, Park City ski patrollers and the resort find themselves both in difficult positions as a stalemate in discussions and an expired contract position the two against each other in an impasse. While it’s unclear how this situation will resolve itself, it is clear that the two organizations rely on each other, suggesting that an agreement is ultimately inevitable. It also makes clear to ski patrollers at other resorts who are considering unionizing, that simply forming a union doesn’t ensure their desires will be met. To learn more about the situation in Park City, check out the full article from the Park Record here.
#4: Plans for Virginia’s First Indoor Ski Area Advance, Developer Already Eyeing Expansion to 20+ Locations:
Here’s a thought: what if the covid-induced broadening of the ski demographic we recently discussed, effectively turned enough people onto the sport that, should it become more convenient, overall participation numbers could increase in coming years? It’s with that thought in mind that we’re excited to share with you our final highlight of the week: Alpine-X LLC, the company behind the planned indoor ski resort in Fairfax, VA (which we first shared back in 2019) has announced further plans for their facility. In addition to indoor skiing, the “resort” would also include, “a hotel, a gravity-powered mountain coaster, zip lines and food and beverage outlets,” with the intended goal of drawing a larger crowd. What’s even more interesting however, is that Alpine-X also announced that their Fairfax, VA location will be just the first of approximately 20 nationwide locations. Seeing this resort concept as one that can be easily replicated, the team at Alpine-X is hoping that creating more conveniently located and accessible locations to ski, it can ultimately play a role in growing the number of active skiers and snowboards from approximately 9.2 million, to a number much higher, and more on par with the 49.69 million hikers or 16.62 million annual kayakers in the U.S.. While the additional locations for future Alpine-X venues have yet to be announced, and are likely yet to be determined, the concept for expanding the presence of skiing into urban markets by way of indoor ski resorts seems like a terrific idea, particularly if it can capitalize on momentum made in terms of broadening skiing’s demographic as a result of the pandemic. To learn more about Alpine-X’s plans to grow its footprint, check out this writeup from Forbes.