Lead Image: Looking for some personalized coaching to guide you through your turns? Check out Carv, a smart ski coaching device. Image: Carv on Facebook
#1: Facing Re-election, FIS President Johan Eliasch Makes Move to Restructure World Cup Broadcasting Rights:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the May 6, 2022 edition! This week we have a surprisingly interesting suite of highlights considering that we’re in the first week of May and the 2021-2022 ski season is behind many of us. If you’re a fan of FIS and/or World Cup Ski Racing, our first and last highlights will be of particular interest to you, while our second and third highlights dive into some of the bigger themes that receive ongoing coverage here on Top Five Fridays. Of course if you’re someone who can’t get their mind off skiing no matter the weather, we encourage you to read this one all the way through. To kick things off, we’ve got an excellent article covering moves being made by the FIS’s interim president.
Before we dive into this week’s news, this first highlight requires a bit of background information in order to be fully appreciated. If you were on board with us last June, you might recall our coverage of the FIS’s special election last Summer which came about as a result of the late Gian Franco Kasper deciding to leave his post a year early. As a result of that decision, the FIS elected a new interim president whose position was only guaranteed for one year before the organization would get back on schedule with this June’s election. As a result of that situation, former HEAD CEO Johan Eliasch was elected to become the president of the FIS for at least the 2021-2022 season. What was interesting about Eliasch’s candidacy was that he was a bit of an outsider in the race, being the only candidate whose background was in the business and branding side of the sport and not from within the organization. As a result, he campaigned on a platform that promised sweeping changes of how the FIS is run, with a focus on growing the global presence and brand of the FIS. In other words, Eliasch’s core principle is, and has always been, to elevate the FIS’s status in the world of international sports, with the ultimate goal of reaching the same level as organizations such as FIFA or the PGA. As we shared back on June 11th of last year, one of the key aspects to achieving that goal is to centralize international broadcasting rights.
Enter: this week’s news. With just one month remaining before next month’s election, Eliasch has boldly waded into international broadcasting waters. This week, we learned quite a bit about his plan for centralizing these rights, bringing control and finances back to the FIS. To fully understand this plan, let’s start by taking a look at how international broadcasting rights are currently handled for FIS events. Under the current agreement, every FIS National Governing Body (NGB), besides Austria, has full rights to domestic broadcasts but sells rights to their international broadcasts to a Swiss media conglomerate called Infront Sports Media. For example, the U.S. Ski Team is in control of broadcasting rights within the United States, but it sells its international broadcasting rights to Infront Sports Media. In turn, Infront then sells these broadcasting rights to companies within individual countries. It’s a system that simplifies the process for National Governing Bodies, but can often create an absolute mess when it comes to creating consistent broadcasts across the world for all FIS events.
Under Eliasch’s new plan, the FIS itself would essentially replace Infront Sports Media. Rather than having its NGB’s sell its international broadcasting rights to a third party middleman, Eliasch proposes working out compensation agreements with each member country in exchange for allowing the FIS to retain those rights. Then, the FIS itself will negotiate international broadcasting rights, enabling it to keep tighter control over which events get broadcast, in which countries, and at what times. The goal here is obviously to ensure that FIS sports earn better coverage and time slots across the world. Additionally, this system would cut out Infront, meaning that funds would be retained by the organization itself. In doing so, the FIS will be able to reinvest those funds into the broadcasts themselves, as well as overall marketing and promotion of FIS sports on the whole.
From our vantage point as outsiders to the FIS system, Eliasch’s ideas seem both exciting and obvious. Here in the U.S., there are times when it’s been difficult to find coverage of FIS sports. While they are accessible via Peacock, even that contract was a last minute deal ahead of last season, and we became quite close to having to bootleg streams of FIS races on the internet. While it’s true that Infront Sports Media would take a loss here, overall it seems like a strong move by Eliasch in pursuit of his goals to push FIS sports further into the mainstream. It’s unfortunate that SkiEssentials won’t get a vote at next month’s FIS congress, but if we did, we’d likely cast it for Johan’s reelection. To learn more about this issue, check out the writeup from Skiracing.com.
#2: Despite Their Best Efforts, Vail’s Plan to Build Housing Hits Potentially Devastating Roadblock:
Next up this week is an update to a story we first shared a couple of months back that will surely bring mixed reactions with its latest development. As you might recall, in March, Vail announced a number of new programs meant to support their employees in years ahead, including higher wages, a better HR experience, and more affordable employee housing. Along with that last promise came the caveat that new housing developments would always be pending local approval. Then, just a month ago, on April 15th we shared news that Vail had specific plans to make good on that last promise as they announced a number of new affordable housing projects across multiple resorts. On that list was a development that would provide living space for 165 employees, to be built on a plot of land that the resort owns in East Vail. In that announcement, it sounded like the project was already greenlit and ground would be broken shortly. Unfortunately for Vail and those in favor of more affordable housing at any cost, this week dealt a potentially devastating blow to the plans.
Despite already having approval dating back to 2019, Vail’s town council voted this week to condemn the property that Vail hoped to build the development on. As a result of that vote, the town council now has the right to enact eminent domain to take the property back from Vail, preventing it from ever being developed upon. The reason for this move is because the property is home to a number of bighorn sheep. Currently, the only thing that exists on the property is a chain link fence, which was put in place as a result of a number of bighorn sheep being struck by cars on the road bordering the property. What this all adds up to is a debate as old as ski development itself: how do we as skiers balance our need to develop land to enjoy our sport, with the need to protect the wildlife who’s called it home before us. Backdropping this particular issue however, is the additional fact that Vail is, without a doubt, facing an affordable housing crisis. This puts the man vs. nature debate through a slightly different lens, as in this particular instance, man isn’t choosing to develop the land out of desire, but necessity. That, of course, is one of the many challenges that ski resorts will continue to face in coming years as the issue of affordable housing shortages in mountain towns across North America shows no signs of stopping. How will ski towns find the balance between the need for creating homes for human residents, while preserving the homes of its natural residents? We’re certainly not the experts here, so rather than express our mere opinions, we’ll turn you over to CPR.org to learn more about the issue.
#3: Want to Know What’s Trending in the World of Skiing? Let’s Ask Forbes:
Speaking of themes that dominate the ski industry, our next topic covers exactly that. This week, Forbes magazine published an article that shares the latest trends in the ski and snowboard industry. While we like to think that we do a pretty good job of staying on the pulse of skiing here on Top Five Fridays, we also really enjoy coming across these pieces from more mainstream outlets that share similar news with their audiences as it gives us perspective on what those who aren’t entrenched in the ski industry care about. Sometimes when you’re involved with something so routinely, getting an outside perspective can be a breath of fresh air. This week’s article from Forbes does exactly that as they share five trends that they see dominating the industry in 2022 and beyond. Interestingly, while we’ve covered most of these trends in depth, there are a couple that we’ve only touched on lightly.
First, let’s highlight the trends we’ve covered at length already here on Chairlift Chat: the move towards more eco-friendly practices, the development of indoor ski areas as a means of making our sport more accessible, and the rise in the uphill and backcountry segments of our sports. Again, we’ve covered these three issues from many angles and perspectives, especially within the last year, so we won’t bore you by rehashing them this week. But, we will say that this piece from Forbes does an excellent job of really getting into the details of each of these issues, and we’d definitely recommend checking it out to learn more.
In addition to these issues, the Forbes article shared two additional trends that we’ve either only briefly touched on, or haven’t really discussed at all. One of those two is the concept of increasing insurances within the world of skiing. In the past, we’ve mentioned Spot Insurance, as well as multi-pass insurances that enable you to get refunds for your pass, should you find yourself unable to use it. It’s never dawned on us though how increasing access to insurance is something that could ease the risks involved in becoming a more active skier or snowboarder. The Forbes article has made us realize that offering pass and health insurance to those who aren’t already infatuated with out sport could result in a very real uptick in participation. The second theme that we really haven’t touched on at all here on the blog is the increase in ski devices that bring technology into the ski experience. In the Forbes article, that technology is broken into two categories: performance aides, or devices that provide data and coaching in regards to your skiing such as the SKOE, PIQ, and Carv devices, as well as devices that track your on-mountain location and act as something of a mountain guide to enhance your experience at new resorts. Again, this is an example of being so entrenched in the world of skiing that we haven’t paid much attention to these coaching or navigation devices as they simply aren’t part of ski culture as we experience it. The Forbes article helped open our eyes to their appeal to a broader range of skiers. Overall, that’s probably our favorite part about this piece: the fact that it gives a perspective on the ski industry that’s slightly different than the one we’re used to. To learn more about the trends that they’re seeing from their perspective, we recommend giving the piece a read in full.
#4: Mikaela Shiffrin Finally Tells Her Story From Her Perspective in an Amazing Piece Published to The Players Tribune:
Finally, we end this week on an absolute tear jerker of a story. Typically we try to end these highlights on a high note, but this week Mikaela Shiffrin published a story on The Players’ Tribune that’s an absolute must read. At this point, you’re likely familiar with the Shiffrin story as it’s evolved over the last few years. From having her record breaking career come to a screeching halt when she lost her father in a tragic accident, to her struggles at this year’s Olympics and her resurgence on the World Cup circuit to win the overall gold medal this season, Shiffrin’s story has been nothing short of fascinating. Of course, we don’t mean to say that it’s always been joyous, but rather it’s the type of story that has so many developments that it hardly feels real. Adding to the allure of the story has largely been the fact that Mikaela tends to be somewhat reserved in her personality. As a result, while we know her story and have been able to follow along, we’ve only heard small snippets of it directly from her. Instead, most of what we know has been through second hand reports or interviews with her. This week however, that changed when Shiffrin published her absolutely incredible piece.
Again, the story is heart wrenching, but if you’re up for it, we highly recommend giving it a read as it provides unparalleled insights into what it’s been like for Mikaela to compete after the tragic loss of her dad. In the story, we’re taken into Shiffin’s world as she first learns of her dad’s accident, as well as what it’s been like to continue on without him. We learn more about the deep connection her family has with each other as well as the sport of skiing. With her words, we start to understand that for Shiffrin, racing, winning, and her family are so deeply intertwined that for a while she had a legitimate fear of winning without her father being around to see it. We also learn that for all of the speculation from the media regarding why Mikaela didn’t achieve the level of success we’d all hoped for at the Olympics, for Mikaela the answer is simultaneously simple and complex: she simply doesn’t know. For her, there’s no singular reason. She just had a series of bad races.
While this may seem like an exaggeration, it’s hard not to think that Mikeala’s story will evolve into legend status in the decades to come, particularly if she resumes her winning ways. The fact that we’re living through it in real time demands a certain level of awe. In the world of sports, there’s no shortage of stories regarding the dichotomy of heartbreak and success. Still, it’s difficult to find a story that exemplifies the extremes of that spectrum quite like Mikaela’s. If you’re prepared to possibly shed a tear, we highly recommend reading the story from Shiffrin. It’s one of the most touching pieces we’ve read in quite a while.