#1: Ski Season Updates: Colorado Governor Extends Ban on Downhill Skiing, Oregon Resorts Green Lit to Reopen:
This week, we’re electing to start things off with some mandatory coronoa-related updates so that we can quickly move onto more exciting news. Sound good? Great. Then on that note, let’s check back in on one of last week’s highlights in which we shared the news that ski resorts are slowly taking steps to reopen. In that highlight, we discussed how Wolfcreek Ski Area and Aspen Highlands both hoped to reopen before their snowpack melted away, but would need an exception to operate from Governor Polis before being able to do so. Unfortunately, this week we learned that not only would Governor Polis not be issuing an exception for these resorts to operate, but that he actually decided to extend the ban on downhill skiing until May 23rd, effectively ending all hopes for either resort to open. Operators of both Aspen Highlands and Wolfcreek Ski Area expressed disappointment, with Rosanne Haidorfer-Pitcher, vice president of marketing and sales at Wolfcreek, making a particularly good argument in favor of allowing limited re-openings, stating, “This was going to be like a trial performance, just having a very limited number of skiers, just to see how responsible everybody individually was, as well as the ski area itself.” Considering that it’s yet to be seen what the upcoming season looks like in regards to potentially operating during a second wave of the coronavirus, it does seem like having resorts “test the waters” during these last few weeks of snowpack would make sense. There is one glimmer of hope remaining for Colorado skiers though. At Arapahoe Basin, the scheduled closing date has always been June 7th. If that timeline holds, it means that the resort could reopen when the ban on downhill skiing expires on May 23rd. Barring an extension of that ban, the resort plans to open. To learn more, check out this writeup from the Denver Post’s, “The Know.”
Elsewhere in North America, Oregon’s Governor, Kate Brown, announced that she will soon implement an executive order allowing the state’s ski resorts to reopen. The biggest beneficiary of this announcement is undoubtedly Mount Hood’s Timberline Ski Area which traditionally stays open through a majority of the summer thanks to its location on the mountain’s glacier. If all goes according to plan, the resort hopes to reopen by this time next week, albeit with similar restrictions to those implemented at California’s Mt. Baldy (which, by the way, has officially closed for season due to snow melt). At present, it’s yet to be seen whether or not the camps that typically operate on the glacier will be allowed to operate this summer. The other Oregonian ski resort that could potentially reopen this season is Mt. Bachelor. We’re still waiting on an official update from the resort in regards to whether or not they intend to reopen, but a statement was released by the resort that says they will, “thoughtfully develop a responsible return to operation plan that balances the complexities resulting from COVID-19 with the shared desire to again welcome recreation at our beloved resort.” For more information on the reopening of ski resorts in Oregon, check out this article from Oregon Live.
#2: 2020/2021 U.S. Alpine Skiing and Freeski Team Nominations Announced:
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s jump into something quite a bit more exciting: the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team has officially announced the athlete nominations for all of their ski teams! A quick point to clarify before we proceed with sharing specific rosters: the way the U.S. Ski Team works is by nominating athletes to their roster at about this time each year. For all intents and purposes, a nomination is equivalent to an offer or an invite, in that each individual athlete can choose whether or not to accept the nomination. Unlike at awards ceremonies where there are multiple nominations for one chosen winner, ski team nominations mean the athletes have already been approved to join the team without the need to make additional cuts. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at whose been nominated for the U.S. Alpine and U.S. Freeski teams!
For 2020-2021 season, the U.S. Alpine Ski Team will look quite familiar. Headlining the women’s team are Breezy Johnson, Laurenne Ross, and of course, Mikaela Shiffrin. Other names you might recognize from last season’s recaps are Alice McKennis and Alice Merryweather who’ve made the B-team along with a slew of other athletes. On the men’s side, Bryce Bennet, Ryan Cochran-Siegle, Tommy Ford, Travis Ganong, Ted Ligety, and Steven Nyman return to build on a season in which they all experienced some level of success. While last year’s men’s team didn’t turn heads in quite the same way that Mikaela Shiffrin does, their consistent combined effort resulted in a collectively strong showing which should lay the foundation for a resurgence. To see a full list of athletes that made the U.S. Alpine Ski Team, check out the official announcement from the U.S. Ski Team here.
On the U.S. Freeski Team side of things, we see rosters that combine veteran talent with new faces. For the men’s halfpipe team, Aaron Blunck, Alex Ferreira, Birk Irving, and David Wise have all been nominated to make a return. Joining them on the team this year are notable newcomers Taylor Seaton, Jaxin Hoerter, and Cassidy Jarrell. One notable omission from this year’s nominations is Torin Yater-Wallace. On the women’s side the team remains largely the same, with Devin Logan and Brita Sigourney leading the pack. Missing from this year’s nominations is Maddie Bowman, who announced last January that she would be retiring from competitive skiing. On the men’s Slopestyle and Big Air team, heavy hitters Alex Hall, Colby Stevenson, and Nick Goepper have received renewed nominations this year. Joining them is a host of new athletes, as veterans such as Willie Borm and Joss Christensen are giving way to new names such as Cody LaPlante, Kiernan Fagan, and Deven Fagan. For the women’s Slopestyle and Big Air team, not much has changed as Maggie Voison, Caroline Claire, and Darian Stevens have all received return nominations. To see a full list of this year’s Freeski Team nominations, check out the official announcement from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team.
Before we wrap up this particular highlight, allow us to ask a question: would you like to see more U.S. Freeski team recaps in the season ahead? In previous years we’ve focused on World Cup Ski Racing while only occasionally covering freeskiing events. If that’s something you’d like to see more of over the course of next season, let us know in the comments below!
#3: The Unbelievably Heart Wrenching Story Behind Mikaela Shiffrin’s 2019-2020 Season:
Next up this week is an amazing article from Bleacher Report that we’re extremely eager to share. As you likely know, Mikaela Shiffrin’s 2019-2020 didn’t exactly go as planned. While many expected her to followup on an incredibly successful 2018-2019 season with another historic season, a number of unexpected tragedies occurred which arguably made her season historic for all of the wrong reasons. Starting with the loss of her grandmother in October, followed by the untimely, accidental passing of her father in January, and ending with the cancellation of races that Mikaela hoped would mark her return to the sport she loved (one of which was scheduled to be held on her late father’s birthday), Mikaela’s season was one that was constantly being marked by devastating amounts of tragedy. On top of all of this, when Shiffrin was racing over the course of the first half of the season, she struggled to let go of comparisons and self-set expectations that resulted from her wildly successful 2018-2019 season. To be totally honest, we don’t want to dive too deeply into this story here as it was masterfully written by author Mirin Fader, and we’d much rather give her the courtesy of sharing the details. If you’re into sports writing or are simply a fan of Mikaela Shiffrin, we can’t recommend this story enough. It takes you on an emotional journey into the life of Mikaela Shiffrin as she strives to meet her personal expectations while simultaneously fighting through consistent episodes of the deepest form of heartbreak imaginable. In reading this story, you’re left with a greater understanding in regards to why Mikaela’s season went the way that it did, as well as a profound respect for one of the greatest athletes in the world, regardless of sport. So, with that preface which, as glowing as it is, still likely fails to do the piece justice, we turn you over to Bleacher Report.
#4: Checking in on the Future of Skiing: New Consumer Devices Look to Propel Us Uphill:
Finally, we want to end this week’s highlights by sharing a couple of novel consumer products that caught our attention as they look to answer a question as old as skiing: what’s the best way to get uphill? Of the two products, the most intriguing concept is the Zoa PL1. Designed to be partially disassembled for packability, the Zoa PL1 is essentially a personal, handheld device that latches onto a rope and pulls you uphill. The team behind the Zoa PL1 pitches the idea like this: hike to the top of your run with an appropriate rope and a carabiner. Loop the rope around a tree using the carabiner to clip it in place, and ski your run. At the bottom of the run, simply pull out your Zoa PL1, attach it to the rope, and hold on tight while it propels you back to the top of the run. Simple, right? Well, the concept is anyways. In practice we have a litany of concerns and questions, such as whether or not the motor could possibly be powerful enough, how practical it is to haul rope that’s long enough into the backcountry with you, and just how easy it is to navigate a tow rope through the trees in the backcountry. While there are a number of details that’ll have to be fleshed out to make this product a game changer, it’s admittedly pretty easy to imagine how the concept could be applied to a number of scenarios to make skiing more accessible. Terrain parks, for example, could simply have a rope where skiers and snowboarders could latch on with their Zoa at the bottom of each run. Or, the concept could be implemented at smaller ski areas and public parks hoping to encouraging skiing without taking on the overhead of a full blown chairlift. Much like the product itself, these ideas are merely concepts for now, but it’ll be interesting to see what comes of this intriguing new idea. To learn more, check out the Zoa’s official website.
The second product that caught our attention feels a bit more familiar. The Towpro, currently available via a Kickstarter campaign, is essentially a cross between a tow rope and a winch like you might see used by urban skiers. Again, the concept is simple: just setup the portable Towpro on any slope of your choosing and let the device escort you to the top of the run. The drawback to this particular offering however, is the roughly $5,000 price tag. At that rate, it’s unlikely that this device will make its way into the hands of many consumers, but just like the Zoa, it does offer a low-cost lift option for ski areas looking to increase access without the expensive of a chairlift.
While we promised to keep this week’s news as coronavirus-free as possible, we’d be remiss not to spend a second considering how devices like these could alter the landscape of skiing in a post-coronavirus world. Although we’d all unanimously agree that we’d like to see the upcoming ski season totally unaffected by the pandemic, the reality is that there’s a very real chance that capacity will be limited at ski resorts. Should that be the case, skiers will effectively have three options: don’t ski, go skinning, or, just maybe, use a personal lift device such as the Zoa or Towpro to access terrain. Should that occur, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s a resulting shift in the way skiers choose to access the mountains. For more entirely unsolicited speculation, be sure to check back next week!