#1: FIS Roundup: On the Precipice of a New Season, We’ve Got Another Grab Bag of Highlights to Share:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the November 19, 2021 edition! This week we have a great lineup of articles to share with you, all of which strike a slightly different, more exciting tone than our typical stock news cycle. You’ll see what we mean as we get into this week’s highlights, but we’ll start how we always start this time of year: with FIS coverage.
This week is the final week of what we’re considering the calm before the storm. As you likely know, the World Cup season is never a hard start. Rather, the FIS hosts an opening event at the end of October, then gives the athletes a few weeks off before the schedule really gets underway with races just about every weekend. This week, we’re on the eve of that fast paced schedule as this weekend the Women’s circuit finds itself in Levi, Finland for a slalom race. From this point on (and really last weekend as well, although most of the biggest names in the sport opted out of the parallel slalom event), the schedule really ramps up. With that in mind, there are a couple of key highlights to briefly cover before the storm hits. First, it should be noted that Mikaela Shiffrin is expected to be back for this weekend’s slalom race after experiencing back pains since the opening stop in Soelden. Also of note is that this marks Shiffrin’s first opportunity to tie legendary ski racer Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 46 wins within a single FIS discipline. Currently sitting at 45 career slalom wins, it feels safe to say that Shiffrin is on track to break this record this season, and could tie it as early as this weekend. You can read more about Shiffrin’s return and record breaking potential here.
In related but separate news, we also found out this week that the FIS has officially given Killington the greenlight to host a giant slalom and slalom race next weekend (November 27th & 28th), a fact that all North American ski racing fans should be incredibly excited about. You can read more about that here.
Finally, before we wrap up our FIS coverage for the week, we need to bring some attention to two more stories. First, there’s an excellent article from SkiRacing.com this week highlighting the career trajectory of rising Women’s U.S. Ski Team athlete AJ Hurt, who is hoping to make some big waves in the rankings this season, despite being a relatively young athlete. You can give that story a read here. Second, we’d also like to remind everyone that there’s an FIS Slopestyle event this weekend, happening in Stubai, Austria. Being just one of three slopestyles scheduled before the Olympics, this event has massive implications for athletes, which should result in a high level of competition. You can check the schedule for that event here.
#2: With Supply Chains Tight and Interest High, it’s More Important Than Ever to Buy Your Gear Early:
Next up this week is an excellent article from the New York Times explaining why this season, more than ever, it makes sense to buy your ski gear early. Now, we recognize that this might sound like a bit of a sales push on our end as we are in fact a ski retailer. That said, if you give the article a read, you’ll quickly realize that while we at SkiEssentials.com might benefit from a story like this, the fact of the matter is that a confluence of factors really are making it important to buy your gear early this season. Plus, the article itself provides a number of ways to save money with smart rental strategies as well as plugs to used equipment dealers. Keeping all of that in mind, we ultimately want to share this story not as a means of influencing your decision regarding ski gear for the year ahead, but because the front half of the article provides some really interesting insights that paint a picture of where the ski industry is currently at in regards to supply and demand.
In the first part of this article, author Elaine Glusac sets the stage for where things are at. Last season, despite ski resorts having to operate under Covid-19 induced protocols, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) tallied approximately 10.5 million snow sport participants, setting a new record. Of those 10.5 million participants, an estimated 1 million were new to the sport, likely as a result of lockdown boredom resulting in a new desire to explore the outdoors. Additionally, cross country skiing also saw a surge in interest, with participation rising an estimated 16%. Along with that uptick in interest also came an increase in sales last season, with sales of all snowsports equipment (everything ranging from snowshoes and cross country skis, to alpine skis and snowboards) increasing approximately 7% between August 2020 and March 2021. That increase in sales, as well as the increase in participation, is already showing signs of carryover to this season. While we’ve seen steady sales so far this fall, so too has REI who’s cited in this article as saying sales for winter sports equipment suddenly jumped starting all the way back in August.
All of these figures are great news for the ski industry as they show strong growth in both participation and sales, ultimately contributing to the overall health and growth of the sport we love. There is, unfortunately, one small hitch with all of this: the ski industry is not exempt from the supply chain disruptions hitting nearly every industry. These global supply chain issues, coupled with a devastating fire at the Fischer factory just over a year ago that ski manufacturers are still recovering from, are combining to create an environment in which at some point in the not so distant future, there are going to be a lot of out of stock products. That’s the bad news. The good news though, is that that’s not the reality of the situation yet, and as long as you act soon, you should be able to get exactly what you’re looking for. To get a jump start on that, check out all of the great ski equipment we have for sale here on SkiEssentials.com. To learn more about this issue, check out the article from the New York Times.
#3: In Wyoming, Experts Are Recommending Closing 21,000 Acres of Backcountry Access to Save Bighorn Sheep:
Moving right along, we have an interesting and likely polarizing article coming out of Wyoming that highlights one of the more difficult dynamics we face as skiers. As you might be aware, whenever a ski resort looks to expand or implement new infrastructure, there’s almost always pushback due to environmental concerns. Most of the time, we read these stories, and as non-experts, they feel a bit vague and it’s hard to fully understand the issue at a detailed level. This week though, we caught an article that drives the issue home by sharing the story of bighorn sheep in the Grand Tetons.
In Wyoming’s Teton Range, bighorn sheep used to be widely prevalent, with a total U.S. population of over 1.5 million. Now, for a variety of reasons, that number is estimated to be as low as 85,000. While skiing isn’t by any means a driving factor for the decrease in population, the rise in backcountry skiing in an area that’s a primary habitat for the species has become a topic of discussion in recent years. Now, after four years of collaborative efforts from the National Park Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Forest Service, and local user groups, a 100 page report outlining proposed solutions to the matter has just been released. While the lengthy report details a number of solutions, the general summary is that one of the easiest, most impactful ways to help the bighorn sheep and to reduce the rate of their declining population is to limit ski access in key areas of the Teton Range. The argument is essentially this: bighorn sheep graze on grass and flowers often found in popular backcountry ski terrain. If skiers are using these areas, bighorn sheep become startled and run off, making it more difficult for them to find sufficient food to survive the winter. As such, the report suggests closing approximately 21,000 acres of backcountry access. With this closure, the report estimates that only 5% of “high value” ski terrain would be affected.
With the report released, we’re starting to hear reactions from backcountry ski enthusiasts who will be impacted by the changes. What’s most interesting about this issue is that both sides actually agree on the importance of achieving the end goal: to reduce the threat to the bighorn sheep. Deciding how best to go about that, and in particular how it impacts backcountry access, is where the debate lies. For skiers who are concerned about losing access to the backcountry, there are two thought processes pushing back on the findings of the report. First, there’s the issue of determining what “high value” terrain is, as this determination is based largely off anecdotal information from skiers discussing their favorite locations. As such, many believe that the 5% estimate is low, and that the closures actually take away a much higher percentage of valuable ski terrain. Secondly, some members of the ski community are wondering why a simple black and white closure is necessary. Rather than simply closing certain areas forever, they argue that a better compromise could be found by creating a website that tracks the bighorn sheep herd and would indicate which areas are open or closed based on where the herd is currently located. This solution would result in the least amount of restrictions on skiing, while also ensuring that the specific location of the herd is protected. Afterall, if a certain area is designated as off limits while other areas remain open, there’s the possibility that the herd could stray from the closed terrain and into areas that are open for skiing, rendering the whole effort useless. Overall, it’s an interesting story, and one that’s enlightening to learn more about as skiers continue to balance the dynamic of being responsible stewards of the mountains they love so much. To read the story in full, click here. To see the report itself, click here.
#4: Dave Goodman Shares the Joys of Backcountry Skiing in His NY Times Trip Report:
Finally, we round out this week’s highlight reel with an excellent story in the New York Times from writer David Goodman. Now, if you don’t know the name, chances are you’re not a backcountry skier in the Northeast. If you are, then you likely know David Goodman as the author of “Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast: 50 Classic Ski and Snowboard Tours in New England and New York.” This book is something of a bible for East Coast backcountry skiers as it gives excellent information regarding some of the best backcountry zones in the Northeast. Of course some of you might cringe at the idea of a book sharing information regarding precious backcountry areas, and we get that. That said, books like this are also crucial in terms of educating backcountry skiers about certain areas so they’re aware of what they’re getting into as well as any hazards they might come across. While you could argue that backcountry guide books give away closely held secrets, the counter argument could be that they do so in the name of safety. Regardless, that’s a conversation for another day. This week, we’re simply excited to share with you a trip report from Goodman that was published in the New York Times.
In his article, Goodman takes us through a 100 mile cross country hut-to-hut ski trip through the Maine Wilderness. For those of you who’ve never tried backcountry skiing in any form, whether that’s alpine or cross country, and might wonder what all of the fuss is about, this story is an excellent explanation. While the idea of schlepping around on skis sounds like a lot of unnecessary work compared to riding a chairlift, for those that love the activity, it’s more about the adventure than it is the downhill turns. This article does an excellent job of conveying that feeling as Goodman shares a mixture of historical and current information regarding Maine’s hut system. In addition to these informative aspects, the article also uses strong imagery and storytelling to instill a longing for adventure in its reader. Afterall, what skier wouldn’t want to experience snowy solitude, knowing that another cozy cabin filled with excellent food and conversation awaits them at the end of the day? While this topic isn’t exactly “news” in the traditional sense, we always love to share a good ski story when we come across it, and this piece certainly fits the bill. To give it a read in full, check out this link from the New York Times.