#1: FIS World Cup Ski Racing Preview: Mikaela Shiffrin Returns for a Slalom Double Header in Levi:
This week, we kick things off in a familiar way that we’d unfortunately come to take for granted just a year ago: previewing this weekend’s upcoming FIS World Cup ski races! Those of you who follow the circuit know that after a successful initial weekend of races held just about a month ago in Soelden, Austria, the tour was forced to cancel the races previously scheduled to be held last weekend in Lech / Zuers, Austria due to weather conditions and potentially, unofficially due to the coronavirus situation in the nation. In other words, what this all means is that this weekend’s women’s slalom double-header hosted in Levi, Finland will mark the second weekend of races of the 2020-2021 season. Somehow though, the uncertainty and delays facing the FIS World Cup season doesn’t feel like the main storyline heading into this weekend’s races.
What really feels like the headline here, is that after 300 days, Mikaela Shiffrin is set to make her return to competitive ski racing. We’ve rehashed Mikaela’s insanely trying season multiple times here already, so we’ll fast forward through the details until we arrive at the weeks preceding this season’s first races in Soelden. While in Europe training in early October, Shiffrin tweaked her back, forcing her to sit out of the season opener, instead returning to Copper Mountain, CO to rehab the injury and deciding to focus specifically on slalom training until her back fully recovers. Now, with what’s undeniably been the most difficult year of her life largely in the rearview, Shiffrin is finally set to return to competition. In doing so, she’ll bring with her a slew of questions that fans will be eager to have answered, mostly centered around expectations regarding her success. When she left the circuit last season, Shiffrin was just one World Cup victory away from tying legendary race Marcel Hirscher’s count of 67 wins, currently the third most of all time. Based on the torrid pace of her success in previous seasons, one might assume that Shiffrin will have no trouble matching and surpassing numerous records this season. But, what that expectation leaves out is the personal growth and change that Shiffrin was forced to undergo over the course of the previous 300 days. Now, not even Mikaela knows what to expect, saying that she plans to, "keep expectations really low, but my standards for the level of skiing that I want to bring are high. I want to ski well, which includes skiing fast… No matter what, if I ski well, if I put in a good effort but it doesn’t go as I hoped, it is hard to be disappointed with that after everything.” With that in mind, it’s safe to say that all eyes will be on Shiffrin this weekend. Should she manage to podium, expectations amongst her fans will be through the roof. Should she show signs of regression, we’ll simply have to wait and see whether or not the competitive drive that once fueled Mikaela’s success has been surpassed in personal importance by other aspects of her life. To watch this weekend’s races, check out the schedule from NBC Sports.
#2: Uncertainty Looms Large Over Vermont’s Ski Economy. Other States Face Similar Scenarios:
That was nice, wasn’t it? Starting a Top 5 Friday in late November by recapping upcoming World Cup Ski races? It almost felt, normal. Well, unfortunately we have to remain rooted in reality here (this is a real news outlet after all), which means we have to share the most important ski news of the week, whether we like it or not. This week, that means we’re sharing an article from the New York Times that, while we appreciate the quality of reporting, we strongly dislike the content of. Here in Vermont, as you may or may not know, the coronavirus has been more or less held at bay since its outbreak last March. Yes, there have been cases, and yes social distancing and mask mandates have been implemented here, but all things considered, the pandemic has remained manageable due in large part to the responsibility of residents. In the past few weeks however, things have changed significantly, particularly in regards to the ski economy.
At the beginning of the month, the state of Vermont issued its official guidelines for ski resort operators, and while they were mostly to be expected, limitations placed on those traveling to the state caused many to worry about the economic health of ski resorts in the upcoming season. Then, just last week, Vermont Governor Phil Scott ramped up restrictions on Vermonters themselves, restricting inter-household gatherings and all but instituting a second round of lockdowns. It’s with these dual restrictions that the New York Times published an article this week that takes a close look at the economic impact these decisions might have on the state’s economy. Amongst the many high quality quotes and anecdotes shared in the article, one of the figures that stands out most to us is that Hotel Vermont, one of the most popular hotels in Burlington, is reporting a decrease of 75% in bookings year over year. Noting that Hotel Vermont isn’t located in a ski town and therefore should arguably appeal to a wider market, this particular stat is incredibly anxiety inducing as we consider what it implies for lodges in ski towns. For more on the uncertain state of the ski economy in Vermont, check out this article from the New York Times.
Lastly, before we round out this highlight, we’re compelled to acknowledge that the challenging dynamic of balancing healthy populations with healthy ski economies isn’t unique to Vermont. In fact, we caught a number of related stories this week from states like California, Colorado, Arizona, and Oregon; all of which are dealing with their own unique circumstances regarding the operation of ski resorts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
#3: New Mexico Ski Resorts Forced to Close Until at Least December 1st:
Coming in hot on the heels of highlight #2 this week, we have some big, unfortunate news coming out of New Mexico. Last Friday, after we’d already posted our Top 5 Friday report, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a statewide order forcing all non-essential businesses to close, including ski resorts. The good news is, that order is set to expire on November 30th, the last day of the month. At present, no ski resorts in the state have opened for business, although a few had planned on opening around Thanksgiving. If the order does indeed expire on the 30th, it will ultimately have minimal impact on the state’s ski season. The bad news though, is that it’s entirely possible and potentially even likely that the order will be extended. The reality of the situation is that the order was issued because the state is seeing, “unsustainable rates of new infections of COVID-19,” with a rolling seven day average of new cases coming out to almost 10 times that of the state’s predetermined number required to allow for the safe reopening of businesses. In other words, while the state could decide to lift restrictions as soon as 12/1, the current numbers suggest that that’s unlikely to happen. As a result, resort operators are working to find a way forward during what could be a trying season. For more on this, check out the writeup from Ski Area Management.
#4: Cimarron Mountain Club Sells Final Seven $3M Memberships Within 3 Weeks:
Finally, let’s end this week with a story that, while related to the coronavirus pandemic, is less doom and gloom and more interesting. Somehow over the years, it appears as though we’ve never mentioned the Cimarron Mountain Club here on SkiEssentials. So on that note, let’s take a quick look at this unique ski “area”, setting the scene for this week’s news. Back in 2004, avid skier Jim Aronstein purchased approximately 2,000 acres of land above Colorado’s Cimarron River, outside of Montrose. His vision was simple: create an ultra exclusive, cat-skiing only ski resort, where 13 members would have exclusive access to a powder filled mountain, just outside of the homes they’d build at the base of the mountain. The motivation for the resort was less wealth-based than you might think: Aronstein simply wanted to create an incredible, powder filled ski experience for a limited number of people. At first the idea was a moderate success. Within the first three years of becoming available, Aronstein sold 6 of the 13 homesites at an estimated rate of approximately $3 million each. Then, nothing.
That is until approximately three weeks ago when the remaining 7 memberships began selling like hot cakes. In the time between the sale of the initial 6 memberships and the final 7, Aronstein said that potential buyers would come and visit the area and be blown away by its potential, only to ultimately choosing to settle down in a more populated destination. Thanks in no small part to the pandemic’s role in changing people’s perspectives, the final 7 memberships have all sold within the last three weeks for $3m apiece. If you’re feeling like you’re late to the party and missed your opportunity to be a part of arguably the most exclusive resort in skiing, you might be comforted to know that there’s always a chance that more memberships will be made available at a future date. That decision however, would come down to a group vote amongst the 13 current members. For more on the story of Cimarron’s past, present, and future, we recommend checking out this article from the Colorado Sun.