#1: FIS World Cup Racing Recap: Shiffrin’s Laudable Performance, Killington Preview, and More:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the November 26, 2021 edition! This week, the news is front loaded with back to back FIS recaps. Once we recap all the competition news that we can, we’ll shift gears and take a look at a couple of articles highlighting topics affecting different parts of the ski industry. To kick things off, we’ll start in our typical fashion: by recapping and previewing the latest action from the FIS World Cup Alpine Ski Racing circuit.
Last weekend, the women’s division found themselves gathered in Levi, Finland for a pair of slalom races. The annual introduction to the slalom season, Shiffrin has a history of winning at Levi, and with her fiery, competitive spirit back in tow this season, there was reason to be hopeful for her performance in the races. On the other hand however, Shiffrin was also coming off of a strained back that had forced her to resist training for a number of weeks prior to the event, and was able to retake the snow just days before the races. As a result, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect out of her last weekend as arguments could’ve been made in either direction. What we did know though, is that if she won a gold medal, she would tie the record for the most wins in a single discipline. Unfortunately, that record remains unbroken after last weekend. As it turns out, Shiffrin put in back to back performances that make perfect sense when you consider the circumstances. In each race, Shiffrin finished in second place. A totally acceptable, and even exceptional result, although not the gold medal finishes she was aiming for. Still, while the season is quite early, the two results earned her enough points to remain tied for first in the overall standings. In addition to Shiffrin’s performance, Paula Moltzan also earned points last weekend, finishing in 24th in Sunday’s race. You can see a full list of results from Levi here. Looking ahead, the women’s circuit is currently in nearby Killington, VT for what many fans consider to be one of the best venues on the schedule. Over the course of the next couple of days, the women will compete in a Giant Slalom and Slalom race. This venue has been favorable to the U.S. Ski Team in previous years, so our hopes are high for another stellar performance. You can check the schedule of events here.
As for the Men, they were off last weekend as they’ve spent the week in Lake Louise, Canada to compete in three Downhill races as well as a Super G. Unfortunately the first of the three Downhills was cancelled, while the second is currently underway. We’ll look to recap the men’s action, as well as the women’s results from Killington, in next week’s writeup. Until then, check out the official FIS schedule, or refer to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team website’s homepage for a quick broadcast schedule reference. As always, good luck to all American athletes, and no luck at all to the rest! (Just kidding, of course!)
#2: FIS World Cup Freeskiing Results: Stubai Zoo Slopestyle:
Next up in FIS competition news is a recap of the first FIS Freestyle skiing slopestyle event which went down last weekend at Stubai Zoo. On the men’s side of the event, we were hopeful to see an American end up on the podium after packing a total of 4 into the top 15 in the first Big Air event of the year. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite come to fruition, although the U.S. team was able to mimic that same stat in this event. Leading the way for the U.S. men’s group was rookie athlete Hunter Henderson who finished just off the podium in 4th place with a score of 83.74. What catches our attention with this result, is just how insane it is that a run consisting of the tricks that Henderson landed is only good enough for a sub-85.00 score, and fourth place finish. After this event, the USST put together a helpful recap that laid out the exact tricks from Henderson’s run, and on paper, they’re mind blowing: switch left side double cork 1620 tailgrab, right double 1440 reverse tailgrab, and a wallride 450 to pretzel 270 out were all featured hits on his run. For back to back doubles over 1440, spinning in both directions, to not be enough to crack the podium is simply a testament to the extremely high level of competition that has become prevalent in freeskiing. Other notable finishes from this event include Colby Stevenson in 10th, Nick Goepper in 11th, Cody LaPlante in 13th, Mac Forehand in 17th, and Alex Hall in 20th. Between all of these results, that puts a total of 6 U.S. men in the top 20 finishers. In that particular stat, the U.S. leads, with Norway and Sweden both landing 4 finishers within the top 20. While the U.S. men’s team hasn’t cracked the podium in the first two events, with so many contenders putting up strong results, it feels like it’s only a matter of time. To see the results from last week’s event, click here. To read more about Hunter Henderson’s run, click here.
On the women’s side of things, the results feel similar. Again, no U.S. woman cracked the podium (those honors went to Kelly Sildaru, Sarah Hoefflin, and Johanne Killi), there were still a number of athletes putting up strong finishes. Keeping in mind the fact that the men’s event featured 60 athletes, while the women’s featured 30, there were a total of 3 U.S. athletes within the top 15, and 4 within the top 25. Considering the reduced field, it feels as though the women’s team has as much, if not more potential than the men’s side. Leading the way for the U.S. women was veteran Maggie Voisin who placed 5th, followed by Marin Hamill in 13th, Grace Hendersen in 14th, and Darian Stevens in 23rd. You can see a full list of results from that event here. Looking ahead, both the men’s and women’s teams will be in Steamboat Springs, CO to compete in a Big Air event on December 2nd and 3rd. You can see the schedule for that here.
#3: Yahoo! Finance Talks Climate Change, Housing Shortages, and More With Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory:
Shifting away from competition news, our next highlight this week is an interview that Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory gave with Yahoo! Finance covering a range of topics. Now, a few quick disclaimers so eager commenters don’t come for our throats. First, yes, we realize this interview is actually two weeks old now. We happened to miss it last week, but we always try to share interviews with high-level ski industry leaders whenever we can as they provide excellent insights into the way they’re thinking about the direction of the sport. Second, yes, we also realize that the first third of this 6 minute interview is mostly fluff. For those who don’t care for softball questions like, “are you excited for the season?”, go ahead and skip to about 2:22 to hear some of the more substantial inquiries. Third, as is always the case when we recap something like this, we’re going to stick to a high level here so you can hear the detailed version from Rusty himself as it deserves better than a watered down translation, courtesy of us.
Great, now that the disclaimers are out of the way, let’s share a few of Rusty’s insights. First, on the topic of climate change, Gregory again reasserts the ski industry’s role as “canary in the coalmine,” meaning that we’re on the forefront of climate change as its impacts have a direct and immediate effect on our sport and culture. As such, while carbon offsets are a great start, Gregory is particularly interested in more hands-on, direct initiatives that can reduce the amount of emissions and waste. Truthfully, this feels like the part of the interview that engaged Gregory’s interest the most, and we’d love to hear more of his thoughts on this. Hopefully some news outlet somewhere will produce a more in depth interview with Gregory’s thoughts on combating climate change. The other topic that really caught our attention was in his discussion of seasonal employees. When asked about dealing with staffing shortages, Gregory responded by saying that the real issue they’re facing is a housing shortage, reiterating the fact that the pandemic resulted in further strain on finding available housing in mountain communities. To solve this issue in the short term, Alterra is proactively signing lease agreements in an effort to ensure housing for any employees moving to the area. In other words, Alterra is leasing housing for tenants that don’t exist yet, with the understanding that they will need more staff this season, and those employees will need a place to live. If Alterra doesn’t proactively sign leases, there’s a strong chance that new employees would otherwise be out of luck. Looking into the long term Gregory also stated that Alterra is building new employee housing at all of its resorts in the next 3-5 years. All in all, the takeaway on this issue is that the housing crisis is real enough that resort operators like Alterra are taking drastic measures to solve it, recognizing that it’s key to their continued success. To hear this interview in full, click here.
#4: Snowmaking: A Gift and Arguably a Curse:
Finally, we round out this week with a fascinating article from Utah’s Deseret News regarding the issue of snowmaking. Yes, unfortunately we have to designate snowmaking as an “issue”, which we’ll explain a bit further in just a moment. Before we do however, let’s take a second to acknowledge how crucial snowmaking is to the ski industry. This weekend, Killington Mountain will be hosting an FIS World Cup race. Being one of the first stops on the schedule every year, Killington is globally recognized as one of the very best at making snow, and one of the most reliable. This is in no small part to their amazing snowmaking infrastructure. Elsewhere in New England and out west, ski resorts are opening in droves this weekend, almost entirely because of their ability to efficiently make snow. Here in Vermont, the mountains were largely bare a week ago. Now, with a week of cold weather and a modest amount of natural snow, a majority of resorts have begun spinning their lifts. With increasingly unreliable weather patterns, it’s safe to say that the ability to efficiently make snow is a crucial component to the ongoing success of ski resorts.
In this week’s article from the Deseret News, we learn much more about the many facets of snowmaking. In the introductory phase of the piece, we’re given fascinating insights into what it’s like to work with state of the art snowmaking equipment, courtesy of anecdotes from Deer Valley’s snowmaking manager, Scott Enos. In a matter of paragraphs, we learn that Deer Valley has three types of snow guns, all serving different purposes, the fact that Enos can control these guns remotely from a mobile app, and perhaps most interestingly, that these guns are capable of producing literal powder, however they’re never used for that as it’s a terrible use of resources and powder snow is an objectively bad base building material. In other words, the current state of snowmaking capabilities is pretty incredible. As the article goes on however, we begin to learn of some of the complications. Touching back on an issue we just skimmed over, the process of making snow requires a significant amount of electricity. Connecting this to Rusty Gregory’s comments in the interview we shared in our third highlight, this fills in another piece of the puzzle as to why ski resorts are looking to find ways to produce electricity on hill, either through solar arrays or their own power plants. As Gregory pointed out, carbon credits are great, but what’s even better is becoming self-sufficient with hands-on solutions. The second issue that’s debated in this article, and perhaps the more problematic of the two, are the complications involving water usage. While most resorts have their own water reserves, snowmaking isn’t a 100% lossless process, and it’s hard to ignore the growing issue surrounding water shortages, particularly in the west. This issue, as it turns out, is wildly complicated in and of itself, and rather than rehash the arguments here, we’d prefer to turn you over to the article itself which does an incredible job of detailing the dynamic at the microlevel. While it may be an article that leaves you with mixed feelings about snowmaking, we highly recommend giving it a read and staying educated on the matter. You can check it out in full, right here.