#1: Covid Update: Canadian Edition:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the November 5, 2021 edition! This week, we’re experiencing a bit of a ski news lull as we navigate the tough month of November, a month in which we’re too early to benefit from consistent weekly competition updates and other peak season happenings, yet too late for substantial stories of pre-season hype. As such, we bring to you four articles this week from various parts of the industry, ranging from updates regarding ongoing issues such as traffic congestion and affordable ski town housing, to competition previews. Before we hit on those highlights, we’ll start this week by checking in on the latest news coming out of Canada regarding Covid protocols for the upcoming season.
Here in the U.S., this season should feel substantially more relaxed than last. While some resorts will enforce mask mandates and proof of vaccinations for indoor facilities, a vast majority have done away with burdensome protocols such as outdoor masking and limited chairlift and gondola loading capacities. Such is not the case to our North however, where Canadian ski resorts are largely opting to require proof of vaccination. This week, we caught a number of articles that combine to give us a full picture of how protocols will be handled in Canada this upcoming season. In a report from the Ottawa Citizen, we learned that in the province of Quebec, all 75 ski resorts will require proof of vaccination for all guests over the age of 13. That policy is in place for those looking to use any service at any resort, whether outside or not. In the western provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, a majority of resorts are opting into a similar policy, with big names such as Whistler, Lake Louise, Fernie, Kicking Horse, and others all voluntarily following provincial recommendations to require proof of vaccination. Adding a layer of complexity to this story, is the fact that Lake Louise is set to host a stop on the FIS World Cup tour, featuring two Men’s Downhills and a Super G race. With this mandate in place, we’ve already learned that two Swiss skiers will forgo the race as a result of being unvaccinated. For those unwilling to be vaccinated but looking to ski in Canada this upcoming winter, there is a sliver of good news: as it stands, the province of Ottawa will allow guests to use outdoor facilities without proof of vaccination. To learn more about the status of vaccination requirements in eastern Canada, click here. To learn more about the situation at resorts in the west, click here.
#2: Rideshare Apps Hope to Curb I-70 Traffic Issues in Colorado:
Next up this week, as promised, is an article that shares a potential solution for a problem that’s been growing in significance in recent years: traffic congestion. While this is an issue that pops up at resorts in all regions of the United States, the two most infamous examples are Utah’s Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, as well as Colorado’s I-70. While we’ve discussed the situation and proposed solutions for Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon at length recently, it’s been a while since we’ve checked in on Colorado’s I-70. This week however, we caught an article that presents a potential new solution, and one that takes a much different approach than what we’ve seen before.
In Colorado, there are three new carpooling apps launching in the immediate future, each looking to curtail the amount of traffic traveling on the state’s main thoroughway. Between these three apps, Gondola, TreadShare, and Caravan, there are subtle differences that may make one more appealing than the others to potential users. Gondola focuses on connecting riders and drivers by allowing drivers to setup trips that riders can then signup for. Using a built in messaging system, users can communicate specifics regarding meetup times and locations. While their website makes no mention of it, the Go I-70 website suggests that this is a “cost-effective” option, indicating that there’s likely a monetary feature included with the app. Similarly, TreadShare offers a second option for those looking to carpool, although the focus of this app seems to be more financially focused as it’s touted as a means for all involved to split the cost of transportation. While this means there’s a definitive financial element to the app, the purpose isn’t for anyone to profit from it. Instead, it’s more focused on splitting costs, making transportation more affordable for all involved. Finally, the third option is Caravan, which does away with any financial element at all and positions itself more as a community driven app for those focused on reducing their environmental impact. All in all, while all of these apps have their own strengths, what’s exciting to us is their collective potential. So far, a majority of the proposed solutions to solve the traffic congestion issues have involved dramatic infrastructure updates costing millions of dollars. While it’s unlikely that this trio of apps will completely solve the issue, they could still save taxpayers a significant amount of money while simultaneously contributing to the economy if they’re even moderately successful. In that event, it feels safe to say that their presence is destined to expand to additional regions in the coming years. For more on this, check out the recap from 9news.com.
#3: The Town of Vail Votes to Introduce .5% Sales Tax Increase to Support Affordable Housing:
Moving right along, our third highlight deals with another main pressure point in the ski industry and offers another solution that we’re excited about. First, let’s recap the issue: as you likely know, affordable housing in ski communities is becoming increasingly rare. Prior to the pandemic, housing in ski towns was already trending in a troubling direction, in large part due to the rise in the short term rental market. As savvy investors realized they could purchase homes in ski towns and make a profit by listing them on websites such as Airbnb and VRBO, homes that were once available for rent became unavailable for the local population. Then, the pandemic hit and residents of urban environments across the U.S. realized that maybe it was time for a change. As a result, they fled to the mountain towns where they’d spent time vacationing, scooping up more homes in cash deals that went for well above list prices. As a result of this combination of factors, the issue of affordable housing in ski towns is rapidly reaching something of a breaking point.
Enter this week’s news: in Vail, CO, the town has just voted to pass a .5% sales tax increase, with the idea that the additional revenue would be reserved for a stable housing fund. Under this new tax system, the town expects to raise approximately $4m in revenue in the first year alone. To this point, these are the facts we can count on. Beyond these specific figures, it remains to be seen how effective this program is. Proponents of the system see promise in the fact that the $4m can be used to issue new debts and could contribute to the Vail InDEED program, both of which would help local homeowners. Doubters on the other hand, point out that $4m is ultimately a drop in the bucket when it comes to large scale development efforts. One example that’s cited in the Vail Daily article is the fact that replacing the Timber Ridge apartments would cost roughly $70m. This dynamic and uncertainty regarding the success of the program is where we find ourselves today. On one hand, the tax increase might not be enough to counteract the troubling trends within Vail’s housing market. On the other, the concept of issuing a sales tax to reserve a certain percentage of funds (a large portion of which will come by way of tourism spending) for use towards subsidizing the local housing market could prove to be a successful approach. If it is, Vail will have put in place a blueprint that could be easily duplicated in mountain towns across America. For more on this, check out the article from Vail Daily.
#4: 2022 X-Games Aspen Schedule Announced:
Finally, let’s round out this week with a bit of upbeat news. It’s at just about this same time every year that we get official word that the X-Games are back for another year. Along with that announcement, we also typically get a full schedule of events and a list of at least some of the invited athletes. This year pretty much follows that formula to a T as the recently updated X-Games website shares a calendar of events as well as a breakdown of invited athletes per event. We suspect that this list isn’t complete however, due to the brevity of some of the invite lists. That said, here are some of the details we know for sure:
Taking place in Buttermilk, Aspen for the 21st straight season, the X-Games is set to return to the venue from January 21-23. Over the course of those three days, a total of 14 events will be held at the venue, featuring a mix of men’s and women’s skiing and snowboarding. Interestingly enough, after scaling back the number of sports and disciplines last year on account of Covid, the games opted out of reintroducing a number of sports, such as ski cross, snowmobiling, and moto-x. We don’t have specific information regarding this decision at the moment, but it could be a result of the fact that the pandemic isn’t entirely behind us quite yet. Further proof of that point can be found in the fact that while the X-Games will be reintroducing fans this year, they’ll only be allowed into the venue with proof of vaccination and will be required to wear a mask in all indoor event areas. For the fans that do decide to attend, or for those of us watching at home, we’ll be treated to the expected lineup of Big Air, Slopestyle, and Superpipe events for both men and women. Additionally, there will be another iteration of the Knuckle Huck event (which we’re personally huge fans of) which lacks a gender designation. At the moment, the invited athletes are all male, however we’re hoping to see some female participants added to the list before it’s go time. To learn more about the upcoming games, check out this link from xgames.com. To see a current list of invited athletes, click here.