#1: Global Ski Racing News - FIS Meets to Discuss New Events, Formats, and More:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the October 1, 2021 edition! This week we’ve got something of a side A and a side B. In the second half of our highlights this week, we’ll focus on two pieces of news regarding ski resorts. Before we get to that however, we’ll start with side A: a pair of ski racing highlights. To kick that off, we’ll start globally.
This week, we learned some of the details regarding discussions amongst FIS leadership at their annual preseason meeting. With a new president at the helm, Mr. Johan Eliasch, whose primary goal is to expand the global viewership of FIS sports, it should be no surprise that this year’s meeting came with several exciting new ideas. In this article shared by Seattle Times, we’re treated to a number of succinct summaries of these ideas, so we’ll defer you to them for full coverage, but not before we share a few of our favorite ideas here. First on that list, is the idea of adding another World Championships type event to the four year calendar. Currently, the Alpine World Championships are held in February of every odd year. With the Winter OIympics happening every other even year, that means one out of every four seasons is missing a signature event. While the idea of adding another massive event to the schedule to fit this void is still in its infancy, the director of marketing at the FIS, Jürg Capol, insisted that, “It would not be enough to change just a little bit.” We’ll see what happens here, but for now simply thinking about the idea of another massive championship style event is cause for excitement.
Another big idea that came out of this meeting was the concept of using a tiered approach to downhill races, with an A and B level of competition. Taking cues from the world of soccer, this setup would see the top 24 athletes compete in the top tier races, while the other FIS racers compete in B level races. Just like in the world of soccer, athletes could be promoted or relegated between these two tiers based on their performances. This would not only create more in-season storylines to increase audience engagement, but would also create a more exciting, more succinct structure for broadcasting as races would be shorter and only the top 24 athletes would be shown. Beyond these two exciting ideas, the meeting also churned out a number of other suggestions, such as the discontinuation of Super-G races and an increase in night races. To read all about these suggestions and ideas, we’ll turn you over to the Seattle Times.
#2: U.S. Ski Racing News - New CEO & President for USST; Alice Merryweather’s Comeback Story Takes a Step Back But Continues:
Now that we’ve had a chance to catch up with the global ski racing scene, let’s take a look at a pair of articles that focus more specifically on the U.S. Ski Team. First up on that list is the announcement that Sophie Goldschmidt has just been appointed as the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team CEO and President. While her name is new to us, that’s only due to our general ignorance. As it turns out, Goldschmidt has a long history of unparalleled success, working at the head of organizations across multiple sports. Amongst the organizations she’s led or helped grow are titans such as the NBA, World Surf League (WSL), Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), Rugby Football Union (RFU), the PGA European Tour, Adidas, and more. In other words, Goldschmidt has an incredible wealth of experience in global sports ranging from exceptionally mainstream sports to some that are somewhat lesser known. Most recently, she worked as the CEO of the WSL where she pioneered a number of initiatives to help the sport grow. Amongst that list was a 10 year agreement with athletes, securing equal prize money for men and women, hosting the first ever events utilizing artificial waves, securing a first of its kind partnership with Facebook, and perhaps most importantly, overseeing record setting revenue figures. To say that Goldschmidt is accomplished would be an understatement. While her wealth of experience undoubtedly makes her the right person for the job, her acceptance of this role adds another success story to the world of skiing, where women continue to find themselves in positions of power and are compensated at the same level as their male counterparts. All in all, this news is extremely exciting for all involved. To learn more about Goldschmidt and her new role at the USST, check out their official announcement.
In other U.S. Ski Team news, we also caught an amazing story from the Washington Post about Alice Merryweather. Now, for those who don’t know, Merryweather has been absolutely going through it lately. Last season, during an already stressful, weird FIS season, Merryweather opted to sit the circuit out as she tended to mental health issues stemming from struggles with anorexia. Then, after successfully overcoming her mental hurdles, Merryweather began training this summer for what she hoped would be something of a comeback season for her. Unfortunately, that dream was shattered back in September when she suffered a brutal crash resulting in a broken tibia, broken fibula, torn ACL, torn meniscus, a partially torn MCL, and an extremely scraped-up face. To say it was a devestating crash would be an understatement. Now, Merryweather finds herself sitting out a second season in a row, only this time she’ll be spending a substantial amount of time rehabbing her injuries. All in all, it’s safe to say that Merryweather’s in the midst of a brutal stretch. But, here’s the thing: she’s not letting it keep her down. In the article from the Washington Post, we’re treated to a story not about a series of terribly unfortunate events, but one that’s about resilience, determination, and strength. In the exposé, we learn that Merryweather now, more than ever, is determined to overcome this set of setbacks and get back on the hill, better than ever, in time for next year’s season. To learn more about her story, and to inevitably feel inspired, we’ll turn you over to the full story from the Washington Post.
#3: Vail’s Epic Price Cuts Result in Epic Success:
In other news this week, we caught yet another substantial headline coming out of Vail. Whether you recall when we shared the news that Vail was slashing it’s Epic Pass prices by 20%, or have simply found out by exploring your pass options for the season ahead, chances are you’re aware that Epic Passes are available for the ridiculously low price of $799 for the full pass, or just $599 for the local pass. Whether you compare these prices to other season pass options or to the cost of a single day ticket, it quickly becomes clear that the Epic Pass is by far the best deal in skiing right now. So far, everything in this highlight has been fairly obvious. What many have been wondering though, is whether or not this move has played out as Vail expected.
This week we found out that the answer is a resounding, “yes, this plan worked perfectly.” In an article from the Vail Daily, we’ve learned that unit sales across all Epic Pass offerings have jumped a massive 42% over last year’s figures. Now, we have to take into account the fact that Covid likely caused pass sales to decrease last year, but still, a 42% jump is massive regardless. Taking into account the 20% decrease in price per pass, revenue across pass sales still increased by 17%. Perhaps most interestingly, this article from Vail Daily takes us even deeper behind the scenes as we learn that Vail attributes these pass sales to three categories: customers buying a more expensive pass than the season prior, customers who are converting from single-ticket buyers to season pass buyers, and new customers who are buying Epic Passes for the first time. While we don’t know specific numbers regarding new Epic Pass holders, and how many more faces we might see at each resort, Vail’s incoming CEO Kirsten Lynch pointed out that sales were strong across all three categories. Looking at this news from purely a business standpoint, the move was a clear success. From a guest experience, it would be understandable if this increased sales volume resulted in some apprehension for locals of already crowded resorts. Regardless of how you feel about this news, you can read about it in great detail in this excellent report from Vail Daily.
#4: Timberline Lodge Officially Acquires Summit Ski Area, Becoming Largest Ski Resort in America by Vertical Dropped:
Finally, for our last highlight this week, we’ve got a second round of ski resort news, and this one is just as interesting as the last. That’s because after much talk, speculation, and legal procedures, it was finally announced this week that Timberline Lodge has acquired Summit Ski Area. For those unfamiliar with the region, Summit Ski Area is a small, family-focused ski area that sits below Timberline Lodge, at the base of Mt. Hood. Founded in 1927, this small ski area is the second oldest continuously operating ski area in the U.S., and the oldest in the Pacific Northwest. Now, as of this week, Summit Ski Area has become Summit Pass, joining forces with Timberline Lodge to claim a new title: tallest vertical ski area in the United States. Clocking in at a massive 4,540’ feet of skiable vertical, Timberline Lodge has just edged out Telluride (at 4,425’) to claim the title. To get some additional perspective on just how tall this really is, look no further than the image accompanying this highlight, shot from the base of Summit Pass, looking up to the top of Timberline’s terrain.
Now, as exciting as this news is, there is one small caveat: the merging of the two ski areas has just begun. As such, there are many additional improvements planned to make the connection of the resorts more seamless as they currently are only connected by two trails: Alpine Trail and West Leg Road. In other words, while you’ll be able to ski the entire 4,540’ vertical this season, doing so will require the use of shuttles as there isn’t a chairlift connecting the two areas. That’s the bad news. The good news though, is that Timberline Lodge has several plans for this exciting new expansion, including the addition of a gondola that would bring guests from Summit Pass up to Timberline. In addition to enabling travel between the two resorts via lift, the hope is that this would also alleviate traffic and parking congestion as parking at Summit Pass would become a viable option for those interested in skiing Timberline’s terrain. Additionally, the resort will look to increase the number of trails connecting the two areas, creating a more interesting and compelling experience for a range of skiers. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Timberline has also made sure to mention that some things won’t change. More specifically, the plan is to continue to utilize Summit Pass as a family focused ski area to encourage new participation and to give beginner and intermediate skiers a comfortable place to improve their skills. All in all, this is extremely exciting news for the region, and congrats to all who were involved in making this happen. To learn more, check out the announcement from Timberline Lodge, or dive into their Summit Pass Master Plan to find out what improvements are planned for the resort.