#1: It’s Official: North America’s 2021-2022 Ski Season is Here:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the October 15, 2021 edition! This week we’ve got a very special Top Five on hand, for one very specific reason: this weekend marks the official start of the 2021-2022 ski season in North America! We’ve got a few other exciting topics to cover this week as well, but honestly, Top Five Fridays is all about covering ski news, and what could possibly be more exciting than opening day? You know what, don’t answer that. The correct answer is, “nothing.” Nothing is more exciting than opening day. So, with that said, let’s talk opening weekend details.
This week, Wolf Creek, CO announced that after receiving 14” of natural snow, they plan to officially open for skiing this Saturday, making October 16th the first day of the 2021-2022 ski season in North America. On their opening weekend, Wolf Creek will operate their Treasure Stoke, Nova, and Lynx lifts from 9 am - 4 pm on Saturday and Sunday. After their successful opening weekend, Wolf Creek will be closed again during the week, with plans to reopen the following weekend should weather allow. Upon opening on Saturday, Wolf Creek will officially become the first ski resort to open in North America for the season, beating Arapahoe Basin by just a day.
That of course, brings us to the second announcement within this highlight: Arapahoe Basin is also set to open for the season this weekend, with Sunday October 17th marking their first day of operations! In a brief yet suitable announcement on their blog, Arapahoe Basin announced that they’ll be opening for the season this Sunday, with the Black Mountain Express bringing skiers and riders to the top of High Noon. Additionally, while it’s not guaranteed, the mountain is also hoping to get a few features setup in their Banana Terrain Park. Despite the lack of a guarantee, if previous years are any indication, it seems safe to say that Araphoe Basin will have something for the jibbers to jib upon. Either way, it’s an exciting week in the world of skiing as the season kickoff is now just a day away. To learn more about Wolf Creek’s opening plan, click here. To learn more about Arapahoe Basin’s click here.
#2: POWDR Announces $49 Fast Track Passes Four Select Resorts:
Now that we’ve got the biggest, most unanimously exciting news out of the way, let’s dig into something a bit more controversial. This week, POWDR Corp, owner of 11 different ski areas, announced a new pass offering at four of its resorts this year: starting at $49/day, the Fast Track pass will allow guests who buy in to skip the lines at Killington, Copper, Mt. Bachelor, and Snowbird ski resorts. While relatively unique in the ski industry, this concept is common amongst amusement parks where guests can buy similar passes that give them quicker access to popular rides where lines can be exceedingly long. The idea of course, is that offering a pass option like this will give guests more control over their days, ultimately allowing them to make the most of the lift tickets they paid for.
As is typically the case with news like this in the ski industry, the announcement was met with a split reaction. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who understand where POWDR is coming from with this new pass option, noting how crowded some ski resorts can become, and how long lift lines can put a hindrance on the day. When you pay well over $100 for approximately 8 hours of skiing, nothing is more frustrating than standing in a lift line for 30 plus minutes at a time. For this crowd, the idea of being able to pay a little extra to get access to a shorter, priority lift line is an attractive option. On the other side however, is the crowd that realistically has no interest in buying this add-on, and is already feeling anger towards those who do pay for the right to skip ahead in line. Across the four resorts, we’ve picked up on the loudest reaction from this second crowd in the Mt. Bachelor area, where backlash has been so swift and severe that even State Senator Ron Wyden has gotten involved, requesting that POWDR Corp scrap it’s plan for the passes, saying, “At a minimum, POWDR must delay implementation until it adequately explains to the public how the Fast Tracks policy will not exacerbate equity issues that already exist in outdoor recreation.” While his point regarding equity issues at ski resorts rings particularly true at a point in time when the ski industry is attempting to position itself as a more inviting, diverse sport, it’s hard to imagine that anger and opinions will ultimately bear any legal standing in this issue. Still, that’s not to say that the sound of discontent won’t become loud enough that POWDR will be forced to reconsider their decision. At the moment though, the decision’s been made, the results of which have yet to be seen. Here at SkiEssentials, we can see both sides of the argument, and are genuinely curious to hear what you think about it. If you’ve got an opinion on this issue, let us know in the comments below! If you’d like to learn more, check out this writeup from Compass Vermont, or this article from the Seattle Times.
#3: Incoming Vail CEO Kirsten Lynch Interviewed by Bloomberg:
Next up in ski news this week is a brief yet insightful interview with incoming Vail CEO Kirsten Lynch by way of Bloomberg magazine. As you may have already heard, the current and 15-year running CEO of Vail, Rob Katz, will be turning his position over to Kirsten Lynch on November 1st, at which point he’ll become an executive chairperson. While Lynch has been an integral part of the Vail team since 2011, operating in the role of chief marketing officer, we haven’t had the opportunity to learn much about her as the media spotlight’s been held in large part by Rob Katz. Now, with that dynamic about to change, we’re excited to learn a bit more about Lynch’s background and her perspectives as both help give us an idea of where she might take Vail Resorts. This week, we got a glimpse into that as Bloomberg published a brief, yet informative interview with Lynch, asking her a few key questions. We don’t want to play the role of spoiler, so we’ll let you read the interview yourself for all of the details, but we will highlight a couple of interesting passages here.
First on that list is the subtle, yet revealing anecdote that Lynch grew up in Chicago, skiing nearby Wilmot, one of the first small ski areas to be acquired by Vail during its acquisition spree. What’s interesting about this is that it means Lynch’s own experience reflects one of the core ideologies that's driven Vail’s consolidation efforts: the best way to increase participation in skiing, is to support small ski areas outside of large municipalities as they’re often the reason many people fall in love with skiing in the first place. While the ski industry tends to focus on large resorts like Vail or Park City, it’s the small ski areas that give people their first ski experiences that are ultimately the biggest driver of attracting new skiers to the sport. This anecdote suggests that Lynch most likely played a significant role in forming the methodology behind Vail’s expansion, an excellent sign of her ability to lead the business moving forward. The second aspect of this interview that we want to highlight is Lynch’s interest in using data to drive business decisions. On the surface, this suggests using data to drive financial decisions, but as Lynch astutely points out, data can be used to influence a myriad of other decisions, such as which lifts are being used most often, indicating where future resources and development efforts should be focused with a goal of reducing congestion and maximizing the ski experience at any given resort. While the interview itself is brief, it’s more than enough to instill significant confidence in Kirsten Lynch as the next CEO of Vail Resorts. Plus, there's sure to be plenty of coverage of Lynch in the coming months after she’s officially in her new role. For now though, check out the interview from Bloomberg to know what we know.
#4: Professional Skier Connor Ryan Leverages Sponsorships to Create Ikon Pass Scholarship for Indigenous People:
Finally, we end this week with a story that we were very pleasantly surprised to come across, as professional skier Connor Ryan has enlisted a number of his sponsors to help him diversify the sport of skiing. More specifically, the story goes like this: Connor Ryan, a member of the Hunkpapa Lakota tribe, has teamed up with media and apparel company NativesOutdoors, as well as the Ikon Pass, Salomon, Patagonia, 686, and Smith Optics to create the Ikon Pass Scholarship. This scholarship is set up to award 10 people with Indigenous heritage (5 adults and 5 youth) a fully sponsored season. Included in the scholarship is an Ikon pass, a full ski setup from Salomon (skis, boots, bindings, and poles), an outerwear setup from Patagonia or 686, and a helmet/goggle setup from Smith Optics. In its inaugural year, the goal is simple: to expose 10 Indigenous athletes to the world of skiing. While that may seem simple and straightforward, Ryan’s motivations behind bringing the project to life hold a significant amount of weight.
As a skier hailing from an Indigenous family, the unfortunate irony of skiing’s close ties to native lands and contrasting lack of native participation in the sport isn’t lost on him. In an interview with local channel 9 news, Ryan highlights the frustrating dynamic, saying, “Skiing isn’t usually associated with Indigenous people, yet we all come from the lands where skiing happens Arapahoe Basin is named after the tribe that’s from right here. When you go there, you should think of them and they should be there skiing and riding alongside you.” Taking into account the recent news from Palisades Tahoe (aka the resort formerly known as “Squaw”), Ryan’s statement rings true and really speaks to a significant imbalance within skiing that demands to be corrected. The idea of diversifying the sport of skiing has been snowballing in recent months as brands and organizations strategize on how to increase outreach and involvement to communities that traditionally don’t find themselves on the slopes. While many of these initiatives show promise and hopefully result in real progress, this personal effort by Connor Ryan is one of the most direct, meaningful initiatives we’ve seen yet. Rather than take a strictly marketing-based approach, Ryan is literally picking ten people, sticking them on skis, and giving them an all access pass to the resorts. If the goal with this recent round of initiatives is to increase the number of non-white skiers, then it would be hard to argue that Ryan’s approach isn’t the most effective one we’ve seen so far. To learn more about the NativesOutdoors Ikon Pass Scholarship, check out their official website.