#1: Just One Week in, Coronavirus Already Looming Large Over FIS Season:
Well, we had one week of Covid-free ski news, but unfortunately a resurgence in cases worldwide, and in Europe in particular, has resulted in some troubling ski news. At the very top of the bad news list, is the announcement that reigning Men’s Overall FIS Champion, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, has tested positive for Covid-19, just days after competing in Soelden. Despite following all rules and safety protocols during his time in Soelden, Kilde still managed to contract the virus during the trip. That’s the bad news. The good news thankfully, is two fold. First, no other members of the Norwegian team tested positive, and we have yet to hear news regarding a positive test from any other skier or national teams. At the moment, the positive test seems to be an isolated event. The other good news is that Kilde’s condition is good and his symptoms are only mild. While there’s no timeline for his return, his hope is that it’ll be relatively soon.
That is, of course, assuming that the 2020-2021 World Cup Tour continues. On the heels of the Kilde news, we also caught an article from Ski Racing magazine this week that discusses the very real possibility that this year’s tour might be short lived. This week, as cases have continued to rise, France, Germany, and Italy have all announced new restrictions in an effort to combat the current spike in Covid-19 cases. While we’ll get into more of the details regarding that in highlight #2, the key takeaway here is that if government regulations force ski resorts in Europe to close, then it’s unlikely that the tour will go on as scheduled. At present, the races scheduled for Austria in just two weeks look to be safe, as well as the subsequent races scheduled for Levi, where the Finnish government plans to work directly with the FIS to ensure that the races can be held. After those events however, the future of the tour gets murky and will rely heavily on how quickly the spike in European cases can be quelled. All told, the positive news is that no changes have been made to the tour’s schedule at the time of this writing. The bad news is that uncertainty looms large and there’s a strong chance that we’ll find ourselves sharing an unfortunate update in the not so distant future. To bring yourself up to speed on the latest, check out this story from SkiRacing.com.
#2: After Brief Opening, Italy Issues Decree Mandating Temporary Closure of Ski Resorts:
In other “we really wish we didn’t have to share this” news, multiple ski resorts in European are already dealing with government enforced closures, just days or weeks after reopening for the season. In France, President Emmanuel Macron announced a second lockdown for the nation, reverting citizens and business back to a level of closures not seen since the early days of the pandemic. There, all non-essential businesses will be forced to close and it’s recommended that people only leave their homes for essential reasons. As a result, Tignes and Les2Alpes have been forced to shut down their operations after having opened just weeks ago. The current iteration of the mandate is valid until 12/1, with a reassessment occurring every 14 days thereafter. While these forced closures are without a doubt a blow to these two resorts, the one silver lining from this piece of news is that most resorts in France don’t begin operations until December anyways, meaning that if the nation is able to reduce its caseload by 12/1, there’s a chance the ski season can survive. Of course whether or not that will happen depends largely on the nation’s citizens adhering to the latest round of regulations, despite understandably enduring quarantine fatigue. For more on this, check out the report from PlanetSki.eu.
In other, similar news, we also learned of a round of regulations hitting ski resorts in Italy. There, a handful of ski resorts were able to open last weekend, although very temporarily. Last Saturday, images from Cervinia ski resort showing long lines and crowds began making the rounds on social media. Likely as a result of these photos, the Italian government issued an Emergency Decree stating that the nation’s ski resorts will have to close until they’re able to meet a number of new guidelines. With that decree in place, Cervinia closed its operations after being open for just two days. Now, the resort will have to adjust to the new guidelines before applying to the nation’s Technical and Scientific Committee for permission to reopen. Interestingly, of the four resorts that had been operating in Italy, Cervinia was the only one to follow this new rule. Three other resorts, Val Senales, Passo Stelvio, and Sulden am Ortler have all refused to close, citing a provision that gives them semi-autonomous powers. We’ll have to wait and see how that situation unfolds, but it feels safe to say that it’s a risky move based on what we know from the fallout regarding a lack of precautions taken in Ischgl last March. Of course more than anything, all of this news from Europe is forcing us to wonder what lies ahead for us here in North America. While we hope the ski season here is full length, these stories this week should serve as a stark reminder that nothing is guaranteed. The lesson for us here in North America is this: follow the guidelines set in place by resorts this winter, and be sure to practice social distancing on the slopes. As this Italian incident has shown us, sometimes bad optics is all it takes to bring ski resorts to a close.
#3: Despite Restrictions on International Work Visas, Ski Resorts Seasonal Workforce Stronger Than Ever:
Moving along this week, we’ve got a story that, while rooted in Coronavirus, takes a much different tone towards the state of the industry. As you might’ve heard, restrictions are in place that disallow the use of H-2B and J1 Visa programs here in America, which typically provide ski areas with international workers to fill seasonal roles. As a result, many within the ski industry spent the summer concerned with their ability to fill seasonal positions, such as chairlift operators or service workers. Fortunately, back in August we learned that many college aged people were submitting work applications to fill the void. When we first heard the story, the assumption was that most of these applicants were either electing to postpone their enrollment to college, or electing to take at least a year off from school. This week, we caught an article from Denver Post’s “In the Know” that provides us with another update on the situation, as well as some further insights into what’s driving the surprise workforce.
Let’s start by picking up where we left off. In addition to receiving a surprising number of applications from this unexpected demographic, ski resorts are finding these candidates to be high quality and highly qualified. As a result, resorts aren’t just receiving applications, they’re also filling jobs at an unexpectedly high rate. In fact, hiring has been so good this year that according to Snow Mountain Ranch, YMCA of the Rockies, human resource director Athena Tilghman, “we have had phenomenal luck and right now I am looking at being hired well into the spring. That’s unusual for this time of year.” In other words, not only has seasonal employment turned out not to be an issue, but it’s actually surpassing standards set by previous seasons. That’s the first exciting part of this update. The second exciting part, is that while applicants are largely college aged, not all of them are opting out of learning. Instead, thanks to an increase in remote learning, Tilghman estimates that approximately 20% of their staff is taking remote classes. While it’s certainly premature to draw any long term conclusions, it’s at least exciting to think that an opportunity exists for young people to experience life as a part time ski bum, part time college student, thanks to a cultural embrace of remote learning. While it’ll take years for us to learn whether or not this concept has longevity, you can check in today with In the Know’s article to learn all there is to know on the topic.
#4: The 2020-2021 Ski Season is Officially Here! Multiple North American Ski Resorts Celebrate Opening Day:
Finally, we absolutely saved the best for last this week as we realized that after a couple of heavy headlines something to get excited about would be absolutely necessary. So here it is: the 2020-2021 ski season is officially underway in North America! Now, just to be clear, technically the ski season got started on October 19th when Minnesota ski resort Wild Mountain opened their rope tow and a small terrain park, but this week was the first time several North American ski resorts opened, making winter feel a bit more real. For us in the United States, the list of ski resort openings is headlined by Colorado’s Wolf Creek Ski Area. There, skiers celebrated opening day on Wednesday with over two feet of fresh snow. Elsewhere in North America, Lake Louise and Mt. Norquay Banff, both in Alberta, Canada celebrated openings this week. For Mt. Norquay Banff, their 10/24 opening day marked their earliest start ever. Additionally, joining Wild Mountain in the Midwest were Mont du Lac Resort and Trollhaugen Troll, both in Wisconsin. While the number of resorts currently operating is small, the fact that 6 North American resorts have opened in October is an excellent sign for the winter ahead. It’s also a sign that after what’s likely the longest offseason in ski history, some signs of normalcy are finally forcing their way back into our lives, at least for the time being.